These days we are able to prepay a big chunk of our trip abroad, but it is the local spending that is really hard to budget for. There are so many factors to consider such as currency, currency exchange, credit card and ATM fees. Where on earth do you find an ATM in a city you have never been to before?! Then there is the conundrum of how much cash to carry or convert on arrival, where and when to exchange your cash etc.
—–ATM cards are a great way to keep your money safely tucked away in your bank account until you need it. Finding an ATM in a major city in Africa is quite easy. Please just be very aware of your surroundings and never use an ATM at night. It is probably best to try and find one next to a bank or in a mall.
A super easy way to find an ATM in a city you are not familiar with is to look one up on the ATM locator websites.
As long as the ATM has a Cirrus or Maestro symbol displayed, you are fine and should be able to draw money using your debit card.
—–Cash in small notes is useful for tipping and smaller purchases. It is also useful if you are travelling in remote areas where ATMs are few and far between or debit/credit cards are not accepted. Carry Euros or USD and some local currency with you, because there may be some places, such as the National Parks, that will only accept US Dollars at the entrance gates.
—–Get familiar with the local currency. Knowing what foreign coins and notes look like and their value will spare you some embarrassment. It also means you will know if you are given the correct change and how much something costs.
—–Convert! I like to have a little travel size calculator with me to convert the price of an item to my home currency. For me it is US Dollars. Sometimes even the most gorgeous pair of earrings can be a little too pricey. Shop around or in some countries, such as Morocco, haggle for it. Depending on the country or region of a country, you may even be able to barter for an item. Try to find out prior to leaving for your trip if bartering is an accepted practice and what kind of items to barter with. Clothes, watches, even school supplies are often welcomed.
—–Serious shoppers should consider booking a shopping guide or personal shopper. They are excellent resources to finding the best stores for the items you are looking for. This could be a really good idea if you are going to shop in a local market like a Moroccan Souk or an outdoor market in Zambia. A personal shopper will speak the local language and you will find him or her invaluable when it comes to authenticating crafts and with haggling. You should be able to book your guide with your travel agent or hotel.
—–Traveler’s checks can still be a great option when traveling to Africa, because they are widely accepted. Of course if you loose them you will get your money back. They can be costly though because you have to find a bank to cash them at (hotels might cash them but will charge more). Then there is a fee to cash them, so my preference goes with ATM cards and a small stash of cash.
—–When to use cash? Make sure to do your homework before you leave and phone the consulates for the countries you are traveling to. Ask them if there are departure fees due at the border posts when you depart a country, especially if it is a more remote post like the one from Zimbabwe to Zambia at Victoria Falls or Zambia to Botswana. You will only be allowed to pay these taxes in cash. Ask if all notes accepted, because you might find some countries won’t accept US$ 100 bills because there have been too many counterfeit notes passing through. You might also find that bills printed before or after a certain date won’t be accepted at certain Bureau De Changes.
—–Safety is always a concern. Taking a few precautions is definitely worth it. Don’t travel with all your credit cards. Choose one or two and leave the rest at home. Wear a money belt under you shirt and keep the bulk of your cash and extra card in the belt. Put only a few bills in your wallet at a time. This way if you were to be ‘separated’ from your wallet you would only lose a few Dollars. If you are in a reputable hotel and it has a room safe then leave your valuables like passport, extra cards and extra cash in the safe.
—–Taxes. Keep all your receipts; you may be able to claim the tax back when you go through airport customs on departure.
—–Forex Regulations. There are some foreign exchange regulations that you should be aware of. Arm yourself with as much information as you can. One example would be that you can’t exchange Moroccan Dirham outside the borders of Morocco. When you leave Morocco you will only be permitted to change 50% of your total forex back into your original currency. For example if you took US$ 500 with you and you changed it all into Dirham then you can only change the Dirham equivalent of US$ 250 back into Dollars.
The following two tips are repeats from a previous blog posted a few weeks ago, ‘10 Things to think about before you leave’, but they are definitely worth repeating.
—–Credit Cards. Check before leaving home, that your credit card company (Visa, Master Card, and Discover etc) is accepted in the country or at hotels and lodges that you are visiting. Also make sure you tell your bank that you will be making purchases from abroad to avoid any stops on your card. Although this may be changing soon, you can currently not use a MasterCard in Zimbabwe.
—–Foreign Exchange. Never change money with a street vendor. It is dangerous and illegal. You might find that the airport is convenient but local banks may be cheaper with their commissions and have a better exchange rate. ATM’s will generally not give you a good exchange. Remember you are going to pay a service fee at the ATM and then another service at your local bank at home. You are also vulnerable to the daily forex exchange rate.
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Author: Principle writer – Celeste Wilson
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