Money In Africa

Page Updated: May 2020

Cash, Credit Cards, Debit Cards, ATMs, Banks? What should you use to get the most from your money in Africa?

Assuming your daily rate hunt costs have been paid in full ahead of arrival, you will need to decide how best to bring money to your African hunting country, any overnight stays in a transit country all other expenses such as hotels, taxis, tips, shopping and all and/or additional trophy fees.

If you are booked for a long hunt and anticipating getting a large number of trophies, you can often pay most of your trophies ahead of time. In fact a lot of outfitters insist on this method of trophy fee payment now. If you don't get all the trophies that add up to the amount you have paid, the outfitter will return the difference. So nearly gone are the days of hunters carrying huge amounts of cash on them for a 21 day hunt in Tanzania.

Not all outfitters though offer this system of trophy fee payment, so there will still be times when you need to pay all your trophy fees in cash at the end of the hunt. However, if you are not happy carrying so much cash around, ask your outfitter, before booking the hunt, if he will accept a pre-payment (and possible refund) of trophy fees. There has to be a degree of trust on your side that you will get any refund due promptly. If this is your first time with an outfitter and you feel unsure if you are doing the right thing, you want to question if this is the right hunt for you.

The Best Way To Take Money To Africa

If your trophy fees are going to be the major expense of the trip, you must check what currency is required for this payment and what form the payment can be accepted - cash, credit card or even traveller's cheques. In most hunting countries this will be US$ cash but if you are hunting in a west African countries such as Cameroon or Benin, the trophy fees will be payable in Euros, even though the main hunt costs were paid in US$. If you are hunting in South Africa, some outfitters use US$ while others use South African Rand (ZAR) for trophy fee payments.

  • Check the currency generally used in your hunting country, any transit country and the current foreign exchange rate. In most countries, except South Africa, the US$ is the most acceptable currency for purchases and foreign exchange into local currency.
  • Excepting the South African Rand, most local African currencies are difficult, if not impossble, to buy before you go. Also the exchange rates of most local African currencies are volatile, so preferably wait until you arrive before you exchange your foreign cash into local money. You will probably only ever need a small amount of local currencies like CFA Francs (west African countries), Pula (Botswana), Birr (Ethiopia), Metical (Mozambique), Namibian Dollar, Tanzanian & Ugandan Shilling and Kwacha (Zambia) for local market shopping, etc. In most airports there will be a forex booth but you might prefer to go to bank in town where you will probably get a better rate of exchange.
  • Traveller's cheques (traveler's checks) were a popular and safe way of carrying money overseas but have now become virtually obsolete. Even though they are still issued by banks, they are no longer widely accepted and cannot easily be cashed, even at the banks that issued them in the first place. If you do actually manage to find a bank to cash them, they will likely charge a very high fee - up to 20%. Go to the bank very early and take a packed lunch because cashing traveller's cheques in an African bank can take a very long time - even once they have located the only teller who knows how to do it.
  • So the previously widely used Traveller's cheques for trophy fee payment are very rarely accepted now, due to the difficulties an African outfitter has with cashing them.

Get The Most From Your Money In Africa...

Exchange Currency Before You Leave Home

  • As mentioned above, excepting South African Rand, don't bother getting local African currencies before you go. Preferably wait until you arrive before you exchange foreign cash into local money, if it is necessary.
  • If you are hunting in South Africa and will be paying your trophy fees in South African Rand (ZAR) cash, you may want to buy the currency before you leave. As it could be a relatively a large sum, it is likely to be difficult to exchange US$ to ZAR locally in a small town bank. Also you may want to have it all sorted out before you go hunting.
  • If you are not an American hunter and have to pay trophy fees in US$, you may want to complete your forex before you leave.
  • Always shop around and use comparison websites to find the best exchange rates & fees.

