You may already be familiar with the franc, since there are several versions of it that have been (or are being) used around the world. Mali uses the West African CFA franc along with a number of other countries in this region. It uses the ISO code XOF if you need to find it quickly on a currency converter. Here we’ll find out more about the currency and about Mali as well.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
You may guess the franc is divided into 100 centimes, and you would be right. However this is not in use anymore because inflation has rendered the smaller denominated coin obsolete. As such you will only ever find francs in use in Mali. These are the 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 franc coins, but there are a number of higher-valued ones as well. These range from the 100 franc coin right through to the 200, 250 and even the 500 franc coins.
As you might imagine the banknotes – of which there are four – are fairly large in terms of the number of francs they are each worth. The smallest one is the 1,000 franc banknote, after which you will find the 2,000 and 5,000 franc notes followed finally by the 10,000 franc note.
From past to present – the history of the Mali West African CFA franc
The Forties was the first time the West African CFA franc came into being in West Africa. However while some of the countries in this region have used the currency uninterrupted since the very beginning, this is not the case with them all. Instead Mali did use it for a while, but they then adopted their own version of the franc. This was called – rather obviously you might say – the Malian franc. It had its own ISO code, which was MLF, and it was in force in the country between 1962 and 1984. This had some similarities with the West African CFA franc in that it had centimes but none were ever actually issued.
In 1984 the country decided to go back to the West African CFA franc. In doing so it adopted a conversion rate of one new CFA franc to every two of the old Malian francs. It has used the currency ever since.
How to get hold of the Mali West African CFA franc
You probably won’t be able to get hold of any of these francs until you arrive in West Africa. This is because it is very rare indeed to find anywhere that will stock it. So you should be prepared to get hold of the currency once you arrive in Mali.
This is a cash-based society as well, which means you won’t be able to go around using your credit card wherever you go. You may find you can use the Visa card here and there, but while this is the preferred credit card to use it won’t be accepted all over Mali. Mastercard will be a lot harder to us so you might want to leave this at home if you have one.
The best currencies to bring with you would either be the euro, since the West African CFA franc is tied to this particular currency, or the US dollar. These will be the easiest ones to exchange. In addition you might want to think about taking some traveller’s cheques with you in one of these currencies. This can make life easier if you need more cash while you are there. It makes sense to carry extra finances in as safe a manner as possible. While you can take one of the two currencies mentioned above this is a good way to make sure you are able to get more if you wish, without carrying excessive amounts of cash.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Mali West African CFA franc
The best way to do this is to make sure you use a good currency converter. This is quite easy to do as there are many of them available. It is worth making sure you can use an updated one though that is regularly updated. Some of them are only updated once a day or less, whereas others update almost all the time. Of course it will only give you a rough idea of how much you might get for your own currency when switching it to the West African CFA franc. However it is worth using this as a rough guide as you will see how far your currency might go in Mali.
Whenever you go anywhere abroad it makes good sense to work out what the situation is in the part of the world you are visiting. This applies to Mali as it does elsewhere. The best source of updated information for travelling to Mali is the UK government website. This has a number of pages relating to travel in Mali and you can get to the initial page with links to other topics at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mali.
Travelling safely with the Mali West African CFA franc
The situation in Mali at the time of writing is far from secure. Vast areas of the country are a no-go zone according to the latest information from the UK government. Even then, the other areas that remain outside of this zone should not be visited unless absolutely necessary. Since this will not include any suggestion of travelling as tourists, you can imagine the only people who would need to go there would be those who might be on official and essential business.
As such, while the situation regarding crime in Mali is risky for travellers, you shouldn’t really be considering going to the country in the first place. It could be very dangerous for you to do so. This means you shouldn’t be concerned about any dangers posed to you via kidnap and other crimes, since you should not even consider visiting this country at present.
Where to spend your francs in Mali – and what to spend them on
We have learned above that the situation in Mali is far from stable. The presence of bandits and smugglers throughout many parts of the country makes it very dangerous to go there. Terrorists are also a significant threat.
Mali is a landlocked country, i.e. it is not surrounded by any water. It has borders with several countries starting with Algeria to the north-east. From then on Niger is to the east while Burkina Faso is to the south-east. Cote d’Ivoire lies to the south while the next country around in a clockwise direction is Guinea. Senegal is to the west and finally Mauritania shares the borders with Mali on the eastern side of the country. However these borders are oddly-shaped and form almost a right angle, with Mauritania taking up the fourth quarter of the area.
The capital of Mali is Bamako, and there is an airport there which, at the time of writing, was still operational. Hence this is the place where many people fly into and out of the country. It is a growing city and is split into a number of so-called communes. There are many landmarks here as you might expect, some of which are quite appealing. It is a shame that tourists will not be able – or be advised to – visit here to see them. One such landmark is the National Library of Mali, which is free for people to enter.
The Grand Mosque should also be quite easy to spot since its minarets stand proud of the building itself. You cannot always go in to see the interior of the mosque but on occasion it is possible to do so. Bamako itself is very modern and buildings such as these tend to stand out a little more because of it.
There are other areas in Mali that would no doubt draw in the visitors if the country was able to safely accept tourists. One such location is the ancient villages you will find in the Cliffs of Bandiagara – literally cut into the cliffs themselves. These are indeed ancient and they have been recognised in their importance by UNESCO, and were made into a World Heritage Site as a result. There are other places in Mali that also date back for centuries, such as Gao, a city that has a long and somewhat illustrious past. You can still see much activity here today, but with that aside it is not as busy today as it would have been centuries ago.
So we can see that Mali is not going to be on your list of places to go if you happen to be in this part of the world anytime soon. It is a shame since it has many sights and attractions to offer to those who are in the country. However the level of safety here is very low and there are real threats to anyone who comes into the country. As such it is best to view Mali from afar at the moment at least.