Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ethiopia: cash only

Here's something interesting we've learned in preparing to travel:

Ethiopia takes cash only. No credit cards. No traveler's checks.

There are a few places, like the Hilton and the Sheraton, that accept Master Card and Visa. But everywhere we're going? Cash. Even our hotel. Cash. (and you're supposed to settle your bill with them a couple of days before you leave. Why? Because they calculate everything with pen and paper. Of course).

It's been years since I've even used traveler's checks on a trip. Cash? Never. Now I understand why people used to tote guns around with their gold. If someone steals your cash it's gone. You can't just call up and cancel it like a credit card.

"Um, I lost the $500 in my purse today. I'd like to cancel those bills and have some new ones issued, please. Please?"

So, we estimated how much cash we think we need (what happens if we run out, I'd like to know? With a credit card we've never faced this problem) and went to our bank to withdraw it.

But, of course it wasn't that simple.

Because Ethiopia doesn't want just any cash. According to our agency we're supposed to bring only crisp and clean bills. ISSUED AFTER THE YEAR 2003. Seriously. No joke. The banks in Ethiopia want new money. They want pretty money. And if you don't give them what they want, they might give you a lower exchange rate. Or not exchange your cash at all.

Crisp clean bills issued after 2003. This is some exotic place we're going, folks.

So, we're at our bank. We kind of skulk to the counter and ask sheepishly for crisp new-looking $100 bills issued after 2003, explaining before the teller can roll her eyes that we're going to Ethiopia and it's their idea, not ours.

She was completely un-phased. Apparently, amazingly, there are other countries besides Ethiopia that want pretty new U.S. cash, too. The teller hands us a stack of hundred dollar bills and says, "Tell me which ones you want."

Um, okay.

We went through probably six stacks before we found enough bills we thought Ethiopia would find acceptable (we didn't find any hundreds older than 1996, fyi). We rejected some hundreds with red ink spots just to be safe but we fudged a little on "crisp"--if we'd discarded every bill that was older than 2003 And all those with creases down the middle we'd have been there all day.

So, now we've got all our money for Ethiopia. Hopefully, it's enough. Hopefully, we won't lose it. Wow. What an adventure.


  1. That's nuts. I heard about needing crisp bills, but clean and after 2003...what? Good thing you have an understand bank...I hope our is too when it's time to travel.

  2. After 2003 is new to me. Nuts. But am I surprised??? NOPE!!

  3. I got a great laugh at this. When we went to Mexico for a missions trip this summer, we exchanged $6k in cash. Same thing - crisp new $100's. When you live in rural America and your town has 500 population, you might have to try more than one bank before you can exchange all your money. Yes, that happened to us. Not fun. Good thing to be doing days in advance... not the day you're leaving for your trip :) Not that I did that or anything :P