The currency is the French Pacific franc or CFP (pronounced "say eff pay"). There are banknotes of 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 and coins of one, two, five, 10, 20, 50, and 100. The CFP is linked to the Euro (worth CFP 119.25). As an approximate rule of thumb, US$1 = CFP 80.
Beware of the 1,000 and 10,000 notes, which look confusingly similar. When changing money, ask for CFP 5,000 notes instead.
New Caledonia's banks are among the biggest rip-offs in the South Pacific, charging 1 percent commission with a minimum of up to CFP 2,000 for each foreign currency transaction, whether buying or selling. Thus it's important to plan ahead and not have to change too often. They usually give a better rate for traveler's checks than for cash.
The rates offered by the banks vary slightly, and they're worth comparing if you're changing a lot of money. They generally open weekdays 0730-1530, and it's difficult or impossible to change foreign currency in rural areas—do it before you leave Nouméa. The American Express representative in Nouméa, Center Voyages, 27 bis, avenue du Maréchal Foch, changes traveler's checks without commission.
Euros in cash (but not traveler's checks) are converted back and forth at a fixed rate without commission, so that's the best type of money to bring by far. When leaving, you can change surplus CFP into Euros without paying commission or losing anything on the exchange, but many banks refuse to do it for persons without an account at their branch, even if they originally changed with them. New Caledonia and French Polynesia use exactly the same currency, so just hang onto any leftover Pacific francs if you'll be continuing to Papeete.
Credit cards are only useful in Nouméa or at upscale resorts. Most banks in Nouméa and provincial towns have ATMs, but they're often out of service and have low weekly limits. It's unwise to be entirely dependent on ATMs.
New Caledonia's form of taxation—high import and export duties—and the elevated salaries paid to local French officials make this the South Pacific's most expensive country by far. Paradoxically, that can also make visiting New Caledonia cheap, since you'll be forced to limit purchases to the basics if you're on a budget. Backpackers can survive because the hitchhiking is easy, camping is accepted, and the supermarkets sell excellent picnic fare, but the cost of living will wallop you if you try to travel in style.
On the positive side, tipping isn't usually done in New Caledonia and is sometimes even considered offensive. Notice how the locals never tip in restaurants.
New Caledonia is one of the few South Pacific destinations where worthwhile discounts are available to seniors over 60 years of age or those with ISIC student cards. If you qualify, always ask before paying an admission fee. Inflation is less than 2 percent a year.
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