Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Your Money in Tanzania

Currency Converter Cheat Sheet.

The best way to handle financial transactions in Tanzania is by using cash.  However, carrying loads of cash around in your back pocket is not the smartest way to travel in a third world country.   Here are some quick tips that will help you handle your money like a pro in TZ:

travel belt
The Travel Belt:  Consider wearing an Travel Belt similar to the one in the picture.  A travel belt is a great way to carry your money, credit cards and travel documents on your person at all times.

The upside of using these belts is that they leave your hands free and since they are usually worn under your clothes, they are virtually invisible.  They are very light weight and actually have a lot of space to carry your stuff.

The only downside to these belts is that when in warm weather...(and it will be Africa hot where we are going)  they tend to stick to your skin when you sweat.  My solution is to wear a 'wife beater' undershirt or a spaghetti strap T under your clothing so that the travel belt does not come in contact with your skin.

Currency Converter Cheat Sheet  -- Traveling with a currency converter cheat sheet makes shopping a ton easier and also keeps you from spending money by accident.  I personally cannot do "air math" to convert money in my head so when the going gets tough, I whip out my currency converter cheat sheet and then am ready to barter like a pro.  I usually use Oanda.com for my travel currency needs.  Before departure, consider printing out your own currency converter cheat sheet by clicking HERE .  Simply find the correct currency (Tanzanian Shillings to USD) then clicking on the Traveler's Cheat Sheet link.  Print and cut out your cheat sheet! The cheat sheet folds to the size of a credit card so it will fit beautifully in your wallet.  The best part is that it has TZShillings to USD on one side and USD to TZShilling on the other.

1996 US Dollars -- This one is really confusing to me.  In Tanzania, all US currency printed in 1996 is not accepted in many establishments. Even vendors in the streets won't take them. Banks will only exchange them for 50% of their value...WHAT?  Their explanation is that the US Dollars printed in that year are suspect and are probably fake.  My suspicion is that it is a low grade urban legend scam that allows bank officials to acquire an unnoticeable amount of US Dollars at half price so that they can turn around and use them for full price....yeah, that's the ticket!!
It is advisable to carry some US dollars when traveling in Tanzania (and anywhere) but if you do so, make sure that those bills were not printed in 1996.

Using Credit and Debit Cards -- Credit and Debit cards are not very useful in most places in Tanzania.  The only places that we can use them is at western hotels, high end stores and banks.  However, you will have access to reliable ATMs and Banks in Dar, Zanzibar and Arusha.  Using the ATM every time you need money and withdrawing what you will need for a day or two is the best way to go.
However, and this is important, you must inform your bank that you will be using your card in Tanzania (as well as Kenya and Holland).  If you don't tell them in advance, the bank will automatically block your card when foreign transactions show up unexpectedly.  It is nice that the bank has your back in case some crazy Nigerian prince get a hold of your account but a bank block can throw a huge monkey wrench in your travels.  Especially since you might have to wait 7 to 10 business days for them to remove the block.

Travelers Checks -- Nope!! They went out with disco pants.

Anyway, I always feel pretty safe traveling with money in Africa.  Feel free to leave comments on this post with travel tips and questions for the group.

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