The Ultimate Guide to Currency in Spanish-speaking Countries
The first form of currency, or at least the oldest one ever recorded, is the Mesopotamian Shekel and it emerged 5,000 years ago. A long time has passed since then, but currency is still the most practical and common way of exchanging goods and services among humans.
While Hispanics the world over share the same language, a similar culture, and many other traits, we don’t share the same currency! You may have noticed that several Latin American countries use el peso as their currency but the power and weight of this currency changes from country to country—it isn’t the same.
In this post, I cover every type of currency we use in Spanish-speaking countries. To get started, here are 3 words you want to know:
- currency – la moneda (which also means “coin”)
- cryptocurrency – la criptomoneda
- bill – el billete.
To boost your skills in Spanish finance vocabulary, check out A Vocabulary Guide to Money and Finance in Spanish.
Let’s dive in to explore 19 types of Spanish currency.
Cuba – Cuban Peso
El peso cubano is our first piece of Spanish currency and our first peso, as well. The Cuban Central Bank (El banco central de Cuba) has issued it since 1997. It has an annual inflation of 5.5%, which is considered somewhat healthy for any economy. It’s ISO Code (the acronym we use to name the currency) is CUP.
The average exchange rate to USD is:
24 CUP per 1 USD
According to the Cuban, Jorge Soria, you could buy 10 pounds of rice or 25 eggs in 2020 with 100 CUP.
Domincan Republic – Domincan Peso
El peso dominicano (The Dominican Peso) is our second entry and second peso on this list of Spanish currencies.
The Dominican Peso has been around for a short time. Back in 2009 it was known as peso oro (golden peso), but Dominicans established in their 2010 Constitution that the official currency was (and still is) el peso dominicano. Since 2017 they have been changing bills and coins to honor the 229th article in their constitution.
The annual inflation is around 3.7%. The ISO code is DOP.
The average exchange is:
57 DOP for 1 USD.
Mexico – Mexican Peso
Well, I did mention that a lot of countries had their own peso, didn’t I? But seriously, they’re different.
El peso mexicano is the first piece of currency to ever use the “$” symbol, even before the USD did. This piece of Spanish currency underwent some changes during the 90s. Now it is the third most exchanged piece of currency in the Americas and the fifteenth in the whole world.
Before 1993 Mexico used “old pesos” which were hyper-inflated. Between 1993 and 1996 they started changing everything. Finally in 1996 they introduced the New Mexican Peso (which is known just as peso mexicano). Since 1994, they have made several changes to the design of their currency. These changes happened in: 1996, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2018, 2019 and even 2020.
The annual inflation of this Spanish currency is 3.15%. The ISO code is MXN (Nuevo peso mexicano – Mexican New Peso) and the average exchange rate is:
20 MXN for 1 USD.
Guatemala – Guatemalan Quetzal
El Quetzal guatemalteco is the first piece of Spanish country that is not a peso.
Guatemala, like many other countries, used the Guatemalan peso until 1924, when it was substituted by the Guatemalan Quetzal. Since its creation it held the same value as the USD, but in the 80s it started losing some of it, until finally in the 2000s it got stable again. Since then it has held itself next to the USD.
This currency also shares its name with Guatemala’s national bird, El Quetzal, which is a red chested bird with green feathers.
Its annual inflation is 3.41%. Its ISO code is: GTQ.
The average exchange is:
7.78 GTQ for 1 USD.
El Salvador and Ecuador – U.S. Dollar
We’re talking about Spanish currencies, aren’t we? Yes we are, but these two Latin American countries have dropped their original currencies and have substituted them for the U.S. Dollar, so whether you travel to El Salvador or to Ecuador it’ll be like you never left home, at least with the currency. But check out these two Spanish former currencies.
El Salvador, used El Colón for a very long time (from 1892 to 2001). The name of the currency was to honor Christopher Colombus (his name in Spanish is Cristóbal Colón).
The ISO Code for el colón salvadoreño is SVC and the average exchange rate is:
8.75 SVC for 1 USD.
However, take note that el colón salvadoreño is considered extinct because it’s not actually in circulation anymore.
