Currency in East Africa

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Currency in East Africa

Postby marian b » Mon Sep 24, 2012 1:07 pm

Hi there, I am going to be doing the Ultimate East Africa Trip in October and was wondering whether I will be okay (financially) if I simply take with me USD cash (i.e. no local currency)? I understand that this may not be ideal but there is a long story as to why this will likely be my primary source of funds (though I will have access to a credit card for emergency purposes).
I'm hoping that I will be able to pay for everything I need (visas, bottled water, meals, tipping etc) using USD. Has anyone done this trip previously that would anyone be able to advise me on this one? Thank you so much :D
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Re: Currency in East Africa

Postby tletter » Mon Sep 24, 2012 2:34 pm

marian b wrote:wondering whether I will be okay (financially) if I simply take with me USD cash (i.e. no local currency)?

We took $US and purchased local currency at the border of each country that we entered, i.e. Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. Other folks used ATMs to get cash that was more iffy given that ATMs were not always available.
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Re: Currency in East Africa

Postby ballu » Mon Sep 24, 2012 3:29 pm

It would probably be easier to pay for most things in local currency (water, snacks, beer, souvenirs, food) ...with the exception of border visas and big ticket tours (Vic Falls stuff, Zanzibar snorkeling) That being said, it's very easy to exchange USD for local currency in all of those countries. You'll get a much better rate if you exchange there than you will if you try to get African currencies in your home country. I also found larger bills got a more favourable exchange rate (100s over 20s). One warning...make sure they are newer bills, I would say for sure nothing older than 2003 would be accepted, maybe even that is outdated.
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Re: Currency in East Africa

Postby AdamfromCanada » Mon Sep 24, 2012 4:00 pm

ballu wrote:It would probably be easier to pay for most things in local currency (water, snacks, beer, souvenirs, food) ...with the exception of border visas and big ticket tours (Vic Falls stuff, Zanzibar snorkeling) That being said, it's very easy to exchange USD for local currency in all of those countries. You'll get a much better rate if you exchange there than you will if you try to get African currencies in your home country. I also found larger bills got a more favourable exchange rate (100s over 20s). One warning...make sure they are newer bills, I would say for sure nothing older than 2003 would be accepted, maybe even that is outdated.


I'd concur with this. You'll be able to trade your money at hotels, and you'll be able to find ATMs in both Kenya & Tanzania that you'll be able to withdraw local money from.

Can you do most transactions with US$? Yes, but you're probably not getting the best exchange rate from merchants. I use visa for most large transactions overseas (some of the optionals, like hot air balloon over the Masai Mara for example), and then local currency whenever possible, saving my US$ (which is a lot harder to come by if you run out of it) for emergencies.
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Re: Currency in East Africa

Postby ExplorerWannaBe » Tue Sep 25, 2012 7:58 pm

My experience is dated (3 years ago) but I generally used ATMs to withdraw local cash at the current official exchange rate but had no problems changing US cash into local currency (with favorable exchange rates, no fee) in Tanzania (especially Zanzibar), Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana.

Local merchants in Zanzibar, Malawi and Zambia were happy to take US currency but be aware they will round to the nearest dollar. Sometimes this will be in your favor but they will most likely round up whereever possible. Having said that, paying in units of $1 for your bar bill, trinkets, etc. may be preferable to getting stuck with kwacha, shillings, etc. that you can't use and don't want as souvenirs (I generally kept about $5 worth of local currency as souvenirs).
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Re: Currency in East Africa

Postby marian b » Wed Sep 26, 2012 10:11 am

Thanks so much guys for all your help - this is truly appreicated. I think I have a much clearer idea now of how I am going to manage the currency thing now. You're all wonderful! Thanks a million! Marian :D
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