Burundi Franc - BIF
Burundi uses its own version of the franc as its currency. This is represented by the letters BIF on the international currency markets.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
Most people are familiar with the franc, even if the Burundi version is new to them. You will doubtless be familiar with the fact that each franc is divided into 100 centimes. However in Burundi this is mostly a moot point, because even though centimes are recognised as the subdivision, no coins are actually available as centimes.
Instead you can use a few coins as francs, which are the 1, 5, 10 and 50 franc coins. Aside from this there are lots more in the way of banknotes. These start with the 10 franc note and move up through the 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 franc notes.
From past to present – the history of the Burundian franc
Burundi has used the franc for quite some time, having first used it back in 1916. Before this the German East African rupee had been used, but when the Belgians took back control of Burundi from the Germans, they replaced the rupee with the Belgian Congo franc.
This stayed as the currency of choice until 1960, at which point the Rwanda and Burundi franc was brought into play. It would only then be a matter of four years until Burundi started to create its own francs, which are the ones still in use today. The future of the Burundi franc is in some doubt however, because the idea is to bring in a new currency for the East African Community members to use. This would be the East African shilling and if it did come to fruition it would mean the end of the Burundi franc.
How to get hold of the Burundian franc
This is one of the most challenging currencies in the world to get hold of. The country operates largely on cash so you should assume this is the best way to pay for anything. You won’t be able to get any francs until you arrive in the country so you have to take another currency in with you instead. The ideal choice is the US dollar. You should also plan ahead to make sure you have enough cash with you. Cash machines are not used in Burundi so you won’t have this as a method to get hold of any money once you are there.
Credit and debit cards are practically useless in the country, and while you can in theory exchange traveller’s cheques it can be an expensive business to do so. That’s why cash should be your first, last and everything choice when travelling to Burundi. Make sure you stock up on US dollars to take with you and keep them safe.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Burundian franc
This is easy enough to do, although since you will be taking US dollars with you, you might want to get the latest exchange rate for this currency as well. Once you’ve done that you can consider looking for the Burundi franc so you know how far your own currency (or indeed the US dollar) will go when transferred into the local currency. Use the ISO code BIF to make it much easier to find.
As always a good place to begin when looking for official information about a particular country is their embassy. There is one in London but you can get the information you need about the country simply by visiting their website at http://www.burundiembassy.org.uk/. There is consular information here regarding passports and visas, not to mention a section about tourism in the country, so it is a useful resource to have.
Travelling safely with the Burundian franc
The situation in any country can change very quickly indeed. Burundi is no exception to this, particularly as there have been issues in the country in recent times. At the time of writing there were a couple of regions it was not advisable to travel to, so you should check prior to travel or to making any bookings to see what the current state of play is. Some areas are fine to visit but you should stay in after dark, and others are no-go areas, so it really depends on where you wish to go. Even those areas you can travel to may have problems so you should consider very carefully what the current situation is before thinking about travelling there.
Unfortunately crime is a major problem in the country. Normally we would advise on how to avoid crimes such as pickpocketing and other petty crimes such as bag snatching. These do occur in Burundi so you should make sure you keep any cash on your person to a minimum and limit the valuables you carry with you. For instance you may want to avoid wearing any expensive jewellery (or anything that looks expensive).
However we should also warn you about other crime that unfortunately takes place there. For example the street crime here is not simply a case of walking down the street and finding at some point that someone has already picked your pocket. Some of the crime here tends to be violent and foreigners are targeted, often because of their perceived amount of wealth, at least when compared to locals. While some other countries present you with lovely opportunities to explore the towns and cities at night, you should never do this in Burundi. Indeed many people who visit the country have armed guards or are in groups where they can remain safe together.
Where to spend your francs in Burundi – and what to spend them on
Burundi is located in the south-eastern part of Africa. It is a relatively small country and is bordered by Rwanda to the north. Indeed the two countries are of similar size, dwarfed in comparison to a variety of other countries nearby. These include Tanzania to the east and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Part of the border of Burundi goes through Lake Tanganyika.
The capital of Burundi is a city called Bujumbura. This is often regarded as the only place that tourists and visitors to the country should consider visiting. Make no mistake, the capital itself is not the safest place to be, but in comparison to other parts of the country it is much better.
Not only is this a capital city but it is also a port, given that it sits by Lake Tanganyika. As such you can expect to see a variety of attractions that might interest you. One of these is the market, a place where many foods and other items are sold. It can be quite interesting to walk through the market to see how things are sold here, not to mention the sheer variety of what is on offer.
If you are keen on learning a little more about the country, you may wish to visit the Burundi Museum of Life. This is in the capital city and is a good way to discover much about the way of life in the country as well as its history. Elsewhere you might want to add the Burundi Geological Museum to your list of things to do if you should ever visit the country. This is also in Bujumbura and reveals much about this element of the country. It is difficult to find much more in the way of information about the attractions in the city since so few people visit there. The ones that do are often not tourists but instead are business visitors, and so there are few reviews left online about visits there.
It is a shame that Burundi has had such a turbulent history, and indeed that this turbulence continues to some extent today. The country has much to offer to visitors if only it were a safer place to be. The warnings about travelling outside of the capital should be heeded, which sadly gets rid of any potential to visit places elsewhere in the country that would be worth a look. These warnings are there for good reason and to protect and guard your safety of course, so they should indeed be heeded. However it is still a shame that so few travellers can see what the country has to offer.
Perhaps we can hope that things will change in the future; however the country has had a long and unsettled history. So much so in fact that you cannot conceive of any major changes happening anytime soon. It is all we can do to explore the country in a virtual sense to see what it has to offer in both the capital and further afield. Perhaps in our lifetimes things will change there for the better, but it may well not be the case. That would be a shame, for there to be a country we cannot safely visit at all.