What currency do you need for your trip to The Bahamas, and do you need to exchange currency before or after arrival? The following will explain not only the general information, but more details for Abaco, Exuma, Eleuthera, Freeport, Harbour Island, Nassau and the smaller out-islands (also known as family islands) throughout the country.
The short answer:
While the official currency of The Bahamas is the Bahamian Dollar (the symbol is $B) US Dollar ($USD) is accepted nearly everywhere at a 1-to-1 ratio, so if the cost is $20 Bahamian, you can pay with a $20 US Dollar bill, with most of the exceptions being types of places that tourists would typically not need to visit anyway.
Other “dollar” named of currencies are not accepted in the general Bahamian economy. This includes Australian, Canadian, Eastern Caribbean and others.
Should you bring cash or are credit cards accepted?
The answer is bring cash, but how much will depend on where you’re going. I recommend taking $USD or converting other local currency for travelers from outside of the USA to $USD, for reasons which I will explain below.
In general you should bring at least some cash as The Bahamas is still a very cash based society and especially so in the smaller and more remote out islands.
If your travels will take you primarily to Nassau, a credit card will suffice in many if not most places. The general rule for myself in Nassau is that the smaller the establishment, the less likely they will be to accept a credit card. American Express, Discover, and other cards are much less likely to be accepted than Visa and Mastercard.
You will want to have at least a little cash for gratuities and small purchases as some shops may have a minimum for credit cards, and because the occasional power, internet, or banking outage may render credit card machines useless at times.
Other islands will accept credit cards in varying degrees. Keep reading for more details.
Are ATMs or Banks available for cash withdrawals?
Again, it depends.
There are plenty of ATMs in Nassau and a decent number in Freeport, and much less on some of the other islands, if any at all. The locations and islands you will be visiting may vary greatly in ATM quantity and reliability. Just as with credit card acceptance, the smaller or more remote the island, the less (or no) banks or ATMs may be available.
In some locations, there may be only one or two ATMs and these machines may be out of service for a number of days, or out of money. While this sounds far-fetched, events like Regatta or just holiday weekends can cause a larger than normal demand for cash which in turn may be more than the supply in the ATM.
Some islands have no banks or ATMs. These are of course the more remote islands. When in doubt, check ahead of time including the hours of operation and make sure to have a backup plan which means bring enough cash to get you past any potential service interruptions. Just be sure to declare any funds when required by law.
What is the best currency to use in The Bahamas?
First, as mentioned above $USD is accepted pretty much everywhere you may want to go without any conversion fees.
Secondly, The Bahamas is one of about 30 countries in the world remaining with currency conversion restrictions in place still. Without going too much down a rabbit hole, the reason behind currency restrictions usually revolve around governmental currency control, the desire to not have their physical currency leave the country, and business, labor or tourism restrictions. I won’t speculate as to what the reasons are by The Bahamas, but I will explain how the restrictions can be challenging for tourists.
In a nutshell, you are restricted to only convert back as much Bahamian Dollar as you converted to Bahamian Dollar. While this sounds like a simple restriction, combining it with the interchangable use of US Dollar, you may end up with more Bahamian Dollar leaving than you had when you arrived, depending on whether you withdrew cash at an ATM and how much you spent on your visit.
The result is, that you will be unable to convert the money back to your local currency (including US Dollar) outside The Bahamas. However, if you convert your local currency to US Dollar instead, you will have much more ability to convert it back, depending of course on your country’s and the US financial regulations.
Another factor is that $B is not stocked nearly as much at foreign currency exchanges or banks outside The Bahamas, where $USD is almost everywhere. If you need to convert to $B, you may need to either visit a special bank location in your country, or place your order ahead of time, adding to the inconvenience of converting currency.