ATMs in the Cash Economy

In Abidjan, cash is king and requests to pay by credit card are often met with a blank stare or a clerk helpfully offering to take euros or dollars.  If you have dollars or euros,  you're in luck: people will take them, gladly.  If you've run out of cash, you need to get to an ATM and that's where things get messy pretty quickly.

It turns out American cards don't have a security chip (la puce).  This is a royal pain because it means most Ivorian ATMs simply won't play ball with you.  You will put your card into the machine and enter your pin, only to have the machine say it can't give you money.  Since the message looks eerily similar to the message you'd get when your account is overdrawn, your first instinct will be to think you've run out of money.  Don't panic.  It's just the ATM.  You will just have to try you luck elsewhere and keep trying until you get cash.  I would love to give helpful hints on which ATMs have worked for me in the past, but I can't.  Ivorian ATMs are fickle and those that have worked for me once haven't necessarily worked the next time around.  Basically, you've been sucked into an ATM version of duck-duck goose.

So, what to do? Carry cash.  The thought of ending up somewhere, alone with not cash and no working ATM has struck fear in my heart, so much so that every time I find myself down to my last 10 000 Francs, I start feeling anxious.  You could also get an Ivorian bank account --haven't done that yet, so we'll see how that goes. 

Joanna BusbyComment