4 Money Tips for Traveling Africa

Everyone who has ever travelled to another country has, at one time or another, has found themselves looking at the pile of coins or bills in your hand and for the life of you you can’t even begin to distinguish one from the other. I know that for those new to travelling outside your home country, understanding money exchange can seem like a nightmare.

I’ve come up with a list of tips that I’m using as I travel to different countries. 

Notify Your Bank about Your Travel Plans

This is the most important thing you need to do before traveling outside your country. Please notify your bank about your out of the country travel plans. This is to avoid your account being frozen because your bank is suspicious about activities taking place in your account. I faced a similar situation when I decided to visit Mafia Island in Tanzania, which my bank didn’t know such a place excited. My account was frozen for a couple of weeks, and I was left with no access to my current account. I had went to the bank an notified them of the list of countries I plan to travel to this year, but Mafia Island was not on my list, because I also didnt know it existed.  

Once you’ve contacted the banks, be sure to take photos of your credit cards (front and back) and email them to yourself.

Use the ATM to Get Cash

Don’t buy foreign currency before you leave your home country. It will cost you a lot of extra money. Instead, when you arrive in the other country, use your debit card (which you notified the bank you would be using in the other country) to withdraw cash from an ATM machine. 

Even though you are likely to incur a fee for using an ATM that is not part of your bank, it will still be less than exchanging money at one of those exchange booths, where they charge a very high commission. 

One thing I’ve done when crossing boarders over land, is I wait to see if there are other travellers from the country I’m traveling to, then we exchange our foreign money at the borders. The best way to find out who will be crossing the border on the days you travelling, is by checking couchsufe or posting it on your travel community groups. 

Use Local Currency Whenever Possible

While paying with your bank card is the norm in most countries today, the reality is that you can’t use them everywhere, especially in Africa. Local currency is best for transport, when you need a bottle of water as you wander the streets of Dar es Salaam, or when you want to stop in a sidewalk at a local market to buy yourself those beautiful African print material. You usually need local currency to get into smaller attractions or to pay entrance fees for temples or parks.

I have often found that if you offer up the local currency, the item costs you less than if you whip out the bank card to pay for a meal or some keepsake. If you are going to be traveling only in Europe, you can get enough Euros to last your entire trip.

If you find yourself going to multiple countries that don’t use the same currency— for example, I’ve been in seven countries in four months and none of them used the same currency — I usually just stop at the ATM and get what I think will be enough for my stay there. If you will be in a country for only a couple of weeks, budget for meals, snacks, and whatever keepsakes you might want. You probably will not be able to use the money in the next country and you always lose something each time you convert between currencies.

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Take Time to Understand the Local Currency

So how do you take time to understand local currency? I usually find a quiet spot to examine the money I just got at the atm. Obviously, you don’t want to pull your money out in the middle of a crowded room, but I usually do this in a restroom or even once I’m in my hotel room. You have real money. It’s not Monopoly money. No matter the currency, whether it is Zambian Kwacha or British Pounds, it is all divided into units just as our Rand are. 

Look at the exchange rate the day before you arrive. Don’t obsess about using a currency converter. You can get close enough. With some things it is easy.