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Cash on hand? How much, which currency and denomination?
I tried a search but didn't find much as far as specifics goes..
How much do people going through Africa recommend having on hand for unexpected situations, bribes, etc..
I get the sense that a combination of dollars and euros is probably best, but I'm not sure how much to take and what denomination is best. I would imagine that a stack of 5's for bribes and 50's for actual expenses would be best.
Obviously I'll have an ATM card and I'll try to always have local currency on me, but from talking to other overlanders it seems that having a fallback stash of foreign currency is a smart thing also.
You probably won't find too many people prepared to tell you how much cash they carry around when travelling on an open forum, it is not just honest travellers who can see this.
Generally speaking Dollars are welcome everywhere, more so than Euros in my experience but I have not been to West Africa. Notes have to be in perfect condition with no marks, tears or that are badly folded, $100 notes are almost useless as apparently there are a lot of forgeries out there so nobody wants them.
A variety of denominations is handy from $1 up to 50's, the latter conveniently being the visa fee for some countries, but I never paid a penny in bribes and it was only hinted at once, I ignored the hint.
I usually changed $20 into the local currency at borders where there is a chance of being ripped off by quick handed changers, it gave me at least some currency without the risk of losing too much.
When you have many creditcards (visa) then are you able to obtain bigger amounts from the ATM - when you need them.
If you only have just one Visa - you should consider some cash.
Generally is helpful, to have a small stock of cash:
To pay for tempory import papers ore insurances (if you dont do a global one), on small borders (with no exchange) you should take with you some 5 euro money notes (maybe 10 pieces) and some 5 Dollar notes with you.
When you need spare, or have repairs - they want usually USD, you can also bring local currency - but the bill comes in USD. When you have a big travel timeframe, you have enough time to obtain money (and no need for carry much cash with you).
Always: just take with you, what you can loose. When there is something what has a big value -obtain an insurance. This way you are always relaxed
This... I've travelled west Africa for about 8 months now and haven't paid once. If you're doing everything legitimately you shouldn't have to, and you shouldn't as it sets a terrible standard.
I generally carry only local currency and maybe a touch of US/Euro. If you're in west Africa the CFA is as good as the Euro; even in non-CFA countries. Temporary import taxes at the borders are the only thing you really need cash for, and they are never too expensive.
Also, if you're thinking of breakdowns, there is almost always a mechanic within 100km (usually every village) and they are dirt cheap.
Good to see the anti bribe comments, I agree very strongly. Get your paperwork in order, be patient and polite and you'll be on you way in a few minutes.
For West Africa it is good to change Euros, as the CFA rate at least is set against the Euro, so it removes most of the stress out of money changing as the rate never changes and everybody knows it.
But really you need US Dollars (there and) everywhere else, as many visas (if you continue down the west coast) require payment in US Dollars for example. In Sudan there are no ATM's, so you must bring all your spending money in as cash, some mechanics or services require (or request ) payment in dollars, and anywhere with a strong black market for dollars means you can save a lot of money. When I was in Sudan the official bank rate was about 2.5, the bm rate about 5.6.
In my 3 year west/east coast trip I used about $3,000 and about 3,000 Euros in cash. I always kept a fair pile of cash on me in case my engine exploded for example (4x4) in a remote place and you need some cash available to sort it all out. You might need some medical help or something as well. Also if you cause an accident it is good to have a few hundred within easy reach to hopefully sort it out really quickly on the side of the road...
BUT, heres the big change in Africa - there are now ATM's pretty much in every medium sized town, usually run off the mobile phone network, mostly only taking VISA (not mc). So in my whole trip through 45 countries I only ever changed money at the border about 3 times, because I knew the first town had an atm or two. So much of the border bullshit has been removed if you plan and research money wise.
Just remember to have a backup plan in case the atm is not working - don't arrive with an empty tank, no food and complain when the atm isn't working, it's not Europe ;-)
Keep a few notes from each country as a souvenir, spend any remaining at the last petrol station so you have some fuel (even if its cheaper in the next country - will there be any available?) and a days food at least.
Have at least two different visa cards from different banks, and the phone numbers in case they block your card as being suspicious activity (in Nigeria for example).
For me this worked really well and I had no money changing problems on my whole trip.
ATM's in the first instance, stash of dollars and euros for visas etc, emergencies and black markets.
