This is one of a handful of world currencies that refers not to a single country but to a region of the world – in this case the Eastern Caribbean states. Officially it is used by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, or OECS for short. There are currently nine members of this organisation, which are Antigua and Bermuda, Dominica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis. This makes seven areas but Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands also have associate membership. As such the East Caribbean dollar is used in some of the nicest and most breath-taking places the Caribbean has to offer.
As with all other dollar currencies you will find around the world, the East Caribbean dollar can be broken down into 100 cents. There are five coins currently in use marked in cents, and these are the 1, 2, 5, 10 and 25 cent coins. It is quite unusual to find the largest cent valued coin at just 25 cents. Most dollar currencies have a 50 cent coin as well but that is not the case here. In addition you can use a one dollar coin and a two dollar coin.
Moving on to the banknotes you will find five of these in various denominations. The smallest one is the $5 note and from then on you have $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. The US dollar is normally referred to simply with the dollar sign while all other dollar currencies have a prefix of some kind. This is the case here as well, as the currency is prefixed with the letters EC to denote the East Caribbean dollar. This appears as EC$ before the amount.
Before the East Caribbean dollar was created there was the British West Indian dollar. The British Empire meant a lot of countries used currencies relating to Britain in some way. The British West Indies, as they were known then, used the British West Indian dollar until Trinidad and Tobago decided they didn’t want to be part of the monetary union anymore. This occurred in 1965 and that was the year that the East Caribbean dollar came into being.
Getting hold of your dollars will depend on which country you are in. Here is a short run-down of what you should expect in these regions.
Antigua and Bermuda
These are quite small islands but you should have no problem getting cash as they both have plenty of cash machines. Credit cards are also welcomed in many establishments so bear this in mind as well. These islands also take US dollars but do ask before offering them if you want to pay in that particular currency.
As another destination that is popular with tourists, cash machines are quite easy to find here. US dollars are also welcome but in many cases the smaller stores you will see are less keen to accept them.
There are but a couple of cash machines on the island. The first one is located at the Bank of Montserrat while the second is at the Royal Bank of Canada. Opening times for the banks themselves are limited so if you need to go inside make sure you do it early in the day; they tend to close at 2pm.
Cash machines are located seemingly everywhere you go which is good news. Since the US dollar is also often welcome it might be prudent to check which currency you will get the best deal on to use while you are away.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
The Grenadines are a series of islands – over 600 in all! Some are extremely small and it is best not to assume you will find a cash point on any particular island you are going to visit. Make sure you have any cash you’ll need before travelling to an island in this region, just to be on the safe side. Credit cards are easy to use but you never know when you’ll simply need a few dollars or so to buy something.
The same applies here as it does in Saint Lucia.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
This is another area where US dollars are accepted in many places alongside the East Caribbean dollar. However once again you should check first. Cash machines are usually quite easy to find when you need to withdraw some local dollars.
Anguilla is a smaller island among the others but it still has a few cash machines. However it is also one of the best islands in which to get by with US dollars. Check the exchange rate before you leave home to see whether you would be better off with the EC dollar or the US dollar to fund your cash purchases on the island.
This is easy – simply use a currency converter to get the latest exchange rate information. We have already seen how easy it is to use US dollars on some islands, so bear this in mind as well. You may want to get some of each or simply opt for one or the other depending on which islands you will go to. If you are going to head for an island that commonly welcomes US dollars and the exchange rate is better, you might want to opt for those instead.
Each island has its own embassy and information sources so the website you will visit for embassy information will depend on where you are going. However all you need to do is to look up the island plus the phrase embassy uk in the search engine to find what you need. Occasionally you can get the details if you search for a High Commission. For example if you want to visit the website for the Grenada High Commission in the UK you will find it at http://www.grenadahclon.co.uk/.
For the most part the Eastern Caribbean islands are very safe to visit. Of course they all have their individual character and layout so you should find out specific information on the current situation for the particular islands you are going to. There are naturally occurring events you should be aware of that are well worth considering before you go. A good example would be Montserrat, which has an active volcano at its southern end. This has actually contributed to the growing size of the island, which is bigger now because of the amount of lava that has solidified as the volcano erupted. Similarly St Lucia is one of the islands that is affected by hurricane season, although this affects many of the islands in the area. Hurricanes are at their most prevalent from June to November so you may wish to avoid visiting the affected islands then.
Generally speaking there is little crime to worry about on the islands. Petty crime tends to be the most prevalent but even then it is not a huge problem. Pickpocketing is seen to be a familiar and unwanted sight in the tourist areas so watch out for this and never leave anything unattended if you want to keep it. Pickpockets will always target opportunities that are the easiest for them so bear this in mind. Many tourists use money belts but you could also split your cash between different pockets so as not to lose everything if you are picked on without realising.
Well where do we begin? The Eastern Caribbean is a wonderful place – some call it heaven on earth and it is easy to see why. Some areas are affected by natural events but even when they are badly affected, as was the case with Montserrat a few years ago when it was hit by a hurricane and a volcanic eruption within just a few short years of each other. Indeed a little over half of the entire island is now an exclusion zone. The eruption covered much of this area and the volcano still poses a massive threat today. You will not be able to visit the capital of Monserrat because it is buried under the hardened lava.
Most people choose one island to base themselves on during their stay, and St Lucia is definitely a favourite. Its capital Castries is worth a look but there are better sights elsewhere on the island. These include the two peaks of Gros Piton and Petit Piton, not to mention a drive-in volcano! You can also wander round the Botanical Gardens on the island.
Bermuda also has a lot to offer and is one of the more familiar Caribbean islands. You can relax on the sands of one of its many beaches or visit the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. This has been open for decades, ever since 1926. Among the exhibits here are pink flamingos, sea turtles and much more besides.
Grenada is another island in the area, offering St George’s as its capital. The streets are narrow but worth exploring, but there is much else to see on the island too. Watch out for the Seven Sister Waterfalls, not to mention the Grand Etang Nature Reserve to mention just two natural sights. There are many others as well.
If you are planning a trip to the eastern part of the Caribbean it is worth exploring all the different islands on offer before you go. You can then book a trip to the one you like the look of most. This should make life easier for you and you can then look forward to spending some dollars on various activities and attractions when you get there.