Like most Pacific countries, Fiji will seem to be both feast and famine. Some things (such as locally grown produce, gold jewelry, and tours) are great value for money. Other things (like petrol, cosmetics [i.e., shampoo], and anything else that needs to be imported) can seem shockingly expensive, and they only get more so in the more remote areas. Bus fare from Nadi to Suva is US$8; a bottle of shampoo costs about the same. One liter of bottled water or one liter of petrol is about US$2. A piece of fruit in the market is about 50¢.
Credit cards and Fijian dollars are the most universal form of currency, although traveler's checks can still be used in more touristy areas. Hotels and banks are still the best bets for a good exchange rate, and U.S., Australian, and New Zealand dollars are the easiest to exchange, although Fijian currency is what is accepted in day-to-day use. Major international banks in Fiji include ANZ (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd) and Westpac, and their ATMs will accept nearly every international debit card. As always, protect your pin number when withdrawing money.
When heading to the outer islands, make certain you bring enough local currency, as ATMs are difficult to come by outside of city centers (and are often out-of-service). Check with your lodging to see what is available, and what form of payment they accept.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait till the last minute.
ATMs & Banks
ATMs can be found in most banks, which are found in most cities. Banks become fewer and far between in the outlying islands, unless you're staying at a major resort. PIN numbers in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific need to be four digits.
Throughout this guide, the following abbreviations are used: AE, American Express; DC, Diners Club; MC, MasterCard; and V, Visa.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases you'll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don't always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn't an option.
Credit cards are widely used in Fiji. Most hotels, restaurants, shops, and travel agents accept major credit cards, although some hotels add a 5% surcharge if you pay with one (check with your accommodation hosts before paying). When heading to the outer islands, bring your credit card, but bring enough cash to cover you if credit cards aren't accepted. (Most banks in large towns will provide cash advances through credit cards.)
American Express (800/528–4800 in U.S.;. www.americanexpress.com.)
MasterCard (800/627–8372 in U.S.; 636/722–7111 collect from abroad. www.mastercard.com.)
Visa (800/847–2911 in U.S.; 713/923–2227 Ext. 3104 collect from abroad. www.visa.com.)
At the time of this writing, US$1 equaled $1.50 Fijian dollars. The local currency is split into bank notes (50, 20, 10, 5, and 2) and coins (1, 50¢, 20¢, 10¢, 5¢, 2¢, 1¢). Currency is the same throughout the islands, although prices tend to increase in the more remote areas. Fijian dollars is the currency that is widely accepted; occasionally some major hotels or restaurants will accept U.S. dollars, but don't count on it.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh … that's right. The sign didn't say no fee.) And as for rates, you're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.