Using ATM, Debit And Credit Cards In Africa

  • If you are planning to use your ATM or debit card in Africa it is very important to tell your bank when and where you will be travelling. If you don't, your bank may view the foreign activity on your card as fraudulent and freeze your account, leaving you with no access to your funds until you can call them to put it right.
  • Check you card PIN number has the correct number of digits to work in an ATM in Africa. You need a PIN with a 4 digit number and no letters. Get a new PIN issued to you if have more than 4 digits.
  • Make sure you have the card company phone number to call from overseas in case your card is lost or stolen. Sometimes you only have an 0800 phone number for your home country which will not work from overseas. Keep this number separate from your card.
  • Making a cash withdrawal from an ATM is generally the easiest and cheapest way to get cash in the local currency abroad. Even though you will be charged a fee to use an ATM which will show on your card statement, the exchange rate will be between 2 - 7% better than that offered by a local bureau de change or bank and there is no additional transaction fee.
  • Be aware you will only get local currency (ZAR, Shillings, metical, etc) out of an overseas ATM even if US$ are used widely in the country. So if you are on your way home, don't overload yourself with local currency that you can't get rid of...until you come back again.
  • If you are planning to use your credit or debit card as a primary source of your funds in Africa, it might be an idea to have a second card available in case an ATM eats your card or it gets lost, damaged or stolen. ATMs in Africa are mostly only found in major cities or towns - definitely not in remote areas. ATMs frequently malfunction or are empty which is another reason to keep an adequate supply of cash just in case.
  • Make sure your credit or debit card is linked to one of the PLUS, Cirrus or Maestro networks. A Visa card will work in the PLUS network ATMs. Mastercard will work in the Cirrus and Maestro network ATMs. Check your card for which network it is linked to and check the ATM for the logos before putting your card in. You can use Worldwide PLUS / Visa card ATM locator or Worldwide Cirrus/Maestro / Mastercard ATM locator to check where the ATMs are in your African hunting country.
  • Credit cards are useful for larger expenses and will generally be accepted by big hotels in the major cities in Africa. Always ask what the exchange rate will be and the fees they may add for the priviledge of using your card with them. Out-of-town smaller businesses may not take any cards at all.
  • Shop purchases made with a credit or debit card will incur a hefty surcharge in the range of 10%, so you are better off getting the cash out of a machine first, if you can. If not, try to get cash on your card at a bank where you will get a slightly smaller surcharge of about 5%.
  • Like you probably do at home anyway, keep your wits about you when using an ATM as they are often targeted by thieves.

Using A Prepaid Card In Africa

Africa is often perceived as a particularly dodgy region of the world to use a credit or debit card, despite the more sophisticated fraudulent card crimes perpetrated elsewhere. Many hunters and travellers use their regular credit cards in Africa but as soon as they return they destroy that card and get a new one.

  • A prepaid or preloaded card is a far safer way of using a card because it is not linked to your bank account, other cards or your personal details in any way. So if your card is lost or stolen there is no risk of identity theft.
  • You load the card with whichever main currency or currencies you are likely to need on your trip and afterwards, if you don't need it again any time soon, you can cash-out your card to get the remaining balance returned to you.
  • The exchange rate is fixed at the time you load the card and remains fixed during the period of travel.
  • If the local currency isn't one of the currencies on the card, it will use your other currencies to pay the bill.
  • You can use the chip-and-PIN pre-paid card in regular ATMs but the amount of cash you can withdraw will need to be within the ATM's issuing limits. You can use the prepaid card in a shop, hotel or business with a much higher limit per 24 hours.
  • You can top up your card and check your balance online, at a local card store or by phone.

Using Cash In Africa

  • In most of Africa, the US$ is the currency of choice to take as cash.
  • Take a variety of small denomination notes because it will be hard for shops to give change for high denomination notes.
  • Do not use torn or old dollar bills which were issued before 2003 - the ones with a small image of the president. These will be refused by banks, bureau de change, hotels as well as in your hunting camp.
  • More on safety issues when carrying cash in Africa.

So in summary, using all forms of money in Africa is fine as long as you plan ahead. Figure out what you are going to use and when on your safari, then have a contingency plan when Africa throws you a curveball.

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