A Word about COPs (no, not policemen, Colombian pesos)

One of the funny things about living in another country is that you discover just how much money shifts, changes, and simply dances about all the time. Before moving to South America, the dollar was just the dollar to me. Sure, there was some inflation, but I never worried about it (I left the United States in the early 1990s).

Then I arrived in South America and I continuously heard “the dollar went up,” “the dollar went down,” and I always thought – the dollar doesn’t move around that much, does it?

Well, in a way, it does. We’re not always aware of it, but our currency fluctuates daily. Or rather, it spends much of its day doing a little dance that doesn’t, in the end, affect the prices we see in the supermarkets (that’s if you live in a stable country).

But what’s really happening with all this dollar dancing is that the local currency is fluctuating, at times wildly. Right now, the low oil prices have oil-producing countries like Colombia sweating, waiting for the barrel to once again be liquid gold.

And interestingly enough, as expats we pretty much know what the dollar equivalent is every day, even several times a day. It just becomes natural. We even talk about it with other expats. And it does become important, since the dollar going up 400 pesos means that our imported products in the supermarket (and really, just about anything else) will be pricier. It means that when we want to go back home, and we put things in dollars (or pounds or euros), we gasp.  How could that cup of coffee cost the equivalent of 15,000 pesos? Because the peso went down, the dollar went up, and we’re the ones who get stressed out when we have to pay the bill.

So, the point of all this is – how do we find out what the peso is worth today? Since you probably have noticed that my blog lists the prices of restaurants in pesos, you’re wondering how to calculate it.

The best people to go to are the fine folks at Colombia’s official bank, the Banco de la Republica. Here they publish the daily exchange rate, or how many pesos you’ll need to make up just one dollar.  If your job is paying you in pesos, read it and weep. Or go prepare that calming herbal tea.

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