Money & Paying for Things

Money and Paying for Things

  1. Overview
  2. Bargaining in Ghana
  3. Bartering in Ghana
  4. Overcharging in Ghana
  5. Currency of Ghana
  6. Redenomination of the Cedi in 2007
  7. Requests from Strangers
 

Overview

In Ghana, it seems every person is a businessperson. Sellers and buyers are everywhere. Shopping experiences range from a person walking the street with a couple of shirts to elegant designer boutiques and shopping malls.

For visitors, Ghana is basically a cash society. ATMs are sprouting everywhere in the cities, and will usually work with international networks. Travelers cheques are rarely accepted. When changing cash at a Forex, smaller denomination bills (under 50) smaller fetch a lower exchange rate.

Credit cards can be used at upscale locations in Accra, Kumasi and a couple of the larger coastal cities, but are mostly useless outside these locations. They are more likely to work in an ATM machine.

Be sure to notify your debit or credit card issuer of your travel dates and that you may be using the card outside the country of issue. Otherwise attempts to use your card may be denied.

One final item of note is cultural annoyance about Ghana. An "African proverb" that was heard on the television one night describes it nicely: "He who bumps into another serves to make him stronger."

At queues for making purchases, the usual hospitable and friendly Ghanaian becomes rude and pushy, always trying to cut into line. Be strong, speak up and don't get bumped while waiting in a queue. You will be seen as a stronger person.

 

Bargaining in Ghana

The most important rule to remember is to bargain for everything. It should always be friendly bargaining. Try not to be annoyed and never get angry.

Generally when you ask the price of something, the price initially quoted to you is 30% to 50% higher than what the seller will accept. Do not counter offer with the price you are willing to pay! Your counter offer should be a ridiculously low number (maybe 50% of what you would pay). The seller will act insulted, so then you haggle back and forth until an agreement is reached.

After some short back and forth, make an ugly face, or make a disappointed sound. Then say "Oh my Brother, I beg. You are asking too much. Please come down."  or  "You think I am a rich person just because I am not African. I beg, I am in Africa as a poor person and cannot pay that much."

And then if you cannot reach a deal, move on. That act of moving may suddenly get a further reduction in price. Fridays or Saturdays and the day before holidays can be great shopping, when people are looking for some extra cash.

Do not feel bad for the seller. They know you are at a disadvantage and do not know the correct prices or how to bargain. They understand quite well the economics of their business and will rarely sell things at a loss.

Similarly, never get into a taxi without determining the price first. When a taxi stops, greet him through the open car window and tell him where you are going. When he tells you to "get in", your reply should be "How much?" (or "Sen" in Twi). Depending on traffic, time of day, your destination, and the driver's mood, the price he offers may be anywhere between the typically quoted twice what the rate should be, and a fair price (yes, this does happen on occasion).

 

Bartering in Ghana

This can be a fun experience at markets and especially in villages. Bartering is an exchange of goods or services rather than money to make a purchase. Before you depart, determine which of the possessions you are bringing that you can part with. You may even go out to inexpensive shops to purchase things to bring to Ghana for bartering.

Not only does this give you a valuable gift to distribute, but it also gives you a slight advantage when bargaining. Unlike a cash transaction, where the Ghanaian seller knows quite well the market, when bartering, you are the one who knows the value of your "currency". Plus, the $1 battery powered touch lamp you bring is worth a lot more than $1 to anyone in Ghana.

Small, inexpensive items make great bartering items:

  • T-shirts, hats, bandanas - or anything with a logo.
  • Anything that provides light.
  • Anything utilitarian - pocket knives, can openers, etc.
  • Mp3 players, cameras, phones and flash drives are greatly valued.
 

Overcharging in Ghana

This is probably the biggest crime that you will experience while in Ghana. Always check the math on bills and always count your change carefully, even at banks.

Except outside of supermarkets and larger stores, prices for things are not set, and even a set price usually has some wiggle room. Because of this, vendors will often take advantage of foreigners that they suspect may not know the price for an item. When unsure, you can hold your hand out for a couple extra seconds when receiving your change if you think more is due.

Traveling with a guide ensures that vendors are honest with you. The bargaining your guide does for you ensures you get a good price.

 

Currency of Ghana

The currency of Ghana is the cedi (pronounced "seedy"). The word cedi derives from the Akan word for the cowrie shell, which was widely used for currency long ago. The cedi is prefixed GHC, or by the ₵ symbol.

