Money & costs
Transdniestr’s economy has been disastrous, despite the fact that 40% of Moldova’s total potential industrial output is concentrated in Tiraspol. After a brief period of improvement in metal production and light industry, political hostility in early 2006 appears destined to plunge the region into a new round of economic hardship.
Inflation is rampant and the local currency, the Transdniestran rouble, is worthless outside its borders. The average salary is approaching US$100 a month. State employers have been able to pay their workers more regularly than in the past, eliminating the need to earn a desperate living at the flea market, but a return to those difficult days seems inevitable.
It has been widely speculated that the mainstays of the economy – and why some people in Transdniestr are unfathomably rich –have included illegal arms sales (of old Soviet military machinery conveniently left on its territory), female slave trafficking, extortion of people trying to open businesses in the territory, money laundering and reaping profits from state-owned currency-exchange booths.
The region is dominated by a single company, Sheriff, owned on paper by Viktor Gushan, though it is rumoured that President Smirnov himself is actually behind the wheel. Nevertheless, the two are close; their sons careen through the streets of Tiraspol in matching black Hummers. Sheriff has a hand in almost everything, from the multimillion-dollar luxury hotel and football stadium on the edge of Tiraspol (until very recently, the only European regulation football stadium in Moldova) to bread factories, liquor stores and car showrooms. It is rumoured that, in order to start a business in Transdniestr, you have to talk to Sheriff.
Suffice to say that foreign investment in Transdniestr is a long way off.
The only legal tender is the Transdniestran rouble (TR). There are 1, 5, 25, 50 and 100 rouble notes and 1, 5, 10 and 50 kopek coins. The notes are tiny, often dirty and disintegrating. All notes sport the much-revered and famous 18th-century Russian military general Alexander Suvorov on the front, while the back features different places of ‘national’ importance, such as the Kvint brandy factory on the 5-rouble note. Some taxi drivers, shopkeepers and market traders will accept payment in US dollars – or even Moldovan lei or Ukrainian hryvnia – but generally you’ll need to get your hands on some roubles. All exchange offices are owned by the banks, so there’s no shopping around for the lowest fee or best rate. Often you will find private citizens who will want to exchange dollars for roubles.
Spend all your roubles before you leave, as no one honours or exchanges this currency outside Transdniestr, though you can probably find takers at the bus station in Chişinău if you somehow get stuck with a large amount.
For the latest exchange rates, check out www.cbpmr.net. Exchange rates at the time of writing:
euro zone €1 TR10.59
Moldova 1Lei TR0.63
Russia R1 TR0.31
UK £1 TR15.48
Ukraine 1hv TR1.60
US $1 TR8.30