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Money & costs

Money

The three easiest currencies to exchange within Africa are the Euro, US Dollar, & Pound Sterling. In some countries with a large tourism sector Australian & Canadian dollars and Japanese Yen may be exchanged at large banks and some currency exchanges, but you will receive a poor exchange rate as these currencies are uncommon and more troublesome for the banks in turn to exchange. The continent is roughly split between a blocks where the US dollar is easiest to exchange and use and where the Euro is. In Southern African countries the South African Rand enjoys a regionally dominant position (see below) and may be easier to exchange than other currencies.

Due to concerns about counterfeiting, money exchangers, banks, and most likely even merchants will not accept US dollar banknotes that are worn or older than 2001. As strange as that sounds, it seems to be a steadfast rule among anyone dealing much in dollars and you will find it difficult or even impossible to dispose of worn or pre-2001 dollar banknotes. The same does not seem to hold true for Euros (naturally as being adopted in 2002 there are hardly any pre 2001 notes around), but may for other non-African currencies.

With few exceptions (most notably the South African Rand), African currencies are generally not accepted by banks or money changers outside their native territory, or at least not at a decent exchange rate. The currencies of some smaller countries are non-exchangeable and become worthless abroad, with some countries prohibiting export of their currencies and confiscating and even fining people leaving the country with currency (most notably the Angolan kwanza).

There are three currency unions in Africa:

Common Currency Area (using South African rand): South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, & Namibia.

West African CFA franc (XOF): Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, & Togo.

Central African CFA franc (XAF): Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, & Gabon

Despite sharing the same name and same exchange rate (655.957 CFA francs = €1), the two "CFA franc" currencies are issued by different banks and are NOT interchangeable. A 1000 CFA franc banknote from Gabon will not be accepted by a merchant in Benin, and vice versa. Indeed, even with banks and money changers it will likely be easier (and you'll receive a better exchange rate) to exchange Euros or even US dollars. Given the fixed exchange, if visiting any of these countries, Euros will receive a more favorable exchange rate.

The Mauritanian ouguiya & Malagasy ariary are the only two non-decimal currencies currently in use in the world, divided into 1/5th fractions known as khoums & iraimbilanja, respectively.

US dollar

The U.S. dollar has been the de facto currency of Zimbabwe since the collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar and allowance of foreign currency as tender in January 2009. Note however that dollar coins are usually not accepted in Zimbabwe and you may have problems getting change for small purchases. The Djiboutian franc (178.8=US$1) and Eritrean nakfa (16.5=$1) are pegged to the dollar.

The U.S. dollar is the easiest currency to exchange (and may receive a better exchange rate compared to the Euro) in Southern Africa and East Africa, as well as the DRC, Nigeria, & Liberia. Many tour operators, tourist attractions, and hotels in these regions set their prices in dollars, some even going as far as to offer poor exchange rates for or even refuse local currency. Also, many countries in these regions set their visa prices in dollars and will only accept dollars (or perhaps pound sterling).

Euro

The Euro is the official currency of France's Mayotte & Reunion territories, Spain's Canary Islands and Portugal's Madeira and Porto Santo. The West & Central African CFA francs are pegged to the Euro at 655.975 (formerly, simply 100 to the French franc). The Moroccan dirham is pegged (with a fluctuation band) to the Euro at roughly 10 dirhams to one Euro. The Cape Verdean escudo is pegged at 110.265 to one Euro and the Comoran franc is pegged at 491.9678 to one Euro. The Sao Tome and Principe dobra was fixed at 24500 to 1 Euro in 2010 to guarantee stability—it was worth just 12000 per Euro in 2004.

The Euro is the easiest currency to exchange and receives the best exchange rate in countries whose currencies are fixed to the Euro, with strong European ties, and/or where the majority of tourists are European. This generally corresponds with North Africa, the Sahel, West Africa, & Central Africa with the exceptions of Egypt, Sudan, & Ghana, neither the Euro nor dollar is better, and Nigeria, the DRC, & Liberia. Due to the relevantly recent creation of the Euro and long-standing status of the dollar, beware that there are some regions of Africa where people either have never heard of the Euro or will see it as worthless.

South African rand

The South African rand is an official currency and widely circulated in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, & Namibia. Although the latter three issue their own currencies, they are pegged 1:1 with the rand and are not legal tender in the other countries as is the SA rand. The rand has also been accepted in Zimbabwe since the Zimbabwean dollar's demise, but not as widely as the U.S. dollar. It is also readily exchanged (and sometimes accepted for payment) in Botswana and Mozambique as well as most of the tourist spots in Botswana and Zambia.