How we pay for things

In cash.

We pay for things in cash.

It’s not compulsory.  We could pay with a credit card at a few places on the island … with with a ~%5 additional fee from the store!  They charge you!  (I’m not even sure that’s legal).  But overall, credit card machines are a minority presence.

So we pay in cash.  Cell phone bills, car insurance, gas, beer, everything.  (It requires a lot of in-person transactions.)  It’s exhilarating to have to carry cash!  There’s nothing that feels or smells quite like a big wad of it.

But, I can’t believe

    • how quickly it goes.
    • how frequently you need to beg someone to break a large bill.
    • how much your day just ends when you run out of it.

····· Exuma has 4 ATM locations.  Stock up before long weekends.

When was the last time you asked someone if you could borrow some money to buy gas?  When did you last actually need help paying a $25 tab?  It’s funny but I feel like these sorts of interactions with friends never happen in the US.  I personally try to pay people back because, OMG the guilt of debt is intolerable!

Outside of borrowing cash from friends exists the concept of CREDIT.  I put it in all caps, because … the signs.

Credit is harder to come by than friends.  At this point in our time here, we have a few places that will give us credit and I always feel like we won something.


The Bahamian dollar is valued to the US dollar 1:1.  It makes math pretty easy and both currencies are accepted.  There is a huge amount of US currency here – maybe because of proximity and tourism.  When you get change from a transaction, you’ll get a mixed handful of US and Bahamian dollars and coins.  What’s extra exciting is that Bahamian pennies have changed sizes over the years…and the US dime is significantly smaller than the Bahamian dime.  This adds additional variation and excitement when it comes time to roll them up (see below).

Coins and VAT

We enjoyed not paying sales tax when we began our time here.  Things cost what they said they cost, and purchase totals always came out to delightfully even dollar amounts.  But then VAT appeared and everyone had a coin problem: consumers had way too many and businesses never had enough.  John’s pants threatened to fall off because his pockets were full of change.  I think things have evened out since.  I just roll a lot more coins and can still “sell” them to businesses in exchange for paper cash.

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If you’re feeling politically adventurous, go to a bar and ask loudly “So what happened to all the VAT money that the government collected?”


When you check out at a store, you generally get a printed receipt. But many places handle things by hand.  At restaurants, you even have to turn the bill back in with the payment.  I find it more personal and charming to do things this way.  SLOW DOWN, right?  (Unless I’m in a hurry because I’m actually not on vacation here.)

Casino Banking

I won’t say too much about this because I’ll probably say something incorrect.  But there are gambling businesses which operate like franchises in the Bahamas, with locations all over.  Called numbers houses, they are full of computers like internet cafes.  You log in with your account to play / gamble.  Your numbers house account is linked to your bank account.

We once paid someone by taking cash to a numbers house, where a clerk received it and added the value to our friend’s account.  We got a receipt!  Seems legit!

A note about shopping

When buying one item….from anyone…you get a plastic bag.  It might even be double-bagged, depending on what the item is.  There is a strong cultural difference with the amount of plastic bags used here.  Please, stop the madness and refuse the bag! 

When I refuse a bag or bring my own, they think I’m totally weird and find sneaky ways to get me to leave with a plastic bag.  Or they’ll make me re-ask to not have a bag each time I visit the store.  I’ll never give up!  Let’s make a positive change.