We realize that there are many folks out there reading our blog to assist them in planning their own trips- with that in mind I have prepared a series of posts with the type of nitty-gritty detail that will help others intent on their own adventures. I have placed this series under the pre departure or preperation tab on our website.
As noted elsewhere it is best to only change money at actual foreign exchange businesses or official banks or in some countries at the post office. If the post office does do foreign exchange the line there is sure to be shorter than the banks. Your life will be ever so much easier if you get money for the next country long BEFORE you get to the border. Dealing with money changers is always a risk. If you get stuck and must change money at the border at least know what the bank rate is- you won’t get that, but you might get close, and only change what you will need for border fees and until you get to an ATM.
Keep in mind in some countries a city large enough to have an ATM may be several days away and once away from the border you are unlikely to find other moneychangers.
If you have to change money with a money changer at the border do this with your border “helper’s assistance.”
The money changers you see hanging around borders and especially outside banks in cities are usually crooks. THEY DO NOT MAKE THEIR MONEY ON THE EXCHANGE RATE—THEY MAKE IT BY STEALING FROM YOU DURING THE TRANSACTION.
The have a number of typical cons. The simplest one is they simply run away down some back alley with your cash. Most other cons rely on sleight of hand and short changing you.
These guys may offer you a better than bank rate- their goal is to initiate a deal- the rate they quote is immaterial. Once the deal is underway they will distract you change the rate, have their friends jump in and start yelling the rate was something else or any of a number of cons. One favorite con is they give you the new currency. Then you give them the old currency – the guy counts both out in front of you and is holding the money you just gave him in his hand. Then he says you did not give him enough. He will then say the deal is off and he wants his money back. You give his money back and he gives you yours back—EXECPT HE HAS PALMED SOME OF YOUR MONEY EVEN THOUGH YOU WATCHED HIM COUNT IT IN FRONT OF YOU.
If you must change money with a moneychanger here are some tips.
Put the exact amount of money you want to change in your right pocket. Ask how much he will give you for that amount- know in advance what you will accept. Do not do the math in your head in-front of him while being pressured, especially with all the zeros in African currency it is easy to get confused. If he has friends with him make them all go away or insist he walk away with you and they do not follow. If possible have your companions next to you to observe all of this and support you. Make the transaction brief and you control the entire deal. Make him count his money into your hand first. After he counts it you recount it without him touching it. Stick it in your left pocket. Agree again at this point on what you are paying him. If the amount has suddenly changed give him back his money and WALK AWAY. If not proceed. Now, having agreed on the amount you are to pay him, reach into your right pocket count out the money you have already pre-counted yourself. Watch him count it. WALK AWAY.
Walking away is the critical element, because at that point is when he or his friends will try to distract you or change the deal or get in an argument. Most of these guys are cowards who rely on sleight of hand – they are not violent crooks. Few will do anything when you just walk away.