I am used to withdrawing cash easily everywhere I am, to using my VISA credit card and a local ATM. But since coming to Africa, I realized for the first time that the system doesn’t always work as well as it does in Japan and Germany. Finding an ATM in Zanzibar turned out to be a real adventure. In today’s post, I am going to answer all your money related Zanzibar questions. Or at least some of them.
The simple answer to whether there is an ATM in Zanzibar, or not is ‚Yes’ there are ATMs in Zanzibar but only in Zanzibar City. I found three in Stone Town, the city center, and another three close to the Ferry Terminal. I assume there is also at least one at the Airport.
But just by finding an ATM in Zanzibar your money troubles aren’t necessarily over. First, you need to hope that the ATM has any cash for you to withdraw. Something I learned quickly. On Zanzibar, all ATMs I tried had a set limit of 400.000 shilling (that’s not even 200 USD). But I was only able to withdraw that amount at one ATM. All the other ATMs I tried didn’t have enough cash reserves, and so I was only able to get half the amount (200.000 shilling) which is only about 100 USD. Some were completely out of money.
You should also know that most ATMs I tried had a quite high transaction fee. Ranging from 7000 shilling to 12000 shilling (3 to 5 USD) per transaction. The only free one I found was DTB behind the old Fort, but the second time I tried to get money there, the ATM was out of order. By the way, the most expensive ATMs on Zanzibar are the Barclays ones.
I created the below map to make it easier to find ATM while in Zanzibar. You can alternatively always use your Google Maps App. Simply click ‘Explore’ and then choose ‘ATM’. This will display all ATMs in your vicinity.
When I realized I was almost out of money after arriving in Nungwi the northernmost region of Zanzibar I thought I could solve my problems by withdrawing some money from an ATM. But like I mentioned above, there aren’t any ATMs in Nungwi. The closest one was more than 70 kilometers away in Stone Town.
In Nungwi there are some places where you can get cash using your credit card. Some businesses like Armaan Bungalows (where I stayed for a couple of nights), a tour company and a money exchange near Mama Mia Restaurant all offer this service. Just be aware that you get a terrible deal.
At the tour company, I was told that the commission is 8% and that I would transfer the money in US Dollars and get Shilling at a rate of 1 USD = 2000 shilling. That’s a loss of 300 shilling per dollar + 8%. I wanted to get 200,000 shilling, and I would have had to pay 108 USD. That’s a fee of 48,400 or 21 USD!!!
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So, I decided to save my money, use the last of my dollars and shillings and pay my hotel via credit card. They take a transaction fee of 6%, but it’s better than ‘withdrawing’ any money.
Aside from some of the better (or more expensive) hotels you can also pay using a card at some of the restaurants in Zanzibar. But even if they write their prices in shilling on the menu, they will charge you in dollars at a course of 1 to 2000. So again you pay a premium even if they don’t charge you any transactional fees.
Still, I can highly recommend Mama Mia as a great place to have dinner if you are looking for a place that accepts credit cards. The food is delicious, the WIFI is the fastest on the island, and the sunsets from the terrace are beautiful.
If you are the kind of traveler who walks around with a lot of dollars in cash in the hope of exchanging it into local currency, I have to tell you to be careful about this as well.
Surprisingly the exchange rate at the two exchange offices I checked out in Stone Town where very good, and they charged almost no extra commission or other charges. But as soon as you are out of the city, the rates become very unfavorable. You can then exchange your dollars at a rate of 2100 shilling (the official course is 2300), and pay an additional commission. That’s a lot of money down the drain.
My ultimate tip is to withdraw enough shilling for your whole stay from an ATM before you set foot in Zanzibar. Then you won’t have to worry about ATMs, exchange offices and other shady businesses on the island, and enjoy your stay even more.
If you were wondering what you can do in Zanzibar, I can highly recommend doing a spice tour. By the way, if you really want to save some money while traveling around the island, don’t use taxis. Rather opt for the local transport called a Dala dala. You can read all you need to know before your first Dala dala ride on my blog post.
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None of the experiences in this post are in any way sponsored and have all been paid for by myself. The opinions stated are all my own and have not been influenced in any way.
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Lena is the creator of the Social Travel Experiment. Planning her trip around the world took a lot of effort. To make it easier for future world travelers she has made it her mission to teach others how to have an unforgettable trip around the world, through short stays with locals, without wasting valuable time or money.