It probably seems a strange thing to write about, that is until you try to travel around East Africa as a European (especially British) with your £ and €.

These experiences are based on travelling in Tanzania and Zambia in 2011.

  • Dollars rule – You can pay for things directly in dollars and often get a very good exchange rate better than that stated by forex if you carry big notes. Many places only accept $50 and $100 notes and they must be new ‘big head’ notes. Exchanging dollars at money shacks seems to follow the same rules.
  • Euros – also seem quite acceptable right now as they are a strong currency. Eyes lit up when €500 notes were produced but personally I feel uneasy about carrying single notes worth so much money.
  • Local currencies – If staying in a country for more than a week it’s worth changing the occasional $100 bill at a money shop for small purchase use and in rural areas where they are not confident with dollars, but pay for anything large such as accommodation with dollar bills and use big ones to bargain on prices.
  • Cards – Credit cards and debit cards are treated in the same regard, they both incur fees except for things like online airline purchases. These are fees from the vendor and are on top of your bank fees, so this can add up pretty quickly but there are some things that are just too expensive to pay for with carried cash and if travelling for a long time you probably have to resort to this
  • ATM – There are ATMs that will dispense dollars in capital cities, but again there is a card handling fee on top of whatever your bank already charges so it’s not very good value and probably better to just pay for things with cards directly if possible.