If you are one of the many expats here who gets paid in your home currency, or just not paid very much, you are going to have to deal with with getting cash and International Exchange Rates. Bank fees on foreign exchange are always a huge and painful slug and their exchange rates very ‘conservative’.
The best way we have found is to have friends and acquaintances bring cash into the country when they are travelling. You can bring in the equivalent of $50,000 Solomon Islands Dollars (SID). $10,000 AUD seems to be okay, but that might change if there is a big movement in the exchange rate.
We move money into the friends Australian bank account online and they bring us the cash to exchange here.
The are two good places to change foreign cash in Honiara that give much better rates than the banks. You need your passport or local drivers’ licence for identification.
1) The Money Shop at Panatina Plaza opposite the supermarket usually seems to have the better rate, but they are often short of cash. It is always useful to phone ahead to make sure they have the reserves to handle your transaction. They advertise their exchange rates in the window of the shop using a formula of how many cents of the foreign currency to one Solomon Islands Dollar e.g. 0.1754 means $5.70 SID for $1.00 AUD. The smaller this number the better the more SID$.
2) The reception desk at the Pacific Casino and Motel on Mendana Ave, Kookum. They always seem a little shocked or apprehensive every time I approach them, but that could be just me. They have been changing money regularly forever though there doesn’t seem to be any advertising other than word of mouth. You need to ask them the exchange rate, which they give as number of SID$ to one AUS$ e.g. 5.70, being $5.70 SID for each $1 AUD. Therefore, the bigger this number the more SID$ you get.
Of course to do this you need to have someone you trust who is travelling and who is not already carrying their own or some else’s reserves. And,of course, you end up carrying huge wads of cash around the streets of Honiara. Not everyone is comfortable doing that.
Money transfer on-line: For those of us from Australia and New Zealand there is an on-line option with much lower fees and the best daily exchange rate. Happy Mid http://www.happymid.com was set up by a couple of blokes who experienced directly the problems of foreign cash transfers when they were volunteering in the Asia-Pacific.
It involves a simple on-line process of verifying your identity (passport details) and then you can transfer money from your Australian/New Zealand account to theirs. They search out the best exchange rate available and then transfer the SID$ into your Solomons account within a couple of days.
They take $5 AUD for the transfer and your bank may charge transfer fees (Westpac is $25), but nothing compared to the cost of their foreign exchange transfers. If you can do it out of paypal the fees are slightly higher ($27.50AUD) but you have your money quicker.
You are restricted to $1000 AUD at a time but an unlimited number of transfers.
Happy Mid is governed and monitored by the usual Australian banking and corporations laws (probably NZ ones too for what that is worth) and we have now used it ourselves and talked to many other Honiarans who have used the site without any problems.
Buyer’s remorse: Of course as soon as you change a huge pile of currency there will be a big shift in the currency exchange rate and you will realize you could have gotten way more if you had just waited a couple of days. It always happens and there is nothing you can do about it so don’t even look. It is just one of those universal phenomena that proves there is a god and that she has an evil sense of humour.
Taking money home: Heading home from Solomons be aware that your bank may not accept Solomon Island cheques and, even if they do, you will lose a large proportion of it in transfer and exchange fees. Cash your cheques here in your solomon islands bank account and transfer or exchange the money before leave.
1) The Money Spot at Panatina Plaza, Panatina ph: 30430 mon – fri 8.30 – 4.30pm sat 9 – 1pm
2) The reception desk at the Pacific Casino and Motel on Mendana Ave, Kookum
3) Happy Mid On-line transfers http://www.happymid.com