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USD Notes In Circulation In Zimbabwe Could Be Worthless In South Africa

us$ 50, bank note

The phrase “Cash Is King” doesn’t just apply to investment portfolios, apparently, it also applies to the state or quality of your cash (in this case, the state or quality of your US Dollars). I can conclude that a bulk of the US Dollar notes (USD notes) that are in circulation in Zimbabwe could be deemed worthless in South Africa. “Worthless” because they won’t be accepted at some forex currency exchanges in South Africa hence you can’t exchange them for Rands to do your shopping.

Shock at South Africa’s Bureau de Changes

Last week, we as the Techzim crew, had a good time in Cape Town attending the just ended, AfricaCom 2018. We thought it wise to carry our USD notes and exchange them for Rands in South Africa. It was a task that we set upon ourselves to execute as soon as we arrived at the airport.

The first Bureau de Change we visited in the airport declined to accept some of our USD’s on the pretext that they were dirty.  You know those USD notes we see money changers holding in town? After being held in sweaty palms for the whole day they get dirty. It’s those dirty notes that are not accepted in South Africa. We visited another Bureau De Change two days later and it declined some USD notes for the same reason. So, two the Bureau de Changes only took the clean ones (USD notes) and returned to us the dirty ones.

This shocked me (us)-USD notes are deemed not fit for exchange because they are dirty. This is unheard of in Zimbabwe, we use those kinds (dirty USDs notes) of USD without any regard to whether they are dirty or clean.

We were told that the only place that could accept such kind of (dirty) notes was in the ‘streets’, thus with money changers in the streets of Cape Town. But you know how South Africa is, it’s a dangerous country. The same people whom you would have exchanged your USD notes for Rands might scheme to mug you.

Anyway, the USD notes that were declined at the Bureau De Change were not torn, they were just dirty. And its not like they were awfully dirty such that you couldn’t see watermarks. No, they are those USD notes we use or rather see daily in Zimbabwe. This got me thinking: Does that mean that a bulk of the USD notes we are using Zimbabwe right now are (worthless)?

To answer this, let’s look at what the Federal Reserve’s policy on what is deemed as unusable money. This unusable money is technically called “Mutilated money”.

The Federal Reserve’s Policy on Mutilated Money

The United State’s Federal Reserve’s policy on U.S. money is something you should be aware of before you start traveling abroad. The United States considers damaged USD notes to be a USD note where half or less of the USD note is remaining, or the value of the note is questionable and must be examined by the Department of the Treasury before any exchange is made.

So, in other words, if a USD note you have is “soiled, dirty, defaced, disintegrated, limp, torn, or worn out” but more than half of it is remaining, the U.S. does not consider that USD note to be mutilated and it will still be accepted.

Word of advice

Although what the U.S. considers to be “mutilated currency”, might be of a higher standard than other countries, but at least you now have a good idea of what to expect of countries when you travel. They are some countries like Zambia which I visited 2 weeks ago, we didn’t have trouble to change our dirty USD notes. But to be safe, when you travel to South Africa or abroad with USDs, they must be in the most crisp, pristine and well- kept condition to be accepted or even exchanged at local currency exchanges.

P.S You might ask why we didn’t go to exchange our dirty USD notes for Rands in a bank rather than going to Bureau De changes. The thing, is there are a lot of requirements and paperwork you need to fill out just to exchange forex for local currency at a bank. Bureau De Change have less stringent rules for exchanging currencies relative to banks so their turnaround time is much higher (compared to banks). Otherwise, if you have enough time and you equally satisfy the requirements of banks, they can accept even the dirty USD notes too.

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25 thoughts on “USD Notes In Circulation In Zimbabwe Could Be Worthless In South Africa

  1. Yes, most Zimbos have no respect for money. Notes should just be folded once in the middle or not at all and must be kept clean. Zimbos can crush it, fold it many times and hide it any where they feel like and devalue it as they please. No wonder our situation does not seam to change despite using the foreign currencies at our disposal.

    1. I take it personally when people with inferiority complex denigrate an entire people based on a false premise. Americans are not better than Zimbabweans when it comes to mistreating their currency. FYI almost every note will test positive for traces of cocaine and its the Americans who are to blame. Americans soil, tear and mistreat their notes too and store it in all sorts of unsavoury places. People of all nations do it. Stop finding reasons to bring us down. As your devaluing a currency fallacy please Google Purchasing Power Parity and you will know that the prices of the same good cannot be the same in every country for many reasons.

  2. @Observer..don;t rush to bash Zimbos..I travel quite a lot and I dont think Burundian Francs or Zambian Kwacha are cleaner than the USD in Zim…let’s find positive ways of moving forwards instead of delving into self-depreciation as if bad things happen only in Zim

  3. Do you realise that you may have inadvertently introduced yet another tier of black market pricing with clean notes attracting a premium. This is one article you should have kept to yourself in my opinion

  4. The assumption by those RSA exchanges is that physically clean notes come from a clean process and the dirty notes come from the “underworld”. This is pea-brained reasoning, if that, because laundered money can still look clean. If a trace of the movement of every note in circulation could be determined, it would be shocking indeed. It is a good habit, though, to try and keep clean (notes, hygiene, thoughts, actions and intentions)!!

