Cash or Credit. In Sudan Both Are Problematic.

I haven’t had any decent amount of real crisp U.S. dollars in some time. Sure, I’ve had a stash that I had to tap into on a few occasions to pay for visas by countries who wouldn’t even accept their own currency for payment. Imagine that.


But I’ve learned that in Sudan and Khartoum international VISA/MasterCards (Cirrus/Plus etc) aren’t accepted and won’t work in ATM machines there. Even worse, the Sudanese will not accept Ethiopian Birr in exchange as there is only a limited FOREX BUREAU in Khartoum. Even so, Sudan isn’t even accepting US dollars, though I’m told you can change good ole American greenbacks through the black market on the street. But that’s a problem as I don’t have much more than $50 US dollars.

So before leaving Addis I tried to solve this problem and prepare for my Sudanese adventure. To do so means having enough cash to pay for the ferry ride to Aswan, fuel (benzine as it’s referred to in these parts) and enough to pay for food and accommodation.

There are a handful of international ATMs in Ethiopia. All of them are in Addis. There’s one at the Sheraton Hotel, another at the Hilton and two or three downtown. That’s it. And they all accept different networks, if they accept any. Coming into Ethiopia I made sure to have plenty of Kenyan schillings which I easily converted to Ethiopian Birr at the border. Ethiopia is an inexpensive country to travel, so I’ve been doing well. Since I needed to figure a way to get Sudanese pounds, on the day before I left for Bahir Dar I made a trek to the tony Sheraton and withdrew about $400 worth of Birr with what I thought was an excellent plan:

Send a Western Union from Ethiopia using BIRR to my own attention in Khartoum, Sudan. Then in Khartoum I would simply pick up at a Western Union Location in Khartoum and I’d have Sudanese Pounds (they no longer deal in Dinar). I thought I was brilliant coming up with this plan. So I pulled the money out of the ATM and headed to Western Union, which also has an office at the bank in the Sheraton Hotel.

So I walk up to the window with my Western Union form completed and a wad of Ethiopian Birr and hand it to the man. “Wait, he says,” I’m wondering what’s wrong. “You cannot send money using Western Union. You can only receive funds” What? This is crazy. There’s no explanation. It’s just the way it is.

FUCK!!! I’m only going to be a week or so in Ethiopia and I certainly don’t need $400 worth of Ethiopian Birr, what was I going to do with this cash???

Ahhh. Not a problem. I’ll just convert it into US dollars at the bank here at the Sheraton. Then I could use the black market in Sudan to convert it into Sudanese Pounds. Simple enough.

A brilliant idea you’d think. Right? WRONG.

In Ethiopia Banks will not exchange local currency into foreign currency unless you have an outgoing “international” airline ticket valid one week or less from the date you wish to exchange funds. Otherwise you cannot exchange Birr for any foreign currency (read dollars) — though you can 200807281647.jpg petition the national bank for an exception, but this takes days or weeks. So I’m still stuck with all this Birr and thinking I need to find a way to spend this money before leaving the country. Okay. So maybe there’s some wine to buy.. uh oh… they inspect luggage at Sudan border as alcohol is illegal in Sudan. Shit. Sorry. No room for souvenirs. Too much Birr makes Allan an unhappy guy. So I accost a guy looking to exchange some Euros at the bank in the Sheraton. He roasts me on the exchange but now I’ve got 100 euros less of Birr. That still means about $250 worth of Birr. What to do? And I haven’t solved the problem of getting enough money to do what I need to in Sudan. The 100 euros will be easy to exchange. But I’m still short: I need to have local Sudan Pounds in Sudan. I must buy a ferry ticket, petrol, hotel rooms, food and everything but beer, booze or wine.

And I have no other currency and there’s no ATMs and banks don’t accept ATM/VISA credit cards.

Even though US dollars aren’t possible to exchange in Sudan and there’s a US-imposed embargo on US products coming into Sudan due to human rights violations in Darfur, it’s still possible to send money originating in the USA to Sudan via Western Union. So I think fast and contact my brother back in the states. He’s going to visit the Western Union and send me a few hundred dollars which I will receive in Sudanese Pounds in Khartoum. That way I’ll have the local currency and this problem is solved.

But enough dwelling on Sudan. There’s still so much more in Ethiopia to experience. Come on. Let’s go!

5 replies
  1. rluczak
    rluczak says:

    Hi Allan — Been avidly following your travels and have a question for you: Do you find yourself a more patient / tolerant person now than when the trip began? I ask b/c even as I read your posts I find my blood beginning to simmer at the hoops you’re made to jump through! I constantly find myself asking “Could I do this?” which is met with a resounding “NO!” Is this something you just got used to? Did you mentally prepare for this somehow?
    Safe travels!!!

  2. WorldRider
    WorldRider says:

    Robert –
    Thanks for your comment and note. To be sure, I have definately become more patient as a result of my travels. I’m more tolerant and find myself more amused where some and perhaps me before would have been more irritated. But irritation gets you no where. So best is to smile and just let it roll. I lost my pateince in Buenos Aires at a telco (Personal) office there and once again just lost my patient on a really bad Kenyan road… both times I woke myself up and said, Hey… get over it, dude! As for mentally preparing for it? Nah. Not sure you can. It’ just takes experience and certainly when you observe other travelers lost patience, rudeness or just inappropriate behavior, it’s like a wake up call and reminder that you don’t want to appear like that.

  3. rluczak
    rluczak says:

    Thanks Allen for the prompt reply (where are you BTW?) Per your note, bemusement is precisely the tone I perceive from your posts . . . not impatience, not anger, just bemusement! I don’t know whether I could pull that off myself . . . good thing I’ve got more than a few years until I embark on my travels =)

  4. Double Down
    Double Down says:

    I have really have enjoyed reading your blog entries, always look forward to them.
    Question: What kind (model #) of GPS unit are you using with your Mac. I know that not all of Garmin’s software is compatible. Thanks a bunch

  5. WorldRider
    WorldRider says:

    Double Down. That whole Garmin thing is a double edge sword. First, I’m using the GPSMap 276c and the Garmin models in this line are superior in terms of standing up to weather, rough roads and visibility in sun. I had to load BootCamp on my Mac with Windows cause Garmin’s dropped the ball on their Mac support which they announced in January 2006. There is a beta product you can download called Garmin BobCat, which like MapSource for the PC it will allow you to upload routes, waypoints and maps while downloading tracks and more. But to use it you must convert any old MapSource Maps you have using a PC and a free little program they offer to convert. Or you can try to find a copy of 2008 Maps for Mac which they sell, but now are not available because Garmin is supposed to release 2009 full version for Mac. It’s a totally separate product and Garmin no longer offers upgrade/update disks.
    I continue to learn more. Good luck and thanks for tuning in.


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