If you go to Africa there is a good chance you may end up using the CFA franc – or at least one of two versions of it. That’s because the term CFA franc relates to two currencies. These are the West African franc, which is known by the ISO currency code XOF, and the Central African franc, which is known by the ISO code XAF.
This might make things a little problematic to begin with when you start reading about the franc, but you will soon get used to it. The good thing is the CFA francs are both pegged to the value of the euro, so they are worth exactly the same amount. One West African franc is worth exactly the same as one Central African franc. It is said that the two francs could differ in value at any point, although in practice it has never happened and isn’t likely to soon either.
The two francs have different coins and notes, so let’s take each one in turn. Both currencies are decimal and are divided into 100 centimes, as is the case with the more familiar (and now defunct) French franc. The Central African franc uses eight coins – these are the 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 franc coins. It also has five larger values in banknotes, which are the 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 franc notes.
The West African franc has nine coins – these are the 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 250 and 500 franc coins. It also has five banknotes and these are denominated in the same values as the Central African notes.
The CFA francs have been in use since the close of 1945. They were created owing to the instability of the French franc after the conclusion of World War II. Originally the new currencies were aligned to the value of the French version of the franc. However today they are in line with the Euro, as previously mentioned.
There are six official users of the Central African franc. These are Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Central African Republic and Republic of the Congo. In contrast eight countries currently use the West African franc. These are Togo, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.
More often than not you will only buy your francs when you arrive in the country you are visiting. Since this is not one of the most popularly bought and sold currencies, it can be difficult getting it from a regular bureau de change at home. At least when you buy upon arrival in your chosen country, you know you will be getting the right type of CFA franc!
One interesting piece of advice provided by some travellers is to take the euro with you if you do want to have cash you can easily exchange upon arrival in Africa. The vast majority of places will happily provide an exchange service and swap your euros for the appropriate franc currency.
There is precious little space here to talk about the banking facilities in each of the fourteen countries that currently use one or other of the CFA franc types. Therefore the best way to proceed is by looking up banking and travel information for the destination country you are heading for.
For example, Cameroon is not known for its huge number of cash machines. In contrast Senegal has more cash machines and it is usually reasonably easy to pay by Visa debit as well. This is why you should find out as much as you can about the specific African country you are going to – as well as the precise destination – before you travel.
The best way to do this is to check on a currency converter site. Most of them are updated fairly regularly so it will give you an idea of how far your own currency will go when transferred into the franc you will be using.
There are embassies in the UK for most – if not all – African countries. This is just one example, the Cameroon High Commission located at: http://cameroonhighcommission.co.uk/.
The UK government provides up to date travel advice for a wide variety of countries across the world. As is the case with finding the appropriate embassy for the country you are visiting, it is best to check their website for more information on the specific destination you have in mind. Even when a particular country is safe for the most part, there can still be areas that are deemed too dangerous to visit. Find out more before you consider booking any kind of trip away, and always keep an eye on the latest travel information too.
Of course there are some basic steps you can take to ensure you are as safe as you can be. Unfortunately petty crime is a problem in many places throughout the world. You can always reduce the chances you will be involved in such things by making sure you don’t have any cash on you that people can see. Divide it between pockets and bags and consider investing in a money belt too. If you are staying in a hotel and you have a safe, make sure you use it. This is usually the best place to keep your passport for the duration of your trip. Some countries will require you to have ID on you at all times, but you can often carry a photocopy of your passport and this will suffice. Again though, do check the UK government site to confirm these details for the specific African country you are going to.
Africa is a large continent situated below the eastern part of Europe. Most of the countries using either the Central African franc or the Western African franc share borders with each other. There are still a lot of other African countries that use their own currencies though.
Clearly you will research the country you are visiting before you go there, but there are plenty of good tourist attractions throughout these parts of Africa. For example you will for the Loango National Park in Gabon, offering a great mix of beaches as well as a rainforest. The Central African Republic offers a national park too – this time the Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park. UNESCO made sure the park was added to its World Heritage list to protect the remaining species of wildlife here from total extinction.
If you have Cameroon in mind you might want to check out a place called Ngoketunjia. This is an area of grassland where people live in a selection of villages. There is a strong sense of tradition here – something you may notice when you pay a visit. If you are used to having four seasons at home you will have to get used to just two here – they have a wet season followed by a dry season. Needless to say it is best to visit during the drier months!
Western Africa also has its fair share of treats to share with you. Benin is recommended to be worth exploring for tourists, and it is one of the much safer countries to go to. It is a tall thin country and its southern border meets the Gulf of Guinea. Another user of the franc for this part of Western Africa, Senegal, also offers some great opportunities. Take the Fathala Reserve for example, somewhere that offers you the chance to go on a safari and see many superb animals including the giraffe.
As you can see, if you want to go to any of the countries that use one or other version of the CFA franc you should make sure you find out as much as you can about what it has to offer prior to booking your trip. Some countries are not advisable for tourists to visit; the political situation in certain areas is uncertain and not leading in a good direction. However other countries do offer some great experiences and are worth going to.
Remember too that while several countries use the same currency they are all very different from one another. If you think of the euro you can see the same is the case in Europe. As such you should make sure you are aware of the entry and exit requirements for the country you are going to, and to ensure you have all the right injections and take the right precautions before leaving home.
There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a holiday in either Western Africa or Central Africa. Which country will you choose to visit to see how far you can go with your CFA francs?