Monday, May 16, 2011

What kind of money should tourists and longer-term residents bring with them to Cape Verde?

One of the questions most often asked by visitors to Cape Verde, based on some of the activity on the travel websites, pertains to foreign exchange. This posting will help you to plan ahead with respect to your monetary instruments.

The official cash currency of Cape Verde is the Cape Verdean Escudo (CVE). The value of the escudo is pegged at a permanently fixed exchange rate to the Euro:

€1 = 110.265 ECV.

Because the escudo is pegged to the euro at a permanently fixed rate, euro cash is accepted everywhere in Cape Verde. Since you can't buy escudos outside Cape Verde, be sure to bring euros. You will receive in exchange, 100 CVE for each euro. So there is a cost to using euros. You could always go to the bank to exchange euros but you will have to pay a fee at the bank as well as wait in long lines to be served.

There is also a black market in currency exchange. You will find some of the "street bankers" near the market on the Plateau in Praia (Santiago). You'll get a slight better rate than the banks, but I would be very cautious because you may run the risk of getting counterfeit notes. For me, it's not worth the risk of getting a few extra pennies.

Other currencies are not readily accepted in local establishments. But if you have British pounds sterling, US dollars or Brazilian reas, they are readily exchanged at the banks.

The four primary banks found across the island are Banco Comercial do Atlantico (BCA), Caixa Economica, Banco Inter-Atlantico, and Banco Caboverdiano de Nogocios (BCN). There are a couple other banks, like Banco Africano do Investimentos (BAI), but you won't find branches everywhere. In any event, when you walk into a bank branch office, you're likely to be presented with the same picture. Long lines and frustrating wait times. So, don't worry, be happy! Pick a number.

Actually, the best time to visit a bank branch is during the lunch hours from 12-3. Avoid Mondays and Fridays. The place will be jam-packed with customers. Banks are not open for business on the weekends.

Most bank branches have ATM machines. However, try to get to an ATM before Friday. Very often ATMs run out of cash over the weekend. Also, not all banks cards will work in these ATMs. Credit cards with chips inside won't work. Also, the ATM network here seems to accept only 4 digit PIN. So if your PIN is longer, you may be out of luck.

Most major credit cards are accepted at most major hotels and car rental agencies ... but "major" chains are scarce on the islands. And credit cards are not widely accepted at most local stores and restaurants in Cape Verde.

One thing you should be careful of with the use of credit cards is that many major European and American banks may put a hold on your credit card account if you use the card outside of your home country without informing the bank. They do this to protect you from potential fraud. So before travelling, let your bank know that you'll be in Cape Verde and over what period.

Of course, if you're planning to live in Cape Verde for any extended period, it may make a lot of sense for you to open a bank account with one of the local banks and get an ATM card. Wire transfer capabilities often come in handy. Set this up via your foreign banks online banking system. Or if no online capabilities exist at your bank, set up the capability at your local bank in your home country before you leave for Cape Verde.

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