Holidaying in Zanzibar is like stepping into a corner of paradise: turquoise sea, sandy beaches, sunshine, and the most delicious fresh fish and seafood dishes. However, as the infrastructure of the island is yet quite rustic, one important question that many visitors ask themselves relates to money: is there an ATM in Zanzibar?
After my fantastic trip to Zanzibar earlier this year, I decided to write this article and include everything you need to know about how to manage your money in Tanzania, and what currency to take to Zanzibar. The last thing you want is to run out of money, when the nearest ATM in Zanzibar is 60 miles away from your hotel.
The ATM Zanzibar Situation
There are very few ATMs in Zanzibar and most of them are located in Stone Town, at the airport and near the ferry terminal. When you land in Zanzibar, your pick-up driver will normally take you to the ATM first, before heading to the car. This is because the ATMs in Zanzibar are so rare. It is always good to carry at least 10 US dollars in cash with you in case the airport ATM doesn’t work and you need to pay your driver for the ride into Stone Town.
Besides Stone Town, you will find one ATM in Paje, one in Nungwi and one in Dunga.
The ATM in Paje, located at the petrol station, is not that reliable because it runs out of money quickly. It serves the entire area of Jambiani, Paje, Bwejuu and Michamvi, and you would be surprised just how many people miscalculate their budgets for Zanzibar. I can’t comment about the other two as I haven’t visited them, but I assume it’s the same situation. Each of the ATMs in Zanzibar pretty much covers the North, the Central and the South of the island – and the island is pretty big!
The maximum withdrawal amount at an ATM in Tanzania is 400,000 shillings, which is roughly £130. Depending on what card you are using, there can also be a daily limit. This is not a big amount, especially considering that Zanzibar is quite an expensive island,with much higher prices than mainland Tanzania.
If you travel to Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania, the best thing would be to withdraw cash from an ATM in Arusha, Moshi or Dar es Salaam. If your international flight lands directly in Zanzibar, then the ATM from the airport is the way forward, it is owned by NMB and it accepts both debit and credit cards.
Most of the ATMs in Zanzibar and in Tanzania in general will charge a withdrawal fee on top of what your bank is charging. The only bank that I found not charging any extra fees, was KCB bank, which has an ATM near the ferry terminal in Stone Town.
Can You Pay By Card in Zanzibar?
There are places where you can pay by card in Zanzibar, but they tend to be on the more expensive side. Mostly hotels and established restaurants will accept card payments. Be aware that there will be a 5-8% extra charge added to your bill when you chose to pay by card. To get the best travel deals in Zanzibar, I recommend that you pay by cash as much as possible.
Some people advise against paying by card in Zanzibar due to the high risk of fraud, but I personally didn’t encounter any such issues. I chose to pay by card at the resort I stayed at and also at some of the restaurants in Jambiani where I ate. I used my Monzo card and kept it frozen, just in case. If you are using a similar card that is connected to an app on your phone, I highly recommend you to get a simcard in Tanzania so you are connected all the time to the internet and can be alerted straight away if there are any unusual transactions on your card. Whilst mainland Tanzania is best covered by Vodacom, in Zanzibar you will get the best signal with Zantel.
US Dollars in Zanzibar
In Zanzibar you can easily pay with US dollars at the hotels and resorts, and some of the fancier restaurants. As you will probably book tours through your hotels, these can also be pre paid using US dollars. However, you should be aware of a few things when you are planning on spending US dollars in Zanzibar.
Firstly, your notes have to be in mint condition and printed after 2006. The newer the bills, the better. Bills issued before 2006 are not accepted and you won’t be able to use them. To be on the safe side, bring dollar bills that have been printed after 2013.
Secondly, if you are paying for a tour in dollars, it will be generally more expensive than paying in local Tanzanian shillings.
The best place to order US dollars before your trip to Zanzibar is the post office. I found that they had the best exchange rate and you can order the currency online, get delivery straight to your home, and you don’t have to queue at the post office. However, make sure to put a note in your order requesting them to send bills printed after 2006. Unfortunately, I forgot to add a note and they sent me bills printed before 2006.
Currency Exchange in Zanzibar
There are a few money exchange bureaus in Stone Town, but none anywhere else on the island. Usually the hotel you stay at will be able to exchange your dollars to Tanzanian shillings, but at a much lower rate. There is an exchange counter at the airport as well, but I personally haven’t used it. I did however use the exchange bureau in Dar es Salaam airport to get rid of all my Tanzanian shillings when I left the country, and the rate was really good, almost the same as the official one.
Other Questions About Money in Zanzibar:
What is the best currency to take in Zanzibar?
As mentioned above, the best currency to take to Zanzibar are the US dollars. They are widely accepted in hotels and resorts, and you can also pay for tours with them. I do recommend however, to pay in Tanzanian shillings during your trip to Zanzibar.
How much money do I need per day in Zanzibar?
If you have already paid your hotel before arriving in Zanzibar, budget around 50 USD dollars per day to pay for food, drinks, and local transport. Most tours in Zanzibar are priced between 15-75 US dollars, depending on how far they go and what they include. The cheapest tours would be snorkelling off the shore, or visiting the spice orchards. The more expensive ones include sunset with dinner on a traditional dhow boat, a full day of snorkelling in different locations, or a trip to Prison Island. Renting a moped in Zanzibar usually costs around 50US dollars a day. Private transfers from one side of the island to the other are also costly, with prices between 40-70 US Dollars, depending upon where you’re going. The most expensive transfer is from the North to the East beaches.
Use Tanzanian shillings or US dollars in Zanzibar?
From personal experience, it’s better to try and pay as much as possible in Tanzanian shillings, as you will get more for your money. I only used my US dollars in mainland Tanzania, mostly to pay for the safari I took in Serengeti National Park and in Ngorongoro Crater, and to use for tips to the guide and cook. I exchanged most of my dollars privately with a girl I met at Hostel Hoff, who was leaving Tanzania for Kenya. She needed US dollars to pay for her visa at the border, whilst I needed Tanzanian shillings for my upcoming trip in Zanzibar, to Jambiani and Kizimkazi.
As a rule of thumb, if the price is listed in shillings, pay in shillings. If it is listed in US Dollars, pay in dollars. Otherwise, the conversion rate will be in your disadvantage.
I hope my article will help you plan your trip to Zanzibar better. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comment section below. Enjoy paradise island!
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