I’m back in Colombia after two years. After arriving on Sunday night in Bogota (from a much-delayed American Airlines flight), I realized how much a few travel innovations have changed my travel life.
Free International Roaming
Two years ago I did not yet have my T-Mobile Simple Choice plan. I now pay just $20 a month for the plan, which does NOT include voice, but it gives me 2GB high-speed data in the US and unlimited data and texting in 100 countries.
Getting a prepaid SIM card is easy enough in many countries (including in Asia), but in South America (e.g. in Peru) it often involves a mind-boggling fight with the operator bureaucracy. This can easily waste a few hours even with some foreign language skills (and without any it’s likely that you’re just not gonna get a SIM).
Uber in Colombia
Uber has changed the way I discover a city. The ability to hail a car wherever you are and to tell the driver exactly where you are going is incredible, especially given the language and cultural barriers. Many cities are too dangerous to walk around (especially if you can’t gauge the danger level of a neighborhood through prior research), but with Uber (and its super-affordable rates) you can just stay in the car and keep updating your destination.
When I was in Bali recently, I had an Uber for the whole day; I was driven everywhere and I just explored each place while the driver waited outside.
In Mexico City, I used an Uber to get to the pyramids quickly and without hassle. The driver waited for me and the whole 4-hour excursion was just $50 round-trip.
In some of the more dangerous cities, Uber is your lifeline – quite literally. Leaving the car is a risk I sometimes don’t want to take. Uber recently started in Mombasa, which has some pretty spots and some great food, but is frankly too dangerous for most travelers. Now with Uber you can safely stay in a controlled environment such as your hotel or restaurant and leave only when your car arrives.
While Colombian taxi drivers are likely some of the best on the continent, an airport pickup at night is still something I’d rather avoid. Instead we just requested an Uber here in Bogota, which quickly and promptly dropped us off at the downtown Hilton.
Fee-Free ATM Visa Card Withdrawals
I used to travel with cash and a Citibank ATM MasterCard. Depending on the country, I would either use my dollars or use my MasterCard to get cash in the local currency. Amazingly enough, I never had any cash stolen until my incident in Uganda last year!
My Citibank ATM MasterCard worked well in many foreign places, but some countries only have a few MasterCard-compatible ATMs and instead have many more Visa ATMs.
The bad news is I used to pay a 3% foreign exchange fee and an ATM fee (which can be up to $10 for each withdrawal), but this has changed now that I have a First Republic checking account. Up to 15 ATM withdrawal fees are reimbursed per month, which has worked for me without fault and without a cap per transaction. Also, First Republic does not charge a foreign exchange fee.
The Visa network exchange rate is usually very competitive and is the same as you get when paying with a Visa credit card that has no foreign exchange fees.
Colombia is a country where credit cards are widely accepted, so in Bogota I walked to the first ATM I saw, punched in my PIN and just got $100. The fee was $5, but I knew it would be reimbursed.
That was almost too easy!