One of the first things to get in order upon my arrival was changing money into the local currency, the Somaliland Shilling. At the airport we were asked to change a minimum of $50 per person at a rate of 4,000 shillings per dollar (somewhat below the going rate down town of 5,000 shillings per dollar).
We changed $150 (three crisp fifty-dollar bills) and got back in exchange a massive brick of dirty, battered, odd-smelling notes held together with rubber bands. It was literally the size of a book.
There is only one note which is really in use, the 500 shilling note, and that is equivalent to $0.10. So, to get 10 dollars, you need one hundred of those notes (50,000 shillings), which is a wad nearly an inch thick. So it’s impossible to fit even $10 in your wallet.
Instead, you need to carry the rubber-banded chunks of cash loose in your purse or in an envelope or plastic bag. I’ve taken to storing the bricks in my drawer and carrying around no more than $10 at a time (which, believe me, can get you very far in Somaliland).
But the US dollar is king here. It’s possible to pay for many things with dollars (although they might have difficulty making change for a large bill, i.e. anything over $5). For example, I bought a SIM card at the mobile phone office for $5 and a shawl at the market for $5. If you ever come to Somaliland, I suggest you bring lots of $5 and $1 bills. And a very big wallet.