There are ATMs in major towns. Credit cards are accepted in most top-end hotels, but lodges and tour operators require advance payment by bank transfer. Otherwise, bring US dollars in cash.
Credit cards can be used in ATMs displaying the appropriate sign, or to obtain cash advances over the counter in many banks – Visa and MasterCard are among the most widely recognised. Transaction fees can be prohibitive and usually apply per transaction rather than by the amount you’re withdrawing – take out as much as you can each time. Check also with your bank before leaving home to see if some banks have agreements with your home bank that work out cheaper than others.
You’ll find ATMs at all the main bank branches throughout Botswana, including in Gaborone, Maun, Francistown and Kasane, and this is undoubtedly the simplest (and safest) way to handle your money while travelling.
The unit of currency is the Botswanan pula (P). Pula means ‘blessings’ or ‘rain’, the latter of which is as precious as money in this largely desert country. Notes come in denominations of P10, P20, P50 and P100, and coins (thebe, or ‘shield’) are in denominations of 5t, 10t, 25t, 50t, P1, P2 and P5.
Most common foreign currencies can be exchanged, but not every branch of every bank will do so. Therefore it’s best to stick to US dollars, euros, UK pounds and South African rand, which are all easy to change.
Foreign currency, typically US dollars, is also accepted by a number of midrange and top-end hotels, lodges and tour operators. South African rand can also be used on Botswanan combis (minibuses) and buses going to/from South Africa, and to pay for Botswanan vehicle taxes at South Africa–Botswana borders.
Most banks and foreign-exchange offices won’t touch Zambian kwacha and (sometimes) Namibian dollars; in border areas you can sometimes pay at some businesses with the latter. To make sure you don’t get caught out, buy/sell these currencies at or near the respective borders.
There are five commercial banks in the country with branches in all the main towns and major villages. Although you will get less favourable rates at a bureau de change, they are a convenient option if the lines at the banks are particularly long.
There is no black market in Botswana. Anyone offering to exchange money on the street is doing so illegally and is probably setting you up for a scam, the exception being the guys who change pula for South African rand in front of South Africa–bound minibuses – locals use their services, so they can be trusted.
For current exchange rates, log on to www.xe.com.
Changing Money at the Border
A word of warning: if you’re changing money at or near border crossings and not doing so through the banks, be aware that local businesses (sometimes bureaux de change, sometimes just shops with a sideline in currencies so that arriving travellers can pay their customs duties) usually have abysmal rates. Change the minimum that you’re likely to need and change the rest at a bank or bureau de change in the nearest large town.
Credit & Debit Cards
All major credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, but also American Express and Diners Club, are widely accepted in most shops, restaurants and hotels (but only in some petrol stations).
Major branches of Barclays Bank and Standard Chartered Bank also deal with cash advances over the counter and don’t charge commissions for Visa and MasterCard. Almost every town has at least one branch of Barclays and/or Standard Chartered that offers foreign-exchange facilities, but not all have the authority or technology for cash advances.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
While tipping isn’t obligatory, the government’s official policy of promoting upmarket tourism has raised expectations in many hotels and restaurants. A service charge may be added as a matter of course, in which case there’s no need to leave a tip. If there is no service charge and the service has been good, leave around 10%.
It is also a good idea to tip the men who watch your car in public car parks and the attendants at service stations who wash your windscreens. A tip of around P10 is appropriate.
Guides and drivers of safari vehicles will also expect a tip, especially if you’ve spent a number of days under their care.
Most safari companies suggest the following as a rule of thumb:
- guides/drivers – US$10 per person per day
- mokoro trackers and polers – US$5 each per person per day
- camp or lodge staff – US$10 per guest per day (usually placed in a communal box)
- transfer drivers and porters – US$3
Travellers cheques can be cashed at most banks and exchange offices. American Express (Amex), Thomas Cook and Visa are the most widely accepted brands. Banks charge anywhere between 2% and 3% commission to change the cheques; Barclays usually offers the most efficient service and charges 2.5% commission for most brands.
As a general rule, it is preferable to buy travellers cheques in US dollars, euros or UK pounds. Get most of the cheques in largish denominations to save on per-cheque commissions.
You must take your passport with you when cashing cheques.