Currency

Botswanan pula (P), Lesotho loti (plural maloti, M), Malawian kwacha (MK), Mozambican metical (Mtc), Namibian dollar (N$), South African rand (R), Swazi lilangeni (plural emalangeni, E), Zambian kwacha (ZMW), Zimbabwean bond notes

Daily Costs

Prices vary considerably between countries.

Budget: Less than US$75

  • Dorm bed: US$10–15
  • Campsite: US$18–30
  • Two meals in cheap restaurants: US$10–20
  • Intercity bus: US$25–100

Midrange: US$75–150

  • Double room in midrange hotel: US$50–150
  • Two meals in nice restaurants: US$25–30
  • Internal flights: US$100–200

Top End: More than US$150

  • Double room in top-end hotel: from US$150
  • Per person in high-season lodge: from US$1000
  • 4WD rental per day: from US$150
  • Meals in top-end restaurants: US$40–50

Bargaining

Bargaining is most prevalent in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, less so in Botswana and South Africa. But even here there are nuances, and most other countries lie somewhere in between.

As a general rule, bargaining is usually expected in markets and street stalls, especially those that sell handicrafts aimed at tourists. It is sometimes possible to negotiate a discount for taxis and accommodation, but this varies from one country to the next.

Money

ATMs widely available in larger towns and cities. Credit cards widely accepted in most shops, restaurants and hotels (especially in South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia).

ATMs

ATMs are readily available throughout South Africa and in cities and main urban centres in the rest of the region. If you’re planning to travel for lengthy periods of time in rural areas, however, plan ahead: ATMs are still a foreign concept. There are a few ATM scams to be aware of, operating particularly in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Black Market

In some parts of the world, artificially fixed exchange rates in the bank mean you can get more local money for your hard currency by changing on the so-called black market. Not only is this illegal, it’s also potentially dangerous. In most of the region, currency deregulation has eliminated the black market; Zimbabwe is a significant exception. If someone approaches you anywhere in the region offering substantially more than the bank rate, they almost certainly have a well-formulated plan for separating you from your money. If you change money on the black market, always count your money before walking away.

Cash

Most travellers carry a mix of cash and travellers cheques, although cash is more convenient. The best currency to bring is far and away US dollars. British pounds, followed by euros, come a distant second and third.

You’ll have no trouble exchanging US cash wherever there are Forex facilities, but try to bring notes (especially US$100) issued from 2006 or later; earlier notes may not be accepted at banks.

The South African rand is also widely recognised throughout the region, but it’s not worth changing your currency into rand before converting it to kwacha, pula or whatever.

It’s always wise to have at least an emergency US$20 note tucked somewhere safe in case you find yourself suddenly devoid of all other possessions.

Credit Cards

Most credit and debit cards can be used in ATMs, which are found all over South Africa, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia. In other countries they’re found only in capital cities and larger towns, and aren't always reliable.

Credit cards work for purchases all over South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, and in tourist establishments in other countries. You can also use credit cards to draw cash advances (but even in South Africa this can take several hours, and be wary of high interest charges).

Whatever card you choose to use, it isn’t wise to rely totally on plastic, as computer or telephone breakdowns can leave you stranded. Always have some cash or travellers cheques as backup.

Following major cash shortage in Zimbabwe many foreign consulates recommended tourists bring enough US dollars to last the duration of their trip. Zimbabwe’s new bond money currency was introduced in late 2016 in hope of easing the money crisis, but time will tell if it’s a temporary measure or here to stay.

Currency

The US dollar is the official currency of Zimbabwe, although government-issued bonds were added into the mix in late 2016.

Elsewhere in Southern Africa, many midrange and top-end hotels will quote their room rates (and accept payment) in US dollars.

In all countries it’s wise to rely on a variety of methods to fund your trip. Local currency, US dollars and a credit card will cover most bases.

Exchange Rates

Australia (A$1)Canada (C$1)Euro (€1)Japan (¥100)New Zealand (NZ$1)UK (£1)USA (US$1)
BotswanaP8.03P7.83P11.62P10.05P7.67P13.05P10.47
LesothoM10.24M10.53M14.69M11.99M9.79M17.51M14.06
MalawiMK541MK532MK783MK680MK511MK515MK713
MozambiqueMtc60Mtc60Mtc76Mtc77Mtc57Mtc102Mtc78
NamibiaN$10.46N$10.50N$14.95N$12.60N$9.92N$17.63N$14.17
South AfricaR10.24R10.53R14.69R11.99R9.79R17.51R14.06
SwazilandE10.24E10.53E14.69E11.99E9.79E17.51E14.06
ZambiaZMW7.34ZMW7.44ZMW10.42ZMW8.56ZMW7.04ZMW12.36ZMW9.80
ZimbabweUS$0.76US$0.75US$1.10US$0.95US$0.72US$1.22US$1

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Moneychangers

Throughout the region, you can exchange currency at banks and foreign exchange bureaus, which are normally found near borders, in larger cities and in tourist areas. You can also change money at some shops and hotels (which almost always give very poor rates).

The easiest currencies to exchange are US dollars, followed by euros or British pounds. At border crossings where there is no bank, unofficial moneychangers are usually tolerated by the authorities. It’s always important to be alert, though, as these guys can pull all sorts of stunts with poor exchange rates, folded notes and clipped newspaper sandwiched between legitimate notes.

Tipping

When it comes to tipping, every country is different, but a few general rules apply:

  • Hotels and restaurants It isn’t usually necessary in small local establishments, midrange restaurants, backpackers lodges, hotels or fast-food places, but in any upmarket restaurant that doesn’t automatically include a service charge (which isn’t obligatory if the service has been poor), it may be appropriate.
  • Taxis Taxi drivers aren’t normally tipped, but may expect about 10% from well-heeled travellers.

Further Information

There is a grey area between midrange restaurants (where tipping isn't usually necessary) and upmarket restaurants (where tipping may be appropriate), because tipping is rarely expected from locals but may be expected of foreigners. On the other hand, wealthier Africans may sometimes tip even at smaller restaurants, not because it’s expected, but as a show of status.

If you’re driving – especially in cities – you are expected to tip parking guards, who’ll watch your car while you’re away (in a few cases this is a protection racket, but they’re mostly legitimate).There’s no need to tip the guys who wave you into the parking space you were going to take anyway.

At safari lodges and on tours, everyone is expected to leave a blanket tip to be divided among the staff, while safari guides expect a separate tip from other staff. Most safari companies suggest the following as a rule of thumb:

  • guides/drivers – US$10 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 to US$5.

Travellers Cheques

Travellers cheques are becoming increasingly difficult to change and doing so is rarely less than a bureaucratic nightmare.

If you do decide to go with travellers cheques, it’s wise to purchase a range of travellers cheque denominations so you don’t have to exchange US$100 in a country where you need only half that. When exchanging travellers cheques, many places want to check your purchase receipts (the ones the travellers cheque company told you to always keep separate), but carry them with you only when you want to change money. Just be sure to have photocopies of them, along with the international numbers to call in case of loss or theft.

Be aware that it can be difficult to change travellers cheques in Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi; some banks don’t recognise modern purchase receipts (or perhaps don’t want to), although US dollars cash in the same institutions is welcomed with open arms.