Ecuadorians, on the other hand, had el sucre ecuatoriano (the Ecuadorian sucre), named after Antonio José de Sucre (who was actually Venezuelan). The situation in Ecuador was different from the one in El Salvador. Ecuadorians started using el sucre in 1884 and stopped using it in 2000. They did this because their currency was heavily inflated.
This Spanish currency’s ISO code is: ECS. The average exchange rate is:
25,000 ECS for 1 USD.
Honduras – Lempira
Hondurans have been using La Lempira (hondureña) since 1932. (Before which, the official Honduran currency was el peso!). Hondurans have 8 different bills:
As of September 2021, El Banco Central de Honduras will begin circulating a 200 Lempiras bill, in celebration of 200 years of independence.
What’s more, in 2013 El Banco Central de Honduras approved the creation of 315 bills that included the braille system.
The ISO code of the Lempira is: HNL and the average exchange rate is:
24 HNL for 1 USD.
It’s annual inflation is 1.24%, which is really low and bodes well for the economy.
Nicaragua – Córdoba
Nicaraguans use the Nicaraguan Córdoba (el córdoba nicaragüense) since 1908. (Before that time, Nicaraguans used el peso nicaragüense.) The name of this Spanish currency honors the Spanish conqueror Francisco Hernández de Córdoba who established two famous Nicaraguan cities, Granada and León.
Due to the civil war the country suffered back in the 80s, the currency inflated upwards of 3333% prompting the sandinistas to revalue the currency in 1988. Once the change took effect, one new córdoba became worth 1,000 old córdobas.
The ISO code for this currency is: NIO. It’s annual inflation is 6.13% and the average exchange rate is:
35 NIO for 1 USD.
Costa Rica – Colón
Costa Ricans use el colón costarricense (Costarican colón), and have been doing so since 1896 when Rafael Iglesias Castro (Costa Rica’s 16th president) implemented it. Like many other Latin countries, they used pesos before the change.
Similar to the Salvadorians, the name of this currency is to honor Cristóbal Colón.
El colón costarricense has 5 bills:
In 2012, El Banco Central de Costa Rica started producing 50,000 colones bills, but they ceased production in 2020.
This Spanish currency’s ISO code is: CRC. The annual inflation for the colón is 1.52% and the average exchange rate is:
622 CRC for 1 USD.
Panama – Balboa
El Balboa Panameño (Panamanian balboa) is the official currency of Panama, alongside the U.S. Dollar. In Panama, they use both because they are worth exactly the same. This has been the case since 1904 when the National Convention of Panama established the link between the two currencies. Since then, whatever happens to the dollar happens to the balboa as well.
The ISO code of this Spanish currency is: PAB. Its annual inflation is: -0.4%. and as previously mentioned, 1 PAB equals 1 USD.
Colombia – Colombian Pesos
Our fourth Spanish currency with the name peso on it. Colombians have used el peso colombiano for over two centuries! Since 1810, to be precise. (Still, not as old as the Mesopotamian shekel). Because of this the Colombian peso has suffered a ton of changes throughout history.
Like many currencies, el peso colombiano is divided into 100 cents (centavos) but they don’t use coins for cents, because of the high denomination of the bills.
Instead, you can find the following coins:
And the following bills:
The ISO code for the Colombian peso is: COP. Its annual inflation is 1.61%. Its average exchange rate is 3,627 COP for 1 USD.
Venezuela – Bolívar
Next on this list is Venezuela. Venezuelans have used the Bolívar (el bolívar venezolano) since 1879. Due to hyperinflation they changed the name to bolívar fuerte which circulated between 2007 and 2018. In 2018 they changed it to bolívar soberano which ended up being called simply bolívar. Its name honors Simón Bolívar, the hero of the Venezuelan independence.
As you’ve probably already heard, Venezuela is suffering an economic crisis and hyperinflation. If you’ve wondered what you could buy with $10 in Venezuela, check out this video made by American Youtuber Drew Binsky:
The ISO for the (current) Bolívar is: VES. The annual inflation is 3,717%. There is no such thing as an “average” exchange rate here because of the hyperinflation that the country suffers. As for June 17th the exchange rate was: 3,112,759.22 VES for 1 USD, but keep in mind that this disparity will only continue to grow.
