Living in a Cash-Based Society

Niofar Executive Relocation, West Africa money, blog, expatriates, tips

1. Types of Money (CFA) used in Senegal

As you may or may not know, Senegal is part of what's known as the BCEAO (Banque Centrale des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest), and shares a common currency with the other Francophone countries in this network - known as the CFA franc.

The CFA franc is the name of two currencies, the West African CFA franc, (used in eight West African countries), and the Central African CFA franc, (used in six Central African countries). Both currencies are guaranteed by the French Treasury, which has resulted in next to perfect financial stability throughout the decades since independence. Although separate, the two CFA franc currencies have always been at parity and are effectively interchangeable. The ISO currency codes are XAF for the Central African CFA franc and XOF for the West African CFA franc.

Also - for those of us who are Anglophone - all of us if you're reading this?? - the French system of number-writing means that you will always seen numbers written with a "." in place of where we would use a ",". So you will have something like "2.350.000 CFA", which is actually "2,350,000 CFA."

Types of Bills:

  • 500 CFA ($1 USD) - Orange

  • 1.000 CFA ($2 USD) -- Pink/Red

  • 2.000 CFA ($4 USD) -- Blue

  • 5.000 CFA ($10 USD) -- Green

  • 10.000 CFA ($20) -- Purple

Types of Coins:

  • 1, 5, 10 centimes - rarely ever used

  • 50 centimes

  • 100 centimes - often used

  • 200 centimes

  • 250 centimes

  • 500 centimes

Dakar money, CFA, XOF, currency, West Africa, Niofar Executive Relocation
Francophone West African Currency - CFA (XOF)

2. Carry Small Change When Possible

Just like in most cases in Senegal, you don't want to make a habit of carrying and paying with large bills (10,000 CFA and above). The exceptions to this rule are in a Western-style grocery store, at a nice restaurant, or at a shopping center like Sea Plaza where your total bill warrants paying with larger bills.

But for most other everyday exchanges, such as taxi rides, boutique trips, buying phone credit, or paying for items at the market, most people do NOT have change for you. Locals are not in the habit of making transactions on this scale -- so as a foreigner, there are two reasons to carry small change on a regular basis.

(1) Try not to bring more attention to yourself. You will already constantly be battling the stereotype of the "rich foreigner." If you break out the wads of 10,000's that your bank or the machine gave you, when paying for an item that costs 2,000 CFA, you will not only attract eager eyes, potentially of thieves, but also swarms of other vendors wanting to sell you more items, annoyed vendors that have to find change, and just people around you who may feel jealous that they do not have this kind of money on-hand. Try to plan ahead for the day before going out, and take only a reasonable amount in smaller bills. It's all about modesty, and sensitivity to those around you! Imagine where you are from, that someone only paid in $100 or 100 Euro bills!

(2) Practicality. Because people don't pay these kinds of amounts regularly, the people you want to pay will probably have a hard time giving you change. This means they will try to increase the charge at the end of the trip (often the case with taxis) above what you had originally negotiated to, or they will waste your time stopping at multiple gas stations to find change. This is the case with most places.

Avoid wasting time and finding yourself in a sensitive spot, by planning ahead and bringing bills of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 -- and plenty of coins! -- before you start your day.

3. Opening a Bank Account

Here is a list of the main banks in Senegal - some of which are regional, French, or North African in origin.

  • Bank of Africa

  • Banque Atlantique Sénégal

  • Banque Internationale pour le Commerce et l'Industrie du Sénégal (BICIS)

  • Banque Régionale de Solidarité

  • Banque Islamique du Sénégal

  • Banque de l'Habitat du Sénégal

  • Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole du Sénégal (CNCAS)

  • CBAO (Compagnie Bancaire de l'Afrique Occidentale)

  • Citibank Sénégal (Franchised)

  • Ecobank

  • Orabank

  • Société Générale de Banques au Sénégal (SG-BS)

  • United Bank for Africa (UBA) *Specifics about bank options in Senegal will be discussed in a separate blog.

Required Documents:

Opening a Checkbook Account for an Employee:

  • A first payment (amount to be determined by the bank)

  • 3 passport-size identity pictures

  • A legalized copy of your passport

  • Proof of residence (residence certificate, lease document or a utility bill in your name)

  • Your 3 last payslips.

Opening a Checkbook Account if You're Unemployed:

  • A first payment (amount to be determined by the bank)

  • 3 passport-size identity pictures

  • A legalized copy of your passport

  • Proof of residence (residence certificate, lease document or a utility bill in your name)

Opening a Savings Account:

  • A first payment (amount to be determined by the bank)

  • 3 passport-size identity pictures

  • A legalized copy of your passport

  • Proof of residence (residence certificate, lease document or a utility bill in your name)

Opening a Savings Account for a Minor:

  • A notarized photocopy of the child's and his parents' passport

  • A signed parental authorization

4. Who Accepts Credit Cards, Who Doesn't?

As a general rule of thumb in Senegal, it's safe to assume the person or establishment does not accept a credit card. They *may accept a bank card, if it is a "nice" restaurant, a shopping center like Sea Plaza, your 4 or 5-star hotel, or the grocery store (Auchan, Carrefour, Casino, etc.) And in many cases, the machine or "server" is often down, and won't be accepting your card. Tip: Always carry enough cash with you, just in case your card is not useable.

*Worth Noting: There is also a distinction worth noting between credit and debit card, as used in the United States. If you mean to say a "debit card," as in the U.S., you should use the term "carte bancaire." If you say 'debit' or 'credit,' people here will assume you are talking about strictly a credit card - and will ask if it's a Visa, or MasterCard.

Every other transaction you will have, will most likely accept cash only.

5. Safety Tips on Carrying Cash

As a rule of thumb, it is safe to carry only the amount of cash on you that you will need for the day. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a security, heavy-duty lock-box at home at all times, kept locked. Before leaving home in the morning, plan your day, and take the cash you need only for those activities - in as many small bills and change as possible.

When you take cash on you, try to use a purse that crosses over your chest, and is inconspicuous. Try not to walk alone, and especially not on the Corniche, before the Radisson and Sea Plaza, after 5:00pm.

It takes a bit of getting used to, living in a cash-based society -- especially after your home country most likely has transitioned long ago to a primarily digital and card-based society. Online purchases, Uber rides, and convenient card swiping are decades away from Senegalese everyday life - so it's up to us to adapt! But you will, in time :)

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