The national currency of Zambia is the Kwacha (ZMW). In Nyanja, one of the official languages of Zambia, kwacha means dawn and refers to the ‘dawn of freedom’, coined by the nationalists at the time of independence. The kwacha is divided into 100 Ngwee, which, apart from the K1 coin itself, are made up of 5, 10 and 50 Ngwee coins. The Kwacha notes are made up of K2, K5, K10, K20, K50 and K100 and all feature the African Fish Eagle, the national bird and emblem of Zambian pride, on the face, with the chain breaker symbol on the reverse, another reminder of the struggle for independence.
Banking services, and the number of banks offering these services, has increased over the years and ATMs are to be found in most areas of Lusaka at least. Banks offer both current and savings accounts in both Kwacha and dollars, but to open an account you will need to produce two passport photos, a reference and a utility bill. You will also need to deposit K500 into the kwacha account, once the account is approved, in order to activate it. Be aware that the cost of banking may be higher than in Western countries. You will be charged monthly banking fees, as well as internet banking fees. If you bounce a cheque you will lose your cheque book for at least six months while your account is monitored.
In 2015, due to the fall in the price of copper (Zambia’s major export), as well as a downward trend in global markets, the Kwacha has depreciated significantly against foreign currencies, which has led to an increase in the use of the US dollar locally. Quotations for goods are frequently made in dollars in order to fix the cost and then converted into kwacha on the day of payment at the prevailing rate. To find the current foreign exchange rates we recommend www.xe.com
For the traveller there are licensed bureaux de changes, which will exchange the major currencies, ie British pounds, US dollars, Euros and Rands. To exchange from kwacha into these currencies can sometimes be a problem, if there is insufficient quantities to hand. However, ATMs are the more obvious choice for accessing local currency, and most major stores and restaurants will accept Visa debit and credit cards, and, increasingly, Mastercard as payment for goods and services. Obviously, there will be a cost to transacting this way if you are using a debit card from your home country.