Somaliland Shillings

Try fitting that in your wallet

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.

The shilling equivalent of $10. Good thing everything costs $1.

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6 Responses to “Somaliland Shillings”

  1. Connie Lee Says:

    Absolutely fascinating stuff, I can’t wait to keep following! Plus, you are a really enthralling writer.

  2. Liban Osman Says:

    I come from Somali/land and I know the former head of the Central bank well, they would have dealt with the currency issue if it was not so damn expensive. For every new note they issue, they have to spend 0.01 cent, in that part of the world thats a hell of a lot of money. Having said that, I hope you are enjoying your stay, if you get a chance, try to venure out of town to a places like Berbera or Haud (Which is Somali for countryside or pasture land), this area is typical on the Somaliland/Ethiopia border and it quiet safe.

    • africagrows Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Liban. Yes, I plan to visit Berbera and Las Geel in due course, as well as crossing over into Ethiopia. Do you have any comments about the denomination of the notes? So far I have seen only 500 shilling notes, although I hear 100 shilling notes also exist. And the website of the Central Bank says that there are even 50, 20, 10, and 5 shilling notes, as well as 1 shilling coins. Perhaps these are not widely circulated because of the cost issues you mentioned, or their low value, or both?

      • Liban Osman Says:

        During my time in S’land, have seen the 50 shilling note, but it has such a low value, it is virtually useless and extremely rare. As such it really is a collectors item. Having said that, 100 is more common. Any currency which has a face value below 500 is wholly pointless. Having said that, if memory serves me correct, if you head further east, I gather the old Somali shilling is still in use, which has been so devalued to comical levels. Every time I come home to Somali, I can’t help but remember studying German Hyper inflation between end of WWI and WWII, when a loaf of bread cost an absurd amount of money.

  3. Hey – would be interesting for your worried friends over here to find out what the security situation feels like now you’re there and beginning to settle in.

    • africagrows Says:

      It feels very safe here; while considered a “hardship post” by most NGOs/international organisations who work here, Somaliland is quite removed from any of the violence in the south. That said, there has been some fighting recently at Lasanod near the (not clearly defined) border with Puntland, another (less) semi-autonomous region of Somalia. This has been a step backward for Somaliland as it shows its “borders” are not so strong. My co-workers told me that some of our former guards, who belong to the Somaliland military, were sent out there to fight and unfortunately there have been some deaths. However, Hargeisa is very quiet and peaceful. We have an armed guard at the house, who also accompanies us if we go out walking at night, but it is more of a precautionary measure as the Somaliland government, which is striving for international recognition, wants to ensure that all foreigners are protected so that a positive image is projected internationally. In any case, I’ll do a more detailed blog post about safety issues and armed guards later.

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