CFA franc usage: West African (green), Central African (red).
The three easiest currencies to exchange within Africa are the Euro, US Dollar, & Pound Sterling. In some countries with a large tourism sector Australian & Canadian dollars and Japanese Yen may be exchanged at large banks and some currency exchanges, but you will receive a poor exchange rate as these currencies are uncommon and more troublesome for the banks in turn to exchange. The continent is roughly split between a blocks where the US dollar is easiest to exchange and use and where the euro is.
Due to concerns about counterfeiting, money exchangers, banks, and most likely even merchants will not accept US dollar banknotes that are worn or older than 2001. As strange as that sounds, it seems to be a steadfast rule amongst anyone dealing much in dollars and you will find it difficult or even impossible to dispose of worn or pre-2001 dollar banknotes. The same does not seem to hold true for euros, but may for other non-African currencies.
With few exceptions, African currencies are generally not accepted by banks or money changers outside their native territory, or at least not at a decent exchange rate. The currencies of some smaller countries are non-exchangeable and become worthless abroad, with some countries prohibiting export of their currencies and confiscating and even fining people leaving the country with currency (most notably the Angolan kwanza).
There are three currency unions in Africa:
Despite sharing the same name and same exchange rate (655.957 CFA francs = 1 Euro), the two "CFA franc" currencies are issued by different banks and are NOT interchangeable. A 1000 CFA franc banknote from Gabon will not be accepted by a merchant in Benin, and vica versa. Indeed, even with banks and money changers it will likely be easier (and you'll receive a better exchange rate) to exchange Euros or even US dollars. Given the fixed exchange, if visiting any of these countries, euros will receive a more favorable exchange rate.
The Mauritanian ouguiya & Malagasy ariary are the only two non-decimal currencies currently in use in the world, divided into 1/5th fractions known as khoums & iraimbilanja, respectively.
The Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions about Africa
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