Keep Your Raggedy American Money to Yourself…But Here’s a Pack of Gum

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Thank goodness for plastic!

On our recent dream vacation in the Maldives, we found out (after arriving) that only the newest, best and brightest American currency is accepted.

As you might have guessed, this average American had only scruffy, torn, marked and aging bills. Thank goodness I had already figured out that we had no budget for souvenirs, so all that we needed to buy in the gift shop were a few postcards. The resort itself was posting to our AmEx card, and we had to leave many questionable bills as tips. I have a feeling they somehow managed to use or exchange those.

When we went to buy postcards, the lady in the giftshop handed me back my twenties, told me they would not be accepted, and pointed to a nearby sign outlining the condition in which American currency would be accepted. We tried to joke about it while asking why this was the policy. I wasn’t quite grasping what was wrong with my money. It’s not counterfeit and it works perfectly well in the U. S. of A. But the Maldives, as we were informed, only accepts clean, unmarked, untorn bills of 2001 or later.

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Wait, “Clean, unmarked bills?” Was I holding someone for ransom or buying some postcards?

I was grateful I had stopped at the currency exchange in the Maldives airport, where I had already taken two hundred worth of my ugly twenties and swapped them for Maldivian currency. I plunked down 500 Rufiyaa (about US $32) and smiled at my resourcefulness. I worried, though, because the Maldivian money was quite rumpled and had a pen mark on it.

“We use Rufiyaa in any condition in Maldives,” she said, but my excitement was short-lived, when she added, “but we don’t accept Maldivian currency at the resort.” she told me flatly.

I was distressed, but I refused to have any conflict for our 20th anniversary trip, so I took a deep breath and instead reached into my pocket again and pulled out different twenties, only to be shown by the woman that these, too, had either tiny nicks at the edges, or pen marks. One had a highlighter mark where it was legally checked for legitimacy in the states. All were rejected. Thankfully one last sort through my pocket revealed a perfect twenty from 2012, which I used to pay for our transaction. One acceptable bill out of three-hundred dollars worth.

I can only imagine the dismay of those Where’s George? travelers.

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My filthy, ragged American currency

The woman took my pretty twenty, then handed me a few crisp, clean American bills in return and, since she had no coin change, handed me a pack of Wrigley’s gum, with a curt, end-of-transaction finality, saying: “This is your change. Have a good day.”

I found it impossible to be angry. The situation was just so absurd that I could only think how enjoyable it would be to share with my readers. We did manage to exchange a few more of those twenties for smaller bills at the front desk and didn’t get rejected, so it seems the enforcement or acceptability of bills depends on the employee.  When I talked about it shortly after our return I had several people tell me that they had similar experiences with foreign currency in other countries. None of them, however, had ever received in change a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum.

If you’ll be traveling and wonder about currency customs, I suggest checking out either Lonely Planet or Fodors, because it seems there are many countries picky about the condition of foreign currency (though I’ve not read any stories of rejection as extreme as ours).

Love, Marla

15 Comments on “Keep Your Raggedy American Money to Yourself…But Here’s a Pack of Gum

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    • Yeah, it’s really something the things I realize are non-issues within your home country. I’m sure if we had a second currency in the US that we allowed from other countries, we would also be pickier about it than our own dollars. It’s probably safer that way.
      But still such a strange experience. 🙂

  4. Well I knew that they only use USD, but I have never experienced that they don’t accept some bills. I think it must be because the bill was ripped. Which island was this at?

    • It was an entertaining adventure and not unique to the Maldives per both Fodors and Lonely Planet. And after posting someone sent me a great NPR link to an experience they had in Myanmar which was much more interesting. (Link below)
      Actually all the ones with pen marks were also rejected. One had a small highlighter mark where it was checked in the states for legitimacy. I believe of all the bills she went through only two had little rips in them. The rest were rejected for marks of varying degrees. Our experience took place at Kandooma Island.

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/05/10/182309623/why-almost-no-one-in-myanmar-wanted-my-money

      • That is so weird. It’s almost like you have to iron the bills before you leave so they look brand new 😉 Had a look at the other article too which was even worse!

  5. Hahahaha…awesome post! You should have told the lady, after she handed you the pack of wrigleys, ” I’m sorry, but only Beemans, or Juicy Fruit is acceptable as change! Unless of course, you can provide documentation showing that the Wrigley’s was manufactured in the Chicago plant, and not the New York facility!” Hahahaha…great post!

    • Hahaha. Oh man that’s brilliant. I never think of things that fast (and apparently even that slow, since it didn’t occur to me for the post, either.) I think you need your own blog. It would be much more clever and entertaining!

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