The South Pacific has some rather exotic-sounding currencies – Vanuatu’s vatu, Samoa’s tala and the Tongan pa’anga. However, some South Pacific countries use US, Australian or New Zealand dollars, while the Pacific franc (the Cour de Franc Pacifique, or CFP) is legal tender in the French territories (New Caledonia, French Polynesia).
As with travel to any destination, it’s best not to put all your monetary eggs into one basket. A credit, debit card, dedicated travel-cash card and a stash of notes will give you some options if an ATM swallows your plastic or the bank is closed.
ATMs and money changers available in most large towns; cash only on most outer islands.
ATMs & Credit Cards
Withdrawing cash via local ATMs – either from your home bank account or a dedicated travel-cash account – is the easiest way of accessing your money in the South Pacific. There are ATMs in most urban centres, at airports and many ferry docks, but not on remote islands, where cash is still king.
Credit cards are accepted at most tourist facilities but often attract a 4% to 5% transaction fee. Visa and MasterCard are the most common. Make a note of the applicable 'lost card' phone numbers before you depart.
You'll still encounter old-fashioned paper credit-card transaction slips here and there in the South Pacific. Be warned: dodgy shopkeepers have been known to quickly make several imprints of your card when you’re not looking, and then copy your signature from the one that you authorise. Pay attention!
Nothing beats cash for convenience, paying for things in remote places…and risk. Very few travel insurers will come to your rescue if you lose your wad, and those that will compensate you limit the amount to somewhere around US$300. Withdraw moderate amounts from ATMs to minimise risk.
Fees, commissions, buy/sell exchange rates...changing currencies is always a losing game. If you’re travelling to three South Pacific countries, try to get a handful of all three currencies before you leave home, rather than changing one for another on the road. But don't expect your local bank to stock obscure South Pacific currencies – banks and moneychangers in major gateway cities (eg Auckland, Brisbane, LA, Honolulu) are more likely to have a pile of Pacific tender in the vault
If you are exchanging currencies as you go, to redeem anything like face value it's best to get rid of cash in the country of origin before you leave.
Most airports and big hotels have exchange facilities or booths that are open outside of normal office hours. However, hotels are almost always the worst places for exchanging money. The best exchange rates are offered at banks – exchange bureaus generally offer worse rates or charge higher commissions.
|Tahiti & French Polynesia||CFP100||US$0.95|
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com
Attitudes to tipping vary across the South Pacific, but in general tipping is not expected. In Polynesian countries leaving a tip is fine if you feel inclined; in Melanesian countries, however, the issue is more complicated. In traditional Melanesian societies, a gift places obligation on the receiver to reciprocate somehow, and this can cause confusion and embarrassment when you’re just trying to say thanks to the lady who cleans your hotel room – particularly if you’re about to leave. Always ask if unsure.
These days, the only reason you'd carry travellers cheques rather than withdraw cash from a local ATM is the security cheques offer from loss and theft. American Express and Travelex/Thomas Cook travellers cheques are still accepted at banks across the region. Keep a record of cheque numbers, and ask about fees and commissions before you cash them in.
Value-Added Tax (VAT)
Value-added tax (VAT), known as TVA (taxe sur la valeur ajoutée) in French-speaking countries, is levied in some South Pacific nations such as French Polynesia, New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Fiji. It’s added to the price of goods and services, including hotel and restaurant bills, and is usually included in the prices quoted.