15 August 2009

Money money money

We still haven't found the best way to acquire local currency and US dollars (the usually accepted currency North of Namibia). Our requirement is to have enough local currency to keep us going for camping, food shopping and the occasional meal out, Internet access and laundry while not having too much left over at the border crossing so as not to be at the mercy of the unofficial money changers. We have no problem finding ATMs, even small villages along the Okavango in Botswana have them. Petrol stations only take cash, so they always have an ATM attached, but they only give us local currency and only with some cards (it turns out that New Zealand's ASB cash cards are universally accepted while I have had no luck so far getting cash from my UK HSBC account - go Kiwis!). The other fun fact we found was that Lloyd's TSB insists on putting a block on our card every time we use it in a new African country (which is every few weeks) and we have to call them to unblock the card. We tried to give them an itinerary, but in the immortal words of Little Britain: 'Computer says No'. We love ASB for that reason and the fact that we can just email Jennifer at the bank to sort things out for us. Thanks, Jennifer! The problems with getting US dollars - our emergency currency and increasingly the preferred local payment method - can be manifold: 1) In Cape Town we got Rand from the cash machine but weren't allowed to change it into US dollars as we had no proof where the Rand had come from. Lesson learnt: Make sure you keep your ATM receipts when you withdraw cash for exchange, so you can show the bank you are not a money launderer. 2) When we tried to get dollars in Swakopmund (a fairly normal tourist destination in Namibia, which is a pretty well-visited country), the banks needed anything from 24 hours to 2 weeks notice to get US dollars. All exchange transactions go via Windhoek, a half day's drive away, so any money exchanged gets sent there every day. One bank managed to scrape together some dollars for us by holding back their day's takings, a unique event, it seems. Lesson learnt: Get cash in the capital when you can or try the banks early in the morning so they can hold currency for you as it comes in. 3) In Shakawe, nothing more than a spot on the map in North West Botswana - which surprisingly hosted a Barclays branch - the teller was so slow to process our money exchange that Stuart had time to fill in the satisfaction questionnaire twice (Was your teller knowledgeable? Did you receive prompt service? Was your wait in line reasonable? Did your teller treat you with courtesy and professionalism? No to all, twice). The rate we got for Namibian dollars and South African Rand was completely different, which came as a surprise, as the two currencies are officially linked. Lesson learnt: If you can, spend your money before you leave the country. Exchange local currency only, rather than the last country's, as the rates are guess work. 4) In Lusaka we had learnt all our lessons and were still caught out when we tried to exchange US$2000. It turns out that each country has different limits on the foreign currency it is allowed to sell, and in Zambia that's US$1000 only. There are also limits on the cash available on a credit card, and the transaction (times two, as both Stuart and I exchanged $1000 each) took forever, the paperwork was all done by hand as a grumbly queue formed behind us. Lesson learnt: Leave lots of extra time to get through bank bureaucracy. It's easier to cross some African borders than to get Kwachas changed into US dollars.

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