Currency in Maldives
The local currency is the Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR), divided into 100 Laari. However, the resorts charge for their services in US dollars by law and require payment in hard currency (or by credit card), so there is absolutely no need to change money if you spend all your time at the resorts. Most hotels have a shop, but this is limited to dive and holiday items (sunscreen, sarongs, disposable cameras, etc.). Some excursions from the resorts will take you to local islands where there are handicraft items to buy, but these are typically made outside the Maldives and sold at outrageous mark-ups.
If you are going to Male or the other inhabited atolls, the Rufiyaa exchange is very useful. The coins in particular are quite attractive and make an interesting souvenir in themselves, but the smaller denominations are rarely used or seen. The official exchange rate to the US dollar fluctuates freely but is practically 15:1, but while dollars are accepted almost everywhere, shops usually exchange them at 15:1 or even 10:1.
Tipping in Maldives
Tipping is not compulsory in the Maldives as 10% service charge is added to everything – but considering the low salaries earned by staff and the excellent level of service generally provided, it is a nice gesture to help resort staff earn some extra money. It is also not entirely certain that the 10% service charge is passed on to the staff.
Over the years, the tipping culture in the Maldives has changed, mainly because Europeans and visitors from other continents tip different amounts.
Costs in Maldives
The Maldives is expensive for those who have comfort and service-oriented tourism in mind. Resorts have a monopoly on services for their guests and charge accordingly: for mid-range resorts, $1000 per week per couple is a conservative budget for meals, drinks and excursions, in addition to the cost of flights and accommodation. Virtually everything – including hotel rooms if booked locally – comes with an arbitrary 10% “service charge”, but tipping is expected on top.
For an adventurous traveller with time to spare, the Maldives can be a very affordable and rewarding experience, with prices comparable to Malaysia. A number of inhabited islands have guesthouses with typical prices ranging from 25-40 euros per room. On more remote islands, it is possible to rent rooms in villages for even less. Food is cheap (and fish curries are delicious). Public ferries will take you between different islands on the same atoll for a few US dollars (although for less obvious places there is typically only one ferry per day and no ferries run on Fridays). For transfers to remote atolls, you can negotiate with cargo boats, which often take people for US$15-40, depending on the destination. Cargo boats have no schedules and leave when they are loaded. You can expect 1 boat in 1-3 days for each atoll.
It is important to remember that staying on inhabited islands means respecting strict Muslim norms, such as no alcohol, modest dress, restrained behaviour. However, the locals are very hospitable and the experience can be much deeper and more rewarding than staying in resorts.