Here at Encompass Africa, the team is always asked about currencies, whether to carry cash, use credit cards or foreign exchange offices. Our team of seasoned travellers are here to give you some advise.
In our opinion, cash is king and we prefer to simply carry it so we can avoid bank fees and charges, avoid stressing about finding an ATM or opening hours of the foreign exchange offices.
Of course there really is no right or wrong answer, when it comes to paying for things in Africa, just different options and certainly opinions. It also depends on you.
1) Are you comfortable carrying relatively significant quantities of cash?
2) Do you prefer to use your credit or debit or a specific travel card for African holiday transactions? Do you know what bank fees and charges will apply for each transaction whilst on safari in Africa?
3) Do you have a good grasp of exchange rates and how it all works?
So here is some information to help you get your head around the options.
Africa travel with cash
Cash is king as we said earlier. So if you feel safe carrying cash here are our tips for making it great.
- Always have small notes that you can use for tipping
- Make sure you have the exact change for any visas or tourism levy to avoid potentially long waits for change at border crossings and immigration offices
- Use the tourism currency of USD rather than the ‘local’ currencies with the exception of South Africa and Namibia where it is the Rand and easily exchanged anywhere in the world
- Generally speaking, the Australian dollar is quite strong against the Rand, so your dollar goes further. Rand is easy to convert back to Australian dollars whilst in Africa or when you get home
- Local currencies (except the Rand) are best converted back to Australian dollars before you depart the country. Reason being is in Australia, you are not able to exchange more obscure currencies for AUD.
Card for convenience whilst travelling in Africa
Taking your credit/debit card along does make life a whole lot easier. Just bear in mind that not every African shop or restaurant may have an electronic paypoint.
In major cities such as Johannesburg or Cape Town, Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted.
Hotels throughout Africa will also gladly accept the plastic. Just be sure to notify your bank prior to your departure as some banks may cancel or flag your card as suspicious if they are not aware of your travel plans.
Remember to keep an eye on that exchange rate, the Australian dollar does go pretty far in Africa, but card purchases are totalled according to the exchange rate at the time of purchase, so this figure may vary from one day to another.
When using your ATM/debit card, we would recommend withdrawing cash on arrival at the local airport. By doing it this way, you can save big time on bank fees and can prepare for a few days of travel in advance.
Foreign Exchange offices
There is no doubt that you will receive a more favourable exchange rate when converting your dollars to the local currency once you have arrived.
You can easily find foreign exchange offices at most airports and major city centres. In South Africa, local banks may also act as a foreign exchange dealer.
They will gladly assist you with converting your currency provided you have your travel documentation and passport handy.
One thing to note, you may be charged a tourist rate which could be slightly different to what the locals would pay.
Keep an eye on that exchange rate leading up to your trip as it may change drastically from one day to another.
If you do choose to buy local currency on arrival be sure to do this before heading out to your Safari camp as the more rural areas may not offer this facility.
What are your thoughts?
We invite you to provide feedback based on your travels to Africa and what you did by way of money to pay for those miscellaneous items, meals and drinks not included.