Getting the Gourdes: Hard cash preferable in Haiti

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Automatic teller (ATM) and credit card machines have become so commonplace, that most rely heavily on them for reasons of security as well as convenience. From supermarkets to airport terminals, they are becoming almost innocuous.
But not, it seems, in Haiti.   
Firstly ATMs are harder to find than banks (which are fewer since the January 2010 earthquake), and transactions are just as complicated. I got the first-hand experience when I travelled to Haiti with a group of CARICOM journalists.
A trip to an ATM in the heart of Port Au Prince, is reminiscent of the days of travellers cheques. Special tellers deal handle this transaction, which requires the presentation, and photocopying, of one’s passport, and then delivery of cash from a different teller.
Thankfully one is allowed to cut the line, which is a blessing as the bank line stretches to the sidewalk outside the bank, with customers being let in one at a time by heavily armed guards.
Transactions are also closely watched by guards, whose duties extend to preventing the use of mobile phones and electronics such as cameras, in the bank, as a security measure.   
That Haitians still use the banks seem a credit to their resilience. Over one-third of the country’s ATMs are estimated to have been destroyed in the earthquake. However even before that it was estimated that less than 1 in 10 Haitians had ever used a commercial bank.
Despite this the Haitian Gourde, (Creole Goud) introduced in 1813, is healthy, compared to some other currencies. The rate of exchange is HTG 40 to $1US. 
With the country’s economy on the upswing before the earthquake as traditional areas of commerce were resuscitated, and with the influx of money following the disaster, the currency remains strong.
Still Haiti is far from boasting easy access to savings or loans. It is certainly a far cry from the cash-free society most countries stand on the verge of. So if you prefer to use your ATM/credit/debit card, save it for another trip and get some cold hard cash before entering Haiti.

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