Somalia Shilling - SOS
People living in Britain who are of a certain age will remember when the currency consisted of pounds, shillings and pence, before the days of decimalisation. Somalia has its own take on the shilling, but it has nothing to do with the subunit once used in Britain.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
The shilling used in Somalia is divided into 100 senti, although these are also sometimes known as cents. There are lots of coins that are still legal tender in the country, of which some are in senti and some are in shillings. The senti coins go from 1 through to 5, 10 and 50 senti. You can also use 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 shilling coins. In reality however you may not come across too many senti coins since inflation has rendered many of them worthless.
Unusually enough, some of the coins are also available in note form. The shilling notes go from 5 through to 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 shillings.
From past to present – the history of the Somali shilling
The shilling has been around for quite some time in Somalia. However the version in use today is not the same one as was used back then. The country first gained its shilling when the East African shilling was brought into use in 1921. The country then became fully independent some years later in 1960. When this happens the country concerned often wants to introduce its own currency, as part of the whole process of becoming independent. The same was true here, which is why Somalia now uses the Somali shilling.
How to get hold of the Somali shilling
When it comes to getting the local currency you’ll find it something of a challenge. Firstly you won’t be able to get anything at all until you get there, although you should take the time to order some US dollars to take with you. This is the easiest currency to have with you to exchange. Not only is it easier to exchange this currency than some others, it is also possible to pay using US dollars in some establishments. This means it is a good idea always to have some Somali shillings on your person as well as some US dollars. You never know which currency you’ll be able to use!
Somalia is not a country you should take traveller’s cheques to. While they are ideal for taking more money into certain countries, Somalia is not one of them. Cash machines are also non-existent in the country, making it even more challenging to get hold of cash once you are there. If you are lucky you might occasionally be able to pay for things with a credit card (or perhaps a debit card) but even then this is unlikely. Really the only way you should assume you can pay is with cash, so you need to make sure you take plenty with you and keep it safe while you are there. If you don’t take enough you could find yourself running out before you leave.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Somali shilling
Any good currency converter tool should be able to give you the information you need. Ideally you would find your own currency first and then look for the Somali shilling. This is easily found using its proper code, which is SOS. Once this is done you can enter the amount you wish to convert, or just find out what one unit of your own currency would get you in shillings.
There is a Somali embassy in the United Kingdom but although they have a website it does not offer much in the way of information for potential visitors to the country. As such the best official source of information is from the UK government website at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/somalia. This is frequently updated to account for the latest information about the country.
Travelling safely with the Somali shilling
As you may already know Somalia is not the safest of countries you could decide to visit. Indeed the UK government is (at the time of writing, although this has been in place for some time) recommending that no one visit the country whatever the reason for doing so might be. It is certainly not a place for tourists to go.
As such the idea of protecting yourself against pickpockets and petty crime is really a moot point. You might end up worrying about other things if you did find yourself in the country, since attacks on foreigners by terrorists are a far more serious threat. Furthermore if you should find yourself in the country the UK government cannot provide assistance in the country as it may do in other countries, due to the situation there.
Where to spend your shillings in Somalia – and what to spend them on
Somalia is officially known as the Federal Republic of Somalia, and it sits in the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with three other countries – Djibouti to the north-west, Ethiopia to the west and Kenya to the south-west. Its northern reaches look out onto the Gulf of Aden while the remainder of its border (running right along the eastern side of the country) faces the Indian Ocean.
You may have heard of the country’s capital, Mogadishu, which sits on the Indian Ocean. Not surprisingly it is used as a port and this has been the case for centuries now. While you may never get the opportunity to visit the city (or indeed any other part of Mogadishu) it is still interesting to note some of the features there. For example there are many places where people go to worship, and one of the most famous of all is the Arba’a Rukun Mosque. This dates back to 667, making it well over 1,400 years old. It is quite something to think of all the history it must have witnessed during that time.
The President of Somalia also makes his home in the capital, at the Villa Somalia. This makes it sound rather like a holiday villa but nothing could be further from the truth. It overlooks much of the rest of the city thanks to its high vantage point, which really makes it a rather apt place to be.
The city also has a few markets, perhaps most notably Bakara Market. The civil war in the country meant the market went through a series of difficult times, including fires and fighting. The years from 2009 to 2011 were particularly dreadful, seeing a range of heinous crimes here. Elsewhere in the city there are several hotels which are doing better business nowadays, although with people still advised not to travel to Mogadishu or the country as a whole, few foreigners are to be found here.
But what of the remainder of Somalia? There is a Ministry of Tourism in charge of this element in the country, and while it closed down for a while during the worst of the civil war, it is now open for business again. The country does have some rather spectacular sights it could share with its visitors, which someday will hopefully be the case. Bargal, a town in the far north-eastern reaches of the country, has a ruined castle dating from the late 1800s which is worth a look. Elsewhere Haylan, further along to the west along the upper reaches of the country, has plenty of ruins dating from various points in history, some of them ancient. Cairns are a fairly common sight here, for example.
In terms of naturally-occurring sights you can also look for Laas Geel if you ever go to the country. This is a series of caves that can be found in Somaliland, which is a part of Somalia itself. The caves are filled with numerous examples of rock art, and it is thought the art dates back to between 9,000 and 3,000 BCE. Just imagine being able to see art that is so old, and imagining what types of people would have drawn it there for us to see, thousands of years later. There are photos of it online but nothing would be quite as good as seeing it for ourselves. Sadly it doesn’t look as though this would be a realistic prospect anytime soon.
Somalia is a country that has gone through numerous problems in the past. Even today things are not settled there and the threat to foreigners is very real indeed. This is a shame as it prevents the country from moving on after the civil war and welcoming people into the country to show them what it has to offer.
Maybe one day in the future people will choose Somalia as a land to visit on holiday. For now this looks far in the future but we can but hope things might eventually change. Until then we must learn what we can of Somalia’s ancient history and modern world from other sources.