Bolivia – Boliviano
Boliviano is not only the name of their currency but of the nationality of the people. Bolivia has had two Bolivianos—one between 1864 and 1963, which was changed to el peso boliviano, and a second in 1987 after the Bolivian peso suffered hyperinflation (8170% in 1985) under President Victor Paz Estenssoro. At this time in history, Bolivia is enjoying a much healthier economy.
The ISO code for this Spanish currency is: BOB. The annual inflation is: 0.67% and the average exchange rate is:
6.9 BOB for 1 USD.
Peru – Sol
Peruvians use el sol peruano, meaning “Peruvian sun.” Just like Bolivians, Peruvians have had two versions of this currency. The first one was used between 1931 and 1985. Between 1985 and 1991 they used the Inti, and since 1991 they have been using El Nuevo Sol (“New Sun”). In 1991, one new sol was worth 1 billion old soles.
El Banco Central de Reserva del Perú regulates the sol to dollar ratio daily, resulting in no average exchange. In 2013, it was around 2.77 soles per USD, but since 2014 the currency has been losing value.
This Spanish currency’s ISO code is: PEN and its annual inflation is: 1.97%.
Paraguay – Guaraní
The Paraguayan currency is el guaraní. It has been in circulation since 1943 and substituted el peso paraguayo (the paraguayan peso) (which ran from 1856 to 1944).
As many others, this Spanish currency suffered inflation. Because of that, the smallest bill you can find is the 2,000 guaraní bill. There are also:
This Spanish currency’s ISO code is: PYG. Its annual inflation is: 2.2% and the average exchange rate is:
6,667 PYG for 1 USD.
Uruguay – Uruguayan Peso
The current Uruguayan Peso (el peso uruguayo) has been Uruguay’s currency since 1993, when it took the place of el nuevo peso (the new peso). Before this, between 1975 and 1993 they used el nuevo peso. Before, between 1862 and 1975 they used el peso for the first time.
You can find the following pesos bills:
This Spanish currency’s ISO code is: UYU. The annual inflation is 8.8% (which is a bit high) and the average exchange is:
44 UYU for 1 USD.
Argentina – Argentine Peso
El peso argentino is next on our list. Argentines used el austral from 1985 to 1992 before using el peso again. This was because el austral began to devalue, leading to an Argentine peso being worth 10,000 australes.
Until 2002, the Argentine peso was worth the same as the USD, but the Argentine Senate changed this. Since then, it has been devalued and the current average exchange rate is 100 Argentine pesos for 1 USD.
The ISO code of the Argentine peso is ARS. The annual inflation is 36% (which is quite high).
Chile – Chilean Peso
Our last Latin American country on the list is Chile. Chileans have been using el peso chileno (Chilean peso) since 1975. However, it was established as the national currency in 1817 but it was substituted by el escudo (the shield in English) in 1960. La Casa Moneda de Chile has been manufacturing the country’s currency since 1743 (even if it weren’t pesos back then)!
You can find the following pesos bills:
Some of these have special, colloquial names among Chileans. The 1,000 pesos bill is called luca, the 5,000 is called gabrielita and the 10,000 is called arturito.
The ISO code of this Spanish currency is: CLP. The annual inflation is 3%. The average exchange is:
707 CLP for 1 USD.
Spain – Euro
Spain has been a member of the European Union since 1999 and so uses the euro as currency. The former Spanish currency, called las pesetas, was in use between 1868 and 2002.
The euro is one of the most widely-accepted and strongest currencies in the world. It is the currency of the Eurozone, formed by 19 countries that include Germany, Italy, Greece, and Portugal.
The ISO Code of this Spanish currency is: EUR. The annual inflation is -0.3% and the average exchange rate is:
0.84 EUR for 1 USD.
Equatorial Guinea – Central African Franc
El franco CFA de África Central is the official currency of Equatorial Guinea and other 5 African countries. Equatorial Guineans have used it since 1984, when they substituted it for the former currency, the ekwele.
You can find franc bills of:
The ISO code for this Spanish currency is: XAF. Its annual inflation (in Equatorial Guinea) is 1.2%. The average exchange rate is:
500 XAF for 1 USD.
Practice Your Spanish!
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