Bolivia’s currency is not often talked about, for a few reasons. First, Bolivia is not considered a regional powerhouse, so not a lot of people follow what’s happening with Bolivia’s economy. Second, it’s not one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America, so not a lot of travelers pay too much attention to the boliviano.
Third, the boliviano has a fixed exchange rate to the US dollar, which makes Bolivia’s currency less interesting for traders. Consequently, there’s not a lot of information readily available about the boliviano, but we’d argue undeservedly.
Bolivian currency has a long history and the current situation in Bolivia makes it all the more interesting. We’ll try to remedy that lack of information about the boliviano here. In this article, you will learn the basics of Bolivian currency and its history, about the currency crisis currently happening in Bolivia, and get some tips if you plan to travel there.
So let’s get to it.
|The Bolivian boliviano is the official currency of Bolivia, issued by the Banco Central de Bolivia (the Central Bank of Bolivia). The ISO 4217 code for the boliviano is BOB and the symbol is Bs. Bolivian currency is a decimal currency and one boliviano can be subdivided into 100 centavos. The boliviano was first introduced in 1987 and the latest series of banknotes is from 2018.||
Bolivian coins can be found in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 centavos. The 2- and 5-centavo coins are no longer in circulation but remain legal tender. There are also coins of 1, 2, and 5 bolivianos.
Boliviano banknotes currently in circulation are of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 bolivianos. The older series included banknotes of 2 and 5 bolivianos but they have been out of circulation since 2013, although they are still legal tender.
Bolivian Coins in Circulation
Boliviano Banknotes in Circulation
The boliviano has had a fixed exchange rate to the US dollar since 2011, at a rate of 6.96 BOB: 1 USD. This means that the Central Bank of Bolivia institutes monetary policies that maintain a consistent exchange rate of the BOB to USD at 6.96:1, by exchanging the two currencies for each other when necessary.
During much of the Middle Ages and later, from the 16th to early 19th century, the territory of Bolivia was under the colonial rule of the Spanish Empire. During this time, the currency used in Bolivia was the Spanish real, as it was in much of South America.
Bolivia gained its independence on August 6, 1825, and soon after, in 1827, the Spanish real was replaced with the Bolivian sol at par. The sol was the currency of Bolivia from 1827 to 1864. In 1864, the first boliviano was introduced and replaced the sol, at a rate of 1 boliviano = 8 soles.
The first boliviano was the first decimal currency in Bolivia, i.e., its subunits were based on a factor of 10. The initial subunit was centécimos, with 1 boliviano being equal to 100 centécimos, but centécimos were replaces with centavos in 1870.
The first boliviano was the official Bolivian currency until 1963 when it was replaced by the peso boliviano. This was done in conjunction with other monetary policies that were aimed at combating high inflation in Bolivia. When it was introduced, 1 peso boliviano was equal to 1,000 bolivianos.
Unfortunately, the monetary policies did not manage to curb inflation and Bolivia’s currency continually devalued over the following decades. At its lowest point, in 1986, 1 USD was worth approximately 2.2 million pesos boliviano.
Finally, the peso boliviano was replaced by the second boliviano (the modern Bolivian currency) on January 1, 1987, at a rate of 1 boliviano = 1,000,000 pesos boliviano. The currency reforms and monetary policies had finally had an impact and Bolivia’s currency has been a relatively stable currency since.
To sum up, the currency of Bolivia was:
As we’ve mentioned, Bolivia’s currency has been pegged to the dollar at the rate of BOB to USD = 6.96:1. Because, in essence, exchange rates are determined based on supply and demand, the Central Bank of Bolivia uses dollars to buy bolivianos when the currency starts to weaken against the dollar; by doing so, it increases the supply of the dollar and raises the demand for the boliviano, consequently propping up the currency.
The Central Bank uses dollars from its foreign-currency reserves to do this. The issue has become that its foreign reserves have been shrinking due to several short-term problems, like rising global interest rates and fuel prices, and long-term problems, like the reduction in hydrocarbon exports, among other factors. Since February 2023, the Central Bank of Bolivia has stopped publishing data on its reserves.
The last published data stated that the reserves were at 3.5 billion USD, which is one of the lowest levels since 2014. This has led many people to speculate whether the Bolivian Government can sustain the fixed exchange rate to the dollar or whether it will be forced to let the boliviano freely float due to the shrinking foreign-currency reserves.
This has further limited access to dollars in Bolivia. Namely, afraid that there will be a shortage, people have started withdrawing dollars from their bank accounts and also bolivianos to purchase dollars, in the fear that the boliviano will be devalued if the Central Bank cannot maintain the fixed exchange rate. All of this has led to a shortage of dollars at commercial banks.
As of June 2023, the situation is still ongoing.
If you are traveling to Bolivia, you should have no trouble exchanging dollars for bolivianos. You can do it at airport kiosks, exchange offices, banks, or even with unofficial dealers on street corners. However, we would advise that you avoid exchanging USD for BOB at border towns and airport kiosks, as you will likely get bad rates.
Furthermore, we would strongly advise you to avoid street dealers, because exchanging money in such a way is not legal, you get bad rates, and have no way to protect yourself from scammers. That being said, we would suggest that you have some cash on you at all times, as some places, especially in more rural areas, may not accept other forms of payment.
Finally, don’t be surprised if you hear the locals referring to Bolivian currency as pesos. They are not talking about Colombian or Mexican currency, but the Bolivian boliviano. This is just a leftover from when the official currency of Bolivia was the peso boliviano, so some people still refer to it as such.
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