Hacking Colombia: At the Store

Even if you think you know Spanish well, some expressions you’ll hear whilst shopping in Colombia might leave you confused, as happened to me early on.

Quiere cancelar (tu compra)?: That’s the one that really threw me for a loop. They don’t mean cancel, they mean pay for your purchases.

Cuantas cuotas? How many installments? It’s common for Colombians to not pay in full for a purchase, even if it seems to you as unnecessary for what appears to be a small amount. There’s interest thrown in if you go this route, therefore as with most tourists and expats your answer will probably be “una” which means you’re paying the whole thing in one fell swoop.

En que tamaño / talla? In what size? Remember, if it’s footwear or clothing, sizes are different from elsewhere. You can specify “americano”, for instance, but knowing your Colombian sizes goes a long way in saving time. There’s conversion charts on various websites, you just need to google!

A la orden: All this means is “at your service”, and you can just say gracias if you don’t need their help.


Some expats in Facebook groups claim they don’t carry cash, pay for everything with their foreign credit cards, some saying that it averts being given the wrong change or being given fake money, both of which are extremely rare occurrences. My recommendation is to avoid using credit cards except for big purchases in large department stores if possible, and it has nothing to do with hefty interest rates, and not everything to do with security, but more to do with paying more than you should.

Visa and Mastercard give you the best exchange rates, but what many shops do is charge you in your native currency which usually will mean you’ll get the local payment entity’s not so good exchange rate and even a horrendous exchange rate! You should always specify “cobrame en pesos colombianos por favor” (charge me in Colombian pesos please) but my experience has been that even if they say of course, you’ll often find they charged you in your currency. The same security concerns you have back home (card cloning, card substitution, etc) apply here.

You’ll find that a lot of merchants, especially outside malls, only accept cash, so not having any can be problematic. If you’re worried about being fed fake notes, just avoid paying with 100,000 or 50,000 peso bills (use them in the department stores to get change). Fakes are much more likely to be 20,000 or 50,000 notes. They’re usually easy to detect (we’ll cover this another time) but it’s easy to forget to check.

Happy Shopping!