Notes: Clean and crisp $50 and $100 bills mostly, dated after 2006(?). Some countries won't accept dirty or folded notes, some will give you a lesser rate. For Euros I think 50 Euros notes are the best, again clean and crisp.
And then about $200 in 20's and 10's.
Please don't start with the attitude that you should be paying bribes. We have driven 90,000km through 27 countries in 3 1/2 years in Africa & haven't paid a SINGLE bribe.
You need to be patient, friendly, open & gently persistent - with that you can get through most situations without paying. (I'm not saying ALL situations, but so far we have been successful). The paying of bribes just perpetuates the problem.
But generally speaking, you don't have to knowingly pay anything. Nobody will directly ask you for a "bribe" by the way. It's usually indirectly - 'do you have a small gift for me' or by the invention of a problem where the solution is you pay somebody to fix it, who then hands most of the money to the policeman concerned etc.
Just politely ignore requests with a dumb smile, pretend you don't understand, ask distracting questions "this is the way to Yaounde yes?" "how is Samuel Eto? does his family live around here? What about your family, are they good? How many kids do you have?" and generally be ultra polite and smiley in a slightly stupid way and away you go.
Africans are generally ultra positive happy people, even underneath a police uniform - connect to that and all will be well.
Learning local languages helps and at checkpoints start the conversation with local greetings, control the conversation by giving your basic details then by asking distracting friendly questions and then finish the conversation with some friendly goodbyes and enthusiastic handshakes etc.
Generally, 80% of the time they are friendly and interested in you as a person. Usually when they avoid eye contact and won't talk with you they cause problems.
Photocopy everything and only show the photocopies - amazing how 99% of the time they accept them!
The only times I've been paying out bribes are at the border where the officer insists a fee is owed for some stamp (or exit tax). There is no way of knowing (ask others in the queue but they will most likely back up the police) if it is legitimate or not so I end up paying - usually to discover on line that I have been skanked.
Otherwise, when an officer asks for money at a checkpoint my refusal is always accepted and I am waved on.
On the issue of ATM's. There are ATM's in most perhaps but not all countries.
I can say for certain that a visit to Sierra Leone or Guinea will require you to bring the cash with you or utilize Western Union or something similar. There are NO ATM's in those two countries for sure that will allow you to access a foreign account.
Location: Now Alberta, Canada! (originally the Netherlands)
just home from a 20 month RTW trip, including Africa.
We had 750 USD per bike hidden for emergencies, and a few hundred USD in a pannier. You can pay for a few visa's at the border in USD, but the notes have to be from year 2000 or later!
Bribes, we never paid anyhting, but in Egypt we had to.
Police/customs etc, we never pay. Don't worry about it.
Just have 100USD within reach in case you have an accident or something.
ATM's are everywhere, but you'll need a VISA card in the USA.
SUDAN has no way of getting cash from the ATM, so bring plenty of USD and change them at the border, in a bank. Good rates at the Sudaneese side.
Sudan is cheap though...
My experience is that for all of west Africa, at least down to Cameroon, Euro is preferred and more commonly used. We never had any troubles getting cash out on cards in larger towns.
This year through Morocco and Senegal I was surprised that I could use Euro at all the petrol stations I found. I took about a 10% hit on the exchange rate, but for me that was well worth it for the reduced hassle/logistics.
I think roamingyak has correctly summarised the bribe situation.
Whilst a bribe should never be paid in an everyday situation, such as border crossings etc, there are occasions when a strict anti bribery approach will cause you more problems. The obvious one will be to avoid being arrested etc when you have genuinely done something wrong. I have only ever needed to do this twice, but in both cases I was clearly in the wrong (not wearing a helmet and breaching a curfew) and a refusal to pay would have resulted in significantly more hassle. Just remember the bribe doesn't have to be paid in cash and buying a coke can be equally effective.
The key places you will get hit up for bribes are St Louis in Senegal, the first few hundred kms in Nigeria when you first arrive from Benin, and anywhere in Kinshasa. Just be aware that it is common to pay 'dash' at roadblocks in Nigeria. Most local vehicles do this, so the police at checkpoints expect it. You can avoid this, but be prepared to be delayed in a battle of wills while they make you wait in the hope you will get frustrated and pay.
All the advice in the posts above re cash and ATMs is very sensible.
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