Cash is king on an African safari

posted 24th June 2019 by Danica Wilson in Work in progress

Here at Encompass Africa, people are always asking us questions about money. Things like: “What currencies should we take with us?”; “Should we carry cash in Africa?”; “Should we use credit cards or utilise foreign exchange offices?”.

If you’re keen to know the answers to these questions, read on… our team of seasoned travellers has put together some helpful advice to consider before you head off to Africa.

Always travel with cash in Africa

In our opinion, cash is king when travelling in Africa. We prefer to carry it so we can avoid bank fees and charges, and avoid the stress of finding an ATM or an open foreign exchange office.

If you feel safe carrying a relatively significant quantity of cash, here are our top tips:

  • Always have small notes that you can use for tipping
  • You’ll need cash for visas and tourism levies at border crossings and immigration offices in certain countries. Make sure you have the exact change to avoid potentially long waits for change
  • Use US dollars rather than local currencies. The exception is the rand (used in South Africa and Namibia), which is easily exchanged anywhere in the world
  • Generally speaking, the Australian dollar is quite strong against the rand, so your dollar will go further. It’s easy to convert the rand back to Australian dollars while you’re in Africa or when you get home
  • If you get any other local currency, only get a small amount – and spend it all before you leave the country!


The convenience of cards when you’re travelling in Africa

Taking your credit/debit card along does make life a whole lot easier when you’re travelling in Africa. Just bear in mind that not every African shop or restaurant will have an electronic paypoint.

In major cities such as Johannesburg or Cape Town, Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted. AMEX is not always accepted, so make sure you have a backup.

Hotels throughout Africa will also gladly accept credit and debit cards. Just be sure to notify your bank prior to your departure. They may cancel or suspend your card due to suspicious activity if they’re 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, and the figure may vary from one day to another.

When using your ATM/debit card, we recommend withdrawing cash on arrival at the airport. By doing it this way, you save time and bank fees, and can be prepared for the adventures ahead.

DO you prefer to use a specific credit, debit or travel card for your transactions? Just make sure you know what bank fees and charges will apply for each transaction while you’re on your African holiday.


Foreign exchange offices

There’s 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.

Travelex, Bidvest and American Express are the main foreign exchange retailers in Africa.

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 the exchange rate leading up to your trip, as it may change drastically from one day to the next.

If you do choose to buy local currency on arrival, be sure to do so before heading out to your safari camp as the more rural areas may not offer this facility.

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