  5. South Africa has always had that stance on cash for a long time now. However, it’s not SA only, a lot other countries, mostly developed countries, do not accept dirty notes.

  6. Zambian, Tanzanian, Botswana forex bureaus also reject some dirty usd notes. Its because clients also reject those dirty notes when buying usds. Also its an inconvinience to clean it up at a bank for these bureaus. This isnt a tech article though guys. Talk of bitcoin being rejected maybe.

  7. For well travelled Zimbos this is not a one country thing. Most countries do it including Zim itself. This so called dirty money is collected and shredded in the us and most of these dirty notes are associated with drug money especially the smaller notes. The use of proper plastic money backed by real money is done deligently to avoid carrying a lot of cash which end up in the drugs or rebels without any paper trail. So its not abt dirty money from Zimbo only. Put yo dollars in the system and you wont have those hussles

  8. @TechZim this is a good and important article – Please can you do an article and let ZIMBABWEANs know that they should stop treating USD like Bond Notes. People should not just stuff their notes in their pockets, or crush them in their hands. Dirt, wrinkles and sweat are a big NO NO. All over the world a huge number of the USD Bank Notes used in Zim are not accepted. Soon as they see them they refuse them. When applying for a US Visa your notes need to be accepted by the machine – many soiled notes in Zimbabwe will be rejected and the Embassy cannot accept them. If you travel to the DRC every single USD note is spotless and crispy clean – no wrinkles and no dirt – they have been trading in USD and travelling for many years so they understand this.

    Duty free shops at Airports also refuse the Zimbabwean USD – in Joburg they are actually known as Zimbabwean USD.

    Zimbabwe is “illegally” using the USD as currency so we don’t have the luxury of our Central Bank being able to just send a batch of notes the US to be exchanged – and our banks are being charged large amounts of money to do this on our behalf.

    So why are soiled notes not accepted – Simple reason is the Bureau de Changes buy and sell money to people – and it’s those people that demand clean money. A Bureau will lose business if no one wants to accept their dirty money. It’s like going to a car showroom and being sold a dirty car. People store millions of dollars and move with money they don’t want to move around with dirty money that looks like it was stolen or hiding in someone’s private’s parts.

    If you watch music videos or go on instagram you never see dirty notes – they’re always crisp and clean.

    Globally traded currencies are never dirty – USD, Pounds, Euros etc – soon as they get dirty they’re taken out of circulation. Zimbabwe once again is a unique case in that we have such a large number of soiled notes. its important that Zimbabweans are educated that they need to look after their USD notes – keep them in flat wallet, bags, boxes when moving with them – or even better the bank.

    You will never go to any country in the world and receive a dirty USD note – Zimbabweans must realise they are not special and cannot destroy the USD notes and expect people to accept them. Also we as a nation cannot afford the extra cost to us. Rather lets save on the few pennies by looking after the money

  9. It’s not the USD only that needs to be kept clean. All currencies need to be well kept. I think Zim’s case is made worse by the lack of enough forex such that we tend to overuse the little that is circulating. I’m sure some banks were issuing the soiled notes.

  10. I used to be a forex dealer, in Zimbabwe one thing I noticed dealing with white people is that they dont like old usd notes, thats all. I presume you dealt with whites. Theres nothing wrong with the old notes.

  11. Its not in SA only almost every country…they dont take dirty notes…its not even news to me.

  12. Problem ndeye kuti mari iyi munoichengetera munduwe, then moshamisika kuti sei yasviba uye yakunhuwa.

  13. You can go ahead and send all those dirty US Dollar bills to me! They will spend just fine on the streets here in good ole Florida, USA.

    PO Box 1985.,
    DeLand, FL 32721-1985

  14. Someone refusing something doesn’t make it worthless. That specific person just doesn’t want it. Just like pharmacies don’t want bond notes, it doesn’t effectively make them worthless. That aside, across the globe, banks and bureaus generally want clean money. It’s easier to check for counterfeits and record serial numbers amongst other security activities. As well, they are going to give you clean notes in return. The bureau will want to sell on your money and nobody will want it. It’s just business.

    Zimbabwean USD are actually very dirty, by any standard, it’s just that we’ve become accustomed to that level of dirtiness. Even the ones that are ”clean”, have significant dirt. Just think back to the beginning of dollarisation, some of the money is that old and we don’t have a Federal Reserve to cycle out the old notes for new ones.

  15. What you are not saying is that US$ printed before 2009 is not considered in most countries particularly South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria where I have been, Be they soiled or fresh from the printers. Check and verify your US$5, US$10 and US$100

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