The country of Zambia uses the kwacha as its official currency. This is recognised by the ISO code ZMW and this code can actually make it easier to find when using a conversion tool.

What coins and notes are available for this currency?

The kwacha is a decimal currency and it has a subunit called the ngwee. There are very few coins in use and most of them are denominated as the ngwee. These are the 5, 10 and 50 ngwee coins. There is also the additional one kwacha coin you can use while in the country. Aside from this you have a few kwacha banknotes to choose from. The smallest one is the two kwacha note, and they then go up through the 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 kwacha notes.

Incidentally until fairly recently the coins were no longer used in trade. Inflation in the country had rendered the material used to make the coins as more valuable than the amounts they were designed to represent. You might have been able to get hold of the kwacha coins if you asked for some while in the country, because they were usually sold to tourists who wanted to keep them. However the situation changed in 2013 when brand new coins were issued in the denominations mentioned above. These are now commonly used so the days of having them as mere souvenirs are over.

From past to present – the history of the Zambian kwacha

The Brits once had quite an influence in Zambia, and this was partially represented by Zambia’s albeit brief use of the Zambian pound (their version of the British pound). However this did not last, because in 1968 the country decided to replace the pound with the kwacha, which was brought in and valued at two of the new kwacha to one of the old pounds. Inflation has since had a marked effect on the country though, and the currency is worth a fraction of what it used to be worth in relation to when it was brought into use.

How to get hold of the Zambian kwacha

The kwacha is one of many currencies that you cannot normally get hold of until you arrive in the country itself. This might be strange to those of you who are used to ordering their currency before travelling to countries that are popular with tourists. However you shouldn’t worry – it is relatively easy to get the kwacha once you get to Zambia.

The best place to get your cash is from one of the banks in the country. Many of them will have working cash machines and providing you have a Visa card or a debit card carrying that symbol, you should be able to use it. Don’t assume you won’t find a use for a Mastercard if you have one though, since you can pay for goods and services using a Mastercard in many situations and locations.

One thing you may not want to bother with in Zambia is traveller’s cheques. They are not popular here and while you might get lucky and find somewhere to change them this is not a given. If you do decide to take a few just in case, make sure they are denominated in US dollars to give you the best chance of exchanging them.

As far as taking cash into the country to exchange is concerned, the US dollar is your best bet. This is normally quite easy to exchange, but make sure you do so at a bank rather than a money changer (i.e. on the street). This can lead to poor exchange rates and also in some cases the possibility of being ripped off, which no one will enjoy. Make sure all the notes you do take are $20 and above and change a reasonable amount at a time. This will help you get the best exchange rate for your transaction.

How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Zambian kwacha

Since you are unlikely to be familiar with the exchange rate for the kwacha, you can use the ISO code to find it quickly on your chosen currency converter. Once you have done this you can select your own currency so you can determine how many kwacha you will get per unit of your own currency. Some of the more basic currency converters may not include the Zambian currency among their more popular options. If this is the case simply carry on looking until you find another one that does include it.

The Zambia High Commission is located in London but if you would like to find out more about it and about the country as a whole, you don’t have to go there. You can access their website at instead. There is a good section on tourism which is worth a look.

Travelling safely with the Zambian kwacha

Zambia is for the most part a reasonably safe country to visit. There are some areas where care should be taken when exploring or passing through them; these can change so it is best to check the latest travel advice prior to going. There are strict requirements on entry to the country so make sure you know what is required before you go so your paperwork is in order.

As far as protecting your cash is concerned, there are the usual warnings to heed with regard to pickpockets and petty thieves operating in some areas. Make sure you take care when withdrawing money from cash machines since some of them are watched by criminals who then rob the people who have taken out money. Try and get your cash from inside the bank if at all possible and take care. Protect any bags you are carrying with you; you might find it easier to carry a bag over the opposite shoulder so no one can simply grab it and run. Keep a close eye on it when you are seated at a restaurant or similar location too.

It might be worth dividing up your cash into separate amounts so you can be sure of keeping some of it if you are targeted by pickpockets. You may never know you have been picked until you realise your cash is missing. At least if you divide it up into different pockets you won’t lose all of it.

Where to spend your kwacha in Zambia – and what to spend them on

You will find Zambia in southern Africa. It has borders with several other countries, starting with the Democratic Republic of Congo to the north. Going round in a clockwise direction you will also find Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana (but only just – the border here is tiny), Namibia and Angola.

Perhaps the most famous sight in Zambia is the Victoria Falls. These falls sit on the border where Zambia meets Zimbabwe. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and by one measurement it is the biggest waterfall in the world in terms of water. However there are others that are either taller or wider. The whole area is quite spectacular thanks to the number of gorges present here. The famous Zambezi River is responsible for rushing over the falls, creating the sight that draws thousands of tourists each year.

Of course Zambia has a selection of national parks too, and is often chosen as a holiday destination based on the number of opportunities there are to see game. Among the larger national parks you will find the likes of Kafue National Park. This was the first park of its kind and you have opportunities to see mighty elephants, all kinds of birds and many other animals as well. You can even stay in one of the safari lodges provided in the park, a situation not unique to Kafue either.

If you would like to see a town or two while you are in Zambia, you can pick no better place than Livingstone. You’ve heard of Dr Livingstone I presume (forgive the joke!). Well this town was named after that very person. There are many day trips which leave Livingstone for surrounding attractions, including Victoria Falls. Aside from this you can do a spot of shopping for souvenirs to take home with you. The market is fascinating to browse round, as are many of the local shops. You will find plenty to see and do here to keep you busy all day.


As you can see Zambia is chosen by many tourists for good reasons. Aside from the national parks, the game and the famous falls, there are many other attractions and destinations worth seeing in the country. If you want to escape from the usual beach holidays and head somewhere you have never been before, Zambia can show you another side of life far closer to nature.

If you would like to obtain some kwacha you will certainly find many ways to spend them while visiting this charming country.

Zambia Kwacha – ZMW

4 thoughts on “Zambia Kwacha – ZMW

  • June 26, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Hi, I’m in the UK now and I have some Zambian kwacha worth about £200 in cash and none of the forex or banks or travel agents will take it. How can I get this in pounds?

  • January 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Have you tried online currency converter places? I’m not sure if any of the online services will take it or not, but some company or provider must do. Otherwise we’d never get any cash back for the currencies we use while abroad. Who did you get it changed up with in the first place? Perhaps they would be your best bet. Did you visit Victoria Falls while you were there? I would love to see them.

  • April 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I agree with Ian, I think online places are probably best. According to the info in the article you’d need a lot of kwacha to be worth anything in pounds. Perhaps that’s why so many outlets won’t accept it. Online options are probably your only shot to be honest. Good luck.

  • October 23, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    were can I convert to dollars


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