The Kwacha — which means “sunrise” and was created to commemorate Zambia’s independence — was originally linked to the US dollar, making conversion easy. The kwacha, on the other hand, was floated in the late 1990s and quickly depreciated. Due to international debt relief and a rise in copper prices, the Kwacha has gained significantly since mid-2005. The Kwacha is currently trading at US$1 = 11.0 ZMW, €1 = 12.1 ZMW, and GBP1 = 16.7 ZMW as of December 2015. Between January 2013 and June 2013, the currency was re-based (the final three zeros were removed), however you may sometimes get change in both the new re-based currency and the old currency. Only the new money will be issued by ATMs and banks (there are helpful posters every where with the new and old notes).
Although it is prohibited, US dollars are nevertheless widely utilized for bigger transactions and will be accepted by anybody dealing with visitors. It’s fairly uncommon to see all of the written pricing in local currency at a hotel restaurant before receiving a bill in US dollars. In banks and bureaux de change in Zambia, only the “large heads” (new notes) are accepted; tiny heads are not accepted (if you are lucky you can change them in Livingstone). The ideal notes to carry are US $50 and $100 bills; smaller nominations will result in a lower rate at the bureaux (5-10 percent less).
Changing Euros is tough, particularly up country, where bureaux provide a low rate (up to 25% less than the market rate!). International banks will accept your payment, but you will be charged a commission. Finance Bank at Lusaka’s Arcades Shopping Centre is renowned for accepting Euros at a fair rate and without commission. Bureaux and banks will only exchange up to 1000 US dollars (or equivalent) per person per day! Keep an eye on the rates since they may fluctuate dramatically from day to day, with daily variations ranging from 3% to 5%.
In large cities, the South African Rand may be swapped quite readily. Other second-tier currencies, such as the Australian dollar, are uninteresting. Locals will give you blank stares, while tourists will ridicule you with a mocking chuckle.
Refer to 1000 kwacha as a pin if you want to seem like a local; for example, 10,000K is “ten pin.” The kwacha depreciated so quickly in the 1990s that the government didn’t have time to print new, bigger bank notes. Zambians have to bundle — or “pin” together — huge quantities of tiny notes to pay for goods. Notes in denominations of up to 100 Kwacha are currently available (until June 2013, when they will be re-based to 50K), however save small change if you can since there are periodic shortages.
ATMs may be found in all major cities and villages. VISA and Master cards are accepted at the majority of ATMs. Some ATMs accept other foreign credit cards (such as AMEX). Maestro is a major issue in Zambia, with just a few ATMs accepting the card. Many stores and restaurants, as well as almost all high-end hotels and safari lodges, accept debit or credit cards, although fees of 5-10% are typical. Only local money is dispensed at ATMs. Stanbic Bank, Eco Bank, and Standard Chartered Bank are the three major banks with ATMs that accept Master and Visa cards. In Zambia, it is difficult to process traveler’s checks.
Although most shops advertise set pricing and refuse to bargain, this is not always the case. Most “freelance” salespeople — curios sellers, taxi drivers, and so on — who do not advertise their rates, on the other hand, are generally ready to bargain. As a (very) general rule, expect that the initial price they suggest is at least double what they will take. You should not be scared to negotiate – Zambians do it all the time — but don’t get carried away with saving a few cents.
Tipping is not necessary — in fact, it was formerly prohibited — but it is often anticipated. Porters are paid about US$0.50 per bag, and finer establishments add a 10% service fee or demand an equal gratuity.
Finally, remember the Zambian tradition of mbasela (em-buh-SAY-la), which entails providing a gratis while purchasing several items. Don’t be afraid to ask for your mbasela if you purchase a few little things.
Zambia’s expenses are comparable to those of its neighbors. A bare-bones budget traveler may expect to spend at least $20 per day for a Dorm bed at a Backpackers hostel, three meals, plus transportation. At the opposite end of the scale, all-inclusive safari lodges or Lusaka/five-star Livingstone’s hotels will cater to all of your requirements for US$200 per day and more. It may be tough to find a medium ground between these two extremes, but there are safari operators that will provide ‘DIY’ camping for about US$5 to $95 and up – it pays to shop around.
Zambian safaris are among the finest in Africa, offering top-notch viewing opportunities with the continent’s best guides. Zambia’s national parks are not as ‘commercialized’ as those in other nations (for example, Kenya and South Africa), and there are no zebra-striped game watching buses, Land Cruisers, or other vehicles.