East Timor has an interesting situation with regard to its currency. Officially it uses the US dollar but it also has its own coins – centavos – that are used alongside the US currency. Since there are no banknotes available for this currency (not yet anyway) the US dollar is for all intents and purposes the official currency there, with the centavo only available locally. The future is uncertain in relation to the existence of these coins and whether there will ever be banknotes to go along with them. Furthermore there is no ISO code that officially recognises the East Timor centavo, so it is the US dollar we shall look at more here.
Let’s take a quick peek at the centavo coins first. There are only five of them, and these are in 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavo denominations. As such these match the denominations of most of the US dollar coinage that is available. However there is also a dollar coin and there is no equivalent for this in East Timor. However with that said the situation in the country is rather unusual since the US coins are not actually used. So it is a real mix of currencies going on here and this can be rather confusing for the visitor upon arrival. You will soon get used to it though.
As for banknotes these are all in the US dollar denomination. You will see them as the $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 dollar bills. There are larger denominated bills as well but these are not circulated.
The United States dollar first came into use in East Timor on 24th January 2000. However the situation back then demanded that any official transactions had to be made in US dollars. With that said though, the official leaflet provided by the UN stated that the people of East Timor could still use one of four other currencies in use in the country at the time! These didn’t include the US dollar either, so it must have been a rather confusing situation to be in when things changed.
Now the US dollar banknotes are used in East Timor, the situation has become rather easier. You can get the US dollar in practically every respectable bureau de change, so you are able to get hold of however much cash you need prior to going to the country. You won’t be given coins by a bureau de change anyway, so you don’t need to worry about being stuck with lots of them prior to going away, since you won’t need them when you are there.
Incidentally, since the East Timor centavo coins are in use in the country, you will undoubtedly get some of these in your change when you pay for something with cash. As such you should think about getting rid of these prior to leaving the country at the end of your stay there. They won’t be any use to you elsewhere and you won’t be able to change them back either. So get rid of your spare change when paying for things at this point in your stay if you can.
If you want to use cash machines to get more cash during your stay, you should make sure the cards you take can be used on the Cirrus and Maestro network. No others are likely to be accepted. You shouldn’t rely on being able to use credit cards to pay for things either, since these are rarely accepted other than in some of the major hotels. Forget about traveller’s cheques too – there might be some outlets that would accept them but they are very few and far between. Indeed, you might end up wasting so much time trying to exchange them that you will wish you hadn’t bothered!
As you can probably tell, East Timor is very much a cash-based society. This shouldn’t be a problem if you bring plenty of US dollars with you. Very few other currencies can be exchanged once you’re in the country so it is better to start with US dollars in the first place. Finally you should remember the authorities require you to declare any cash amounting to $5,000 or more when you arrive in East Timor.
The US dollar is known to the vast majority of us so you might already have a reasonable idea of how many dollars you will get in exchange for your own currency. However to find out for certain you can check out the latest exchange rate quite easily online. The trick however is to remember that various bureaux de change will charge a different rate to the standard exchange rate. This is so they can make a profit on their services, so remember to shop around to get a good rate if you can.
The situation in East Timor can be uncertain at times so it is imperative that you find out more about how safe the country is before you intend to visit or book a trip there. You can do this by visiting the website for the UK government at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/timor-leste. Timor Leste is the other name East Timor is known by.
East Timor is not the safest of places you could choose to visit, hence our warning and advice regarding the necessity of checking the situation there prior to visiting in any capacity. Crime is particularly worrying in the country, especially since some of the crimes here are targeted at tourists. The basic rules apply if you do ever visit the country – make sure you stick to populated areas and don’t go anywhere at night if you can possibly help it.
Travelling alone is not advisable either, particularly for women, and it is important to keep all your valuables well out of sight. Attacks tend to be more common when criminals spot people who are carrying large amounts of cash or who are wearing jewellery or are carrying other valuable items. In other words, common sense goes a long way towards protecting yourself here.
You may be completely unfamiliar with East Timor – perhaps you have not even heard of it before. If you are unsure where it is in the world let us dispel the curiosity here first. It is located in south-east Asia and takes up the eastern half of an island mass where the other half is mainly occupied by Timor. It also claims in its territory an exclave that exists within Timor, which is called Oecusse. There are also a couple of islands that form part of East Timor.
The capital is a place called Dili, and indeed from here you can see Atauro Island, which is one of the two islands mentioned above (the other being Jaco). Dili is a thriving place that has a port and a huge commercial centre. There are few real tourist highlights here but you may be interested to see the Saint Mary column, an impressive statue which sits on top of a set of platforms to raise it above street level.
You can also see a dinosaur in the Presidential Palace if you so wish! Now that’s not something that can happen every day for sure. The palace is impressive in its own right but just inside the entrance there is a massive dinosaur skeleton. It is not a T-Rex, although you may at first think so when you see it, but it is a relative hence its similarity. It is probably the last thing you would expect to see inside a Presidential Palace but it does draw in the visitors.
East Timor is a great place to go to if you are keen on activities that naturally take place around its coastline. For example there are some good diving sites here for those with the experience to try them. If you would prefer to stay on dry land – or at least not go beyond a paddle – you can enjoy some of the beaches instead. These are quite breath-taking in many respects, especially if you visit Jaco Island. You might find they’re nowhere near as crowded as you might think either – another bonus.
East Timor does not receive that many visitors owing to its unsettled past. However the visitor numbers are rising and some people do enjoy a holiday here. You do need to have your wits about you and to be alert and to know what the potential dangers could be, but if you are careful East Timor could be the unlikely candidate for a great holiday. Would you consider taking some US dollars there to spend on a great beach-based break?