Wednesday, October 25, 2006

ATMs in Africa ?

An email from a friend who's working in Tripoli lamented about how difficult life can be when international banking is minimal or non-existant. Money has to be sent to her via Western Union, or brought in by friends.

This reminded me of when I was traveling in Ethiopia, where my ATM bank card was useless, and only a few places accepted credit cards. I had brought cash -- some in U.S. dollars, some in euros, and a few British pounds, as I had been advised to do by friends living in Addis Ababa. As well, I brought traveler's checks in Canadian dollars, which I could cash at the banks and the currency exchange at the airport.

Of course, we all had to watch our money carefully, since banks were open for limited hours, and very busy. My hotel in Addis accepted credit cards, but it was the only one during 2 weeks that did. We were up north in Aksum when the others ran short of money, and I had to change every dollar, euro and GBP I had into birr so the others could pay for hotel and food.

It wasn't the worst of circumstances, just a pain when we are so spoiled with having bank machines everywhere. And having to account for every cent sure keeps you from overspending. I was glad I took my own advice to always 'back up your travel money', and don't ever rely on just one source. (And yes, they paid me back as soon as we got back to Addis.)

I've posted more travel currency tips at Travel Tips.