Funny Money

All newcomers here love to bring up the subject of money. There are a lot of double standards and funny rules when it comes to cash here. And cash is king – very few stores accept credit or debit cards, though that is slowly changing.

US dollars are used frequently in Congo, except in remote areas. There’s historical basis for this, mainly as a hedge against hyperinflation which occurred in the not-so-distant past. But today, it’s simply practical. The largest Congolese bill in circulation at this time is the 500-franc note, worth about 50 cents. When shopping for groceries where one can easily spend $100 or more, you’d need a briefcase (or at least a paper bag) full of francs. It’s much easier to pay in dollars, so that’s what everyone does. Most items are priced in francs (a can of tuna is marked 4000FC or so), but the store will quickly translate the bill to dollars for you according to their daily exchange rate, some of which are better than others. Then they’ll make change using a combination of dollars and francs. Needless to say, the cashiers are pretty quick with a calculator. The smallest bill I’ve seen in 11 months here is a 50-franc note, worth about $0.05. No need to carry any coins.

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