The current exchange rate is

Exchange Rates in Ghanaian Cedi
Australian Dollar (AUD) 2.9223
British Pound (GBP) 4.4823
Canadian Dollar (CAD) 2.9039
Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY) 0.3018
Euro (EUR) 4.0412
New Zealand Dollar (NZD) 1.5349
Norwegian Krone (NOK) 0.3282
South African Rand (ZAR) 0.2144
Swedish Krona (SEK) 1.2818
Swiss Franc (CHF) 3.6179
US Dollar (USD) 3.2034
Market Data: exchange-rates.org

This is what the currency looks like:

Not pictured is the more recently introduced ₵2 note.

Notice the six men on each of the cedi notes. These are the "Big Six" who are the fathers of Ghanaian independence, including Ghana's first post-independence President, Kwame Nkrumah at the top left. The 50 cedi note, ₵50, is the largest denomination available. Notice that the larger the denomination, the larger the size of the note.

Pesewas are the coins and 100 pesewas make 1 cedi. The largest coin is equal to 1 cedi. The smallest is the copper 1 pesewa coin which is exceedingly rare because it is useless.

Carrying ₵50 and ₵20 notes is convenient for large purchases, but most places where you spend money will not be able to make change for these bills. It is always a good idea to keep a lot of coins and single cedi notes in your pockets. Easier said than done!

 

Redenomination of the Cedi in 2007

In June 2007, the cedi was redenominated, dropping four 0's. Thus an old 10,000 cedi note became a 1 cedi note.

Even though this redenomination happened 6 years ago, this is still a source of enormous confusion for visitors because many people still quote prices in old cedis. When someone tells you that a bag of plantain chips is "5 thousand", she really means 50 pesewas. 
5000/10000 = 0.50

Simply move the decimal place to the left 4 places. Thus, "ten thousand" for 2 bags of chips is ₵1 (one cedi).

Adding to the confusion for visitors, is that the old cedi denomination was often quoted in thousands, such as "ninety" (90), meaning ninety-thousand (90,000), which is nine cedis (₵9).

For example, when the next plantain chip seller demands "five", she also means 50 pesewas. When someone tells you that a music CD costs "sixty" (60), they mean that it is six cedis (₵6).

It is maddening sometimes. Be clear when talking to any vendors whether they have quoted you a price in new cedis or old cedis. If you keep buying enough plantain chips, eventually a seller will quote you a price of 50 pesewas. 

 

Requests from Strangers

This is another money issue that may cause you some uncomfortable moments. You will constantly be asked for favors and money, especially from children. These requests increase on Friday and Saturday (for weekend cash), and around major holidays (to provide gifts for the family).

Generally it is OK to give money (2 cedis maximum) to children and the disabled, but not to beggars. Outright requests from strangers may seem strange to you, but it is a totally acceptable part of culture here. You have heard the saying "A closed mouth does not get fed". Well, this is the African version. Every tourist that passes is an opportunity, and if you let them pass without taking a chance, then it is your loss. In fact, that is what this type of activity is called: chancing.

If you give to everyone that asks, your holiday will be quickly finished, as you will be out of cash. If you give to no one, you will be viewed harshly as a selfish and uncaring person. It is truly a difficult position, so you need a way to give to legitimate causes when you feel the urge, and a way to politely decline in other circumstances.

Declining such a request is not a sin or anything to feel shameful about. The requestor realizes that the chances of a positive outcome are very small. If you are able to decline the request with humor or something other than an outright denial, then it will be received more easily.

Here are some possible responses to requests for cash that are generally effective:

Preface with this
"I beg", 
"I am sorry" or 
"Me pow chow".
If you say it in Twi, "Me pow chow", then you will almost instantly be forgiven.
Select one of these
"I will see you tomorrow." Perfectly acceptable, even when you both know that you will not be seeing each other tomorrow.
"I do not have any coins now." Even if you have coins.
"Sika i ni ho" in Twi or 
"Ega me la sin yo" in Ewe
These are the native language for "I do not have any money".
"Why? What have you done for me?" If the person is being bothersome, this is stronger, but is still acceptable.
"My money is with my guide." This is one of the many benefits of traveling with a guide. Whether he has your money or not, he is always available to assist with anything.

In addition to requests for cash, there will be requests for gifts which come in many forms. These may be a direct request for the shirt you are wearing or a more indirect approach in which you are told of an illness or other problem. And of course, there are the ubiquitous requests for a visa to visit your country. These can be handled in much the same way as requests for cash.

While on the subject of requests from strangers, we should note the "special" handshake that you may encounter. If the person you are shaking scratches the palm of your hand, you have just received a sexual proposition, usually from a scamp expecting something in return. You can ignore the offer or respond by asking the person why they have disrespected you in such fashion, which will usually lead to their quick departure.