If you have heard of this particular currency before you may already be aware that several countries actually use it. In a sense it is much like the euro in that several countries in a specific area all bordering each other use it in daily life. In this case one of the countries that uses the West African CFA franc is Benin.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
It may not come as a surprise to learn the West African CFA franc is divided into 100 centimes. This is a common division for the franc as a general currency. Centimes aren’t something you have to be concerned with in your time in Benin though, since they are no longer circulated as legal tender. Instead you will only use the wide choice of franc coins available.
There is a total of nine coins available for this currency, which is quite a large number. They start with the one franc coin and go up through the 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 250 and 500 franc coins. There are a mere five banknotes available but they go from the 500 franc note through to the 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 franc notes.
From past to present – the history of the Benin West African CFA franc
This currency has been in use for an impressive seven decades now, having come in during the Forties. The countries that use it are all spread over the western part of Africa, and are not in as tight a knot as those that now use the Central African CFA franc. Before this currency came into being Benin – which used to be known as Dahomey – used the French West African franc.
How to get hold of the Benin West African CFA franc
The best way to get your currency is to wait until you arrive in Benin. You might be lucky to find a bureau de change that will provide you with it prior to your trip but for the sake of searching it is just as easy to wait until you get there. Make sure you go armed with some traveller’s cheques though, since they are pretty easy to exchange for the franc. The ideal currencies to get these denominated in are the British pound sterling or the euro. If you’re taking in cash to exchange, make sure you stick to either of these currencies and you should be fine.
As for paying by other means, you can use Mastercard and Visa cards to pay for things, but the services are limited. You’ll tend to find bigger outlets will be more likely to accept them, but do check before you assume you can pay by this means.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Benin West African CFA franc
Even though the currency itself is not always the easiest one to get hold of, you can certainly find the latest exchange rate easily enough. You can find any currency converter online that has a good list of currencies available on it, and look for the franc by using the ISO code. Each currency has its own code and the one you need here is XOF.
There is a consulate for the Republic of Benin as it is officially known, and this can be found in London. There is a website for the consulate as well, so if you want information on visas or general details about the country itself, make sure you visit http://beninconsulate.co.uk/ for more details.
Travelling safely with the Benin West African CFA franc
When visiting Benin it makes sense to ensure you take proper precautions to help you stay safe while you are there. While tourists do visit the country it is not one of the most popular destinations in this part of the world, although it does have a lot to offer.
You should note that terrorism and kidnapping are far from unknown here, so do take your safety seriously at all times. Various other less serious crimes that can still cause harm also occur in Benin – types of crimes including bag snatching, robbery and muggings as well. You should always travel with someone else whenever possible, since travelling alone can make you more of a target. Car-jacking can also occur; the UK government advises that no armed attack should ever be resisted since many criminals in this part of the world do not worry about inflicting serious injuries or even fatalities on other people.
Where to spend your West African CFA francs in Benin – and what to spend them on
Benin is of course in West Africa. It is quite a long thin country as you will see if you locate it on a map, although the upper part of it does widen out compared to the lower part. To the west of the country lies Togo, while the border from the north-west round to the north-east is shared with Burkina Faso and Niger. Round to the east of the country lies Nigeria. Its entire southern border faces the Gulf of Guinea, which is the only part of the border that is not shared with another country.
Ironically despite the size of the country a significant portion of its populace choose to live in the far southern reaches of Benin. The capital is Porto-Novo, which is situated in the far south-eastern corner. A short distance away from this on the map is Cotonou, which qualifies as the biggest city Benin has.
There are some interesting sights to be found in Porto-Novo, not least of which is King Toffa’s Palace. As you might guess from the name it is truly palatial and was once the home of royalty. Today though it has a different purpose, mainly as a museum. As such you not only get the chance to see the artefacts here but also to see the interior of the palace itself.
Just along the coast to the west you’ll find the previously-mentioned Cotonou. This has expanded beyond all recognition in recent years, having gone from a few tens of thousands of residents to more than a million. As you might guess the rapid expansion has seen the equally-rapid expansion of the city itself. As such it offers lots of appealing sights, including the famous Dantokpa Market. If you have the time it is worth a look since it is said to bring in millions in West African francs every single day. With numerous stalls here, everyone seeming to sell something different, it is quite unlike any other market you will have visited.
Staying in the same part of the country, we can also find another area to explore around Lake Nokoue. The lake is not far from the coast and pretty close to the capital as well. Perhaps the most famous element of the lake is not the lake itself, but the people who created the famous village of Ganvie. This is known as a water village because it is built over the lake. It is several centuries old now and is standing up exceptionally well thanks to the smart building methods.
Benin does have its share of famous attractions and one of the finest is surely its national parks. One of these is the Pendjari National Park, which provides a variety of animals including antelopes and elephants. It is also a place where you may just see the relatively rare West African lion. This is part of the reason why the area is protected, in order to try and preserve the remaining examples of this species where possible.
Benin also has some sites that have been recognised formally by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Perhaps the most appealing of these – and definitely the most fascinating – are the Royal Palaces of Abomey. On the surface, pictures of these palaces may not inspire you. Yet when you find out there are 12 of them in total, dotted over several dozen acres in the town called Abomey, you will see how important it is they have lasted. They are on the endangered list too, and since they date back to the 1600s it is important that we do all we can to make sure we preserve the palaces for the future.
If you have travelled to other West African countries previously, you will not be concerned with the idea of using the CFA franc here since you will already be used to it. However Benin is very different from what you might expect. It has its own character and is quite distinct from other countries in West Africa. Even though there are similarities, such as with the national parks and safari opportunities for example, Benin has its own distinct feel as well.
Remember, if you are thinking of visiting the country do check the latest travel advice before you do so. This will enable you to make sure you can stay as safe as possible while you are in the country.