Money & costs
The Maldives is no cheap destination – you’ll hardly see a backpack the entire time you’re here (and if you do it will be being carried for someone by a member of resort staff) – and the government prefers it this way, maximising revenue while keeping out the stoned hippies who so outraged local conservative values when they began to trickle through in the 1970s.
Even the folk here on budget packages are fairly well heeled, and don’t fool yourself – even if you do get a cheap flight and accommodation deal, unless it’s full board you’ll spend almost as much again on food and drink during your stay.
While it’s possible to say that costs are high, it’s hard to be much more specific, mainly because two travellers can pay vastly different sums for the same deal at the same resort due to how they book – one travel agent may have an excellent deal on the room rate, another a far worse one, while an FIT will just have to pay whatever rate they are quoted directly by the resort reservations service.
Extremely roughly then, expect to pay at the very least $100 per person per day at the lower end for a room with full board. Midrange starts around $200 per day and extends up to $500, while for about $500 a day, you enter the heady heights of the Maldives luxury market, which currently seems to have no cap.
For those with a modest budget, the best deal is a full board or all-inclusive package (including certain drinks, both alcoholic and non) that includes flights and transfers. While it’s still a lot of money, you’ll spend almost nothing during your stay.
Tipping is something of a grey area in the Maldives, where 10% service tax is added to nearly everything from minibar drinks to room prices. In many places this would mean that you don’t need to tip in addition, but it’s still the case that people serving you personally will often expect something. It’s good form to leave a tip for your room staff and in smarter resorts, your thakuru (butler). Give any tips to the staff personally, not to the hotel cashier – US dollars, euros and local currency are equally acceptable. A few dollars a day is fine for room staff, while anyone carrying your bags might expect US$1 or so per bag.
In Male’ the fancier restaurants usually add a 10% service charge, so you don’t need to tip. Tipping is not customary in local teashops. Taxi drivers are not tipped, but porters at the airport expect Rf10 or US$1.
The currency of the Maldives is the rufiya, which is divided into 100 larees. Notes come in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, five and two rufiya, but the last two are uncommon. Coins are in denominations of two and one rufiya, and 50, 25 and 10 larees. The value of the rufiya is pegged to that of the US dollar, so the exchange rate between the two currencies never changes. Most hotel and travel expenses will be billed in dollars. If you’re staying in a resort, all extras (including diving costs) will be billed to your room, and you pay the day before departure. Resorts accept cash, credit cards or travellers cheques in all major currencies, although US dollars are preferred.
There’s a slowly growing number of ATMs in Male’ – most of them (but not all) now allow you to withdraw funds from international accounts. Those that definitely do are those outside the major banks on Boduthakurufaanu Magu in Male’. Note that while you can do cash advances on credit cards over the counter at Male’ airport and at most resorts, there are no ATMs outside Male’.
It’s perfectly possible to have a holiday in the Maldives without ever touching cash of any sort, as in resorts everything will be chalked up to your room number and paid by credit card or travellers cheques on departure. However, it’s a good idea to have some cash with you – small-denomination US dollars are most handy for tipping staff and buying sundries in transit. You won’t need Maldivian rufiya unless you’re using local shops and services. Even these will usually take dollars, but you’ll be given change in rufiya.
There are no restrictions on changing money into rufiya, but there’s no need to change a lot. Rufiya are not readily negotiable outside the country, so reconvert any leftovers at the bank counter in the airport when you leave.
Every resort takes major credit cards including Visa, Amex and MasterCard. A week of diving and drinking could easily run up a tab over US$2000, so make sure your credit limit can stand it. The cashier may want 24 hours’ notice to check your credit. Many resorts apply a surcharge of 5% to credit-card payments, so it may be best to have enough travellers cheques to cover the bulk of your extras bill.
Banks in the Maldives are not noted for their efficiency in international transactions. A transfer using the ‘Swift’ system seems to be the most efficient way to get money to the Maldives. Villa Travels is the agent for Western Union (3329990; firstname.lastname@example.org; Boduthakurufaanu Magu), one reliable but expensive way to transfer funds. The HSBC Bank (Boduthakurufaanu Magu) might be your best bet. Try to have the money handed over to you in US dollars, not rufiya.
Banks in Male’ will change travellers cheques and cash in US dollars, and possibly UK pounds, euros, Japanese yen and Swiss francs. Most will change US-dollar travellers cheques into US dollars cash with a commission of US$5. Changing travellers cheques to Maldivian rufiya should not attract a commission.
Some of the authorised moneychangers around town will exchange US-dollar or euro travellers cheques at times when the banks are closed. You can always try some of the hardware shops, souvenir shops and guesthouses. Most tourist businesses will accept US dollars in cash at the standard rate, and euros at reasonable rates.