Money and Costs
Haitian gourde (HTG)
Haggling with street vendors, artisans and moto-taxi drivers is part of daily life in Haiti. Do your best, don't take it too seriously and keep in mind they likely need that extra dollar more than you do.
Bigger cities have ATMs, but they often run out of money or stop working. Credit cards are usually accepted in the capital but rarely elsewhere.
Automated teller machines are increasingly common in Port-au-Prince, Pétionville and Cap-Haïtien, but have yet to catch on in much of the rest of the country. They’re the simplest way to manage your money on the road, although obviously you’ll need to make sure you’re liquid when heading out of the capital. Most ATMs are directly on the street, with some in secure booths. Always be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM and pocketing a wad of cash – use machines in large grocery stores that staff security guards when possible.
The Haitian currency is the gourde, usually written as ‘GDE’ or ‘HTG’. The gourde is divided into 100 centimes, although the smallest coin you’re likely to see is the 50 centimes, followed by the one and five gourde coins. Bank notes come in denominations of 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000 gourdes, all with a revolutionary hero on one side and a historic fort on the other. There are still a few very grubby one, two and five gourde notes in circulation, although these are no longer issued.
In practice, most Haitians refer to the Haitian dollar (H$) when quoting costs. The gourde used to be tied to the US dollar at a rate of one to five, with the result that five gourdes is universally known as one Haitian dollar. It’s a system seemingly designed to perplex short-term visitors. When buying something, always check what people mean when quoting the price, eg whether a hundred is in gourdes or dollars (in which case it’s 500 gourdes). To make things even more confusing, prices for expensive goods (or tourist souvenirs) are sometimes listed in US dollars.
The way to minimize headaches is to choose one system, either the Haitian dollar or the gourde, and stick with that. If you choose to work in Haitian dollars, you must divide prices in gourdes by five; if you choose to think in gourdes, you must multiply all Haitian dollar prices by five. Most costs in listings are presented in US$; some smaller items/services, however, such as local transport costs, may be presented in gourdes. For many purchases – hotel rooms, for instance – it’s acceptable to pay in US dollars instead of gourdes.
Note that cash is king in Haiti. With the exceptions noted for credit cards, almost everything you buy will be with folding stuff. Traveling outside Port-au-Prince, you’re likely to be carrying plenty of money, but there are a few precautions to reduce the risk of losing your stash to misadventure.
- It’s unwise to carry wads of money in your wallet, and you’re similarly more prone to being robbed if you carry valuables in a shoulder bag, which can easily be snatched.
- Keep a small amount of money for the day in a handy but concealed place (eg in an inner pocket), and the bulk of your resources more deeply hidden. A well-concealed money belt is one of the safest ways to carry your money as well as important documents, such as your passport. It’s also a good idea to have emergency cash (say US$100 in small bills) stashed away from your main hoard, as a backup.
Most midrange and all top-end hotels (and many Port-au-Prince restaurants) will happily let you flash the plastic. Visa, MasterCard and (to a slightly lesser extent) American Express will all do nicely. With an accompanying passport, cash advances on credit cards can be made in the larger banks.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com
Haiti must be one of the few countries where if you want to change money, the simplest option is to go to a supermarket. These generally have a separate counter near the cashier where you can top up your gourdes. The US dollar rules supreme, although Canadian dollars and euros are usually accepted, along with Dominican pesos. Don’t bring any other currency. Where there are street money changers, they’re only interested in US dollars.
Most Haitians don't tip, but in tourist areas it is usual to tip and certainly all gratuities are happily accepted. Restaurant bills generally include a 10% tax and a 5% service charge, and if you'd like to add a little extra for great service, nobody will be upset. It's also considerate to give bellhops and drivers a little something extra for a job well done.
Traveler's checks are generally not accepted in Haiti.
Budget: Less than US$100
- Double room in a budget hotel: US$50–70
- Cheap street food and markets for self-catering: US$10–20
- Public transportation: US$5–10
- Double room in midrange hotel: US$70–130
- Lunch and dinner in local restaurants: US$20–40
- Internal flights: around US$85
Top end: More than US$150
- Double room in a top-end hotel: from US$130
- Meal at a fine-dining restaurant: US$30
- 4WD rental: around US$100 a day