So I realize that I started this blog to share my stories of Indonesia with all my friends and that, at times, Ive had difficulty staying on topic. So let me get back on track with this one inspired by  Jacksons comment about waiting for me to “learn the ropes“.

Ive dealt with the money changers here at the airport, the tourist district (Jaksa) and the big malls. Heres what Ive learned:

  • The big malls have the best rates but are so annoying to deal with. They are so strict on the condition of the bills. They treat them as an antique dealer would a possible purchase. Realize they will inspect every bill front and back. When I first got here I had $6000 in $100 bills in Bank of America bill wrappers. Granted, one of them was 20 years old, but the rest were fine, some average wear and ranged in age from 4-8 years old.  They only took about $2000 worth, citing issues such as too much wear or folds, lower serial number ranges and if there were ANY tears at all, forget about it. Today I had $600 to exchange, one of the bills had a 2mm fold in the corner but was crisp and new and they wanted to give me a lower exchange rate because of this. 
  • $100 bills have a more favorable exchange rate than the $20s by about 2%. Anything lower than that will take 5-10% hit on the rate.
  • The tourist areas changers are less anal but their rates will be 2-5% lower than the malls.  Haggling is possible here, so feel free to walk away saying youll be back after you check around.  This may get you a better rate. I havent run into it but counterfeit bills are possible so check as much as you can. The more money you change, obviously, the more likely you are to get a good rate.
  • The airport has terrible rates.  If you have to, only change enough for your cab or food. The only upside is there is little chance for counterfeit bills.
  • You can always get currency using your ATM card but remember, in addition to the $5 fee your bank will hit you with, they will also charge you a 1.5-3% fee and the exchange rate will never be in your favor.

If any of you are into foreign currency trading the Indonesian Rupiah is rated as a strong currency for 2010.  This time last year the exchange rate against the dollar was 13,500.  Its now just under 9,000 and expected do about the same this year.  The recession mostly missed the Indonesian economy and the country is listed at the top of investment lists so there is a large influx of capital.

Apparently even the US government is sick of these antics. I just got back from the embassy where a sign was posted something the effect of “Effective immediately all cash payments must be made in IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) due to financial institutions reluctancy to accept US Bills with wear or certain serial number block.”