So, you’re coming to Roatan? Great! You want to use US dollars? Make sure you read this post, because – newsflash – US dollars are not the local currency, and there are some caveats to using USD here.
Yes, you can use US dollars.
I’ve never run into a business here that won’t accept US dollars as payment. Most places even have the prices listed in both US dollars and lempira (the Honduran currency – ‘lemps’ or ‘lps’ for short). It’s a good idea to know the current exchange rate though, because sometimes you’ll get ripped off by paying in USD. Right now it’s about 23lps to the dollar, but changes frequently, so best to check at the time of your visit.
Keep in mind we only use the USD bills here, the USD coins are not accepted anywhere here. Don’t waste any space bringing them because you can’t use them at all!
But – you absolutely cannot use US dollars that are ripped, torn, missing corners, or written on with pen or sharpie.
DO NOT BRING WORN-OUT OR TORN BILLS. Even a little bit. Just fucking don’t. Seriously. Here’s why: the banks on Roatan will NOT accept US bills that are ripped, torn, extremely worn, or written on. Why? Who fucking knows, this is Honduras, there doesn’t need to be a logical reason for anything here. If you don’t ask ‘why?’ your life will be infinitely easier.
Follow the train here though – because the banks won’t accept shitty bills, that means restaurants, bars, landlords, utility companies, etc. etc. won’t accept them either, because when they go to take them to the bank, the bank won’t accept them. Which means when you pay a business or tip your divemaster with these bills, they’re basically worthless unless we spend our free time hunting down American tourists who are leaving who will exchange them for us, or driving all the way across the island to the one gas station that sometimes exchanges crappy bills but also sometimes doesn’t if the guy isn’t there or doesn’t feel like it that day.
Please….please….please. Bring bills in good condition! See the ones in the photo for this post? Those are too ripped to use here.
You can’t use big US bills for much besides large invoices at a dive shop or hotel.
The taxi driver will not have change for a $2 taxi ride if you try to pay him with a $10 or $20. A restaurant will not have change for you to pay for a $12 meal with a $50. The corner store will not give you change for a $3 bill if you have a $20. Some smaller businesses won’t even accept $50 or $100 bills because of counterfeit issues here – it’s a good idea to make sure you get the ‘new’ bills with the latest security features if you want to pay with $50s/$100s, as some businesses won’t accept the old style even if they’re in good condition. See the old-style $100s in the photo for this post? Yeah, don’t bring that.
Change is notoriously difficult to get – sometimes businesses go to the bank to get change and the bank doesn’t even have any (see above where we don’t ask ‘why?’ here…) so businesses really hoard it. So the message here is: bring lots of smaller denomination bills ($5 and $10, some $20) to pay for smaller things, and you can save the larger denomination bills for your diving or hotel.
You probably won’t get change in USD.
When businesses get USD, they normally take it to the bank straight away and put it in their account. The lempira is always dropping, so they make money off having USD. It’s fairly uncommon to receive your change in USD, even if you pay in it, because most businesses do not keep change in USD on hand. One reason is we do not use US coins at all (don’t bring them, don’t try to pay with them) so any change less than $1 USD has to be paid out in lempira anyway.
Another reason: if I get a $50 and I need to break it, I go to the bank and ask them to break it (I can do this because I have a local bank account. If you don’t have a local bank account, most banks will not break bills for you.) I do not receive my change in USD. I receive it in lempira. Banks do not give change or break USD into USD, only lempira. So if the bank only gives change in lempira, you can bet the businesses are probably doing the same. (We aren’t in the States. The local currency is the Honduran lempira and it’s pretty sad when I see American tourists demanding change in USD. Please don’t be that guy.)
Don’t bring anything other than USD.
No, you can’t use Euros on Roatan. No, you can’t use Canadian dollars on Roatan. Or anything else. It’s USD or lempira, NOTHING ELSE.
The local banks will not exchange anything but US dollars for lempira. I learned this the hard way when I accepted a generous tip in Canadian dollars from some fellow Canadians when I was new to the island. I couldn’t get it exchanged ANYWHERE on the the island. I had to wait for a friend to take a trip home to the States where he exchanged it for me and brought it back in USD.
On an island where cash is king (while illegal, you can usually get away with evading the 15-19% tax plus 4% credit card fee by paying cash rather than with your card), it’s in your best interest to have the right kind of cash to use to avoid any issues. The absolute best thing to do is, if you can, change all your money before you even arrive on island (most major cities and most banks have a service here you can do this) and just arrive with lempira in hand. With lempira you don’t have to worry about worn-out bills or anything like that. But if you have to bring USD, save yourself the headache and follow the guidelines in this post. Make sure you get accommodation with an in-room safe to keep your cash secure while you’re on vacation!
A final note: the ATMs all over the island have had issues with fraud. I highly recommend bringing all the cash you’ll need with you – do not rely on ATMs. Even if you don’t fall victim to fraud, they are often out of cash or will only let you withdraw a small amount. Not worth the headache! Also, there are only a couple that dispense USD and they are often not filled. If you use an ATM, expect lempira.
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Regarding the in-room safe, is a safety deposit box still ok to use?
Hi Melissa, sorry but I’m not quite sure what you mean? What safety deposit box?
Hello, My name is Sando,
Should I get $1 or $5’s.. weird question, I know
Hi Sando, it’s nice to have a mix of both! The most important thing is that the bills are in good condition. The banks on Roatan won’t accept any USD that’s ripped, torn corners, too worn out or written on, so in turn the businesses won’t accept them either because they cannot deposit them at the bank. Have a great trip!
Thank you for this advice, We are scheduled to be there next month. Looks like we should bring lots of small bills and avoid using our cards as much as possible. Could you recommend a good shop to buy souvenirs
Hi Michael, I’m so glad this was helpful! I wish people in the Roatan tourism industry would spend a little more time helping to spread the word about this too. Too many travelers get a nasty surprise when they arrive with $50 bills and torn up $5s that no one will take.
For authentic Roatanean souvenirs (most of the trinket shops contain Guatemalan crap), head to West End. My top 3 recommendations are:
1. Shawn Jackson Gallery – prints, postcards, books, etc. from a famous local photographer born and raised in West End. Topside and underwater photos.
2. Rusty Fish – directly across from Shawn Jackson Gallery. Aluminum cans are collected around the island and recycled into metal art. The owner hires and trains up only locals to work in his shop.
3. Roatan Chocolate Company – between Anthony’s Chicken and Por Que No, this place offers A/C, free tasting and chocolate made in-house from cacao harvested on the mainland. Good place to stop for coffee and treats as well!
Have a wonderful trip!
This may be a stupid question. What about credit cards? Do many places accept them?
Hi Tess, outside of major resorts and some dive shops (not all), you’ll be hard pressed to find places that will accept credit cards. Most bars and restaurants do not. Cash is king in Roatan! You’ll often find businesses add a 4% surcharge for paying by card (which is their service fee charged to them by the bank – instead of swallowing it like North American businesses, they fob it off on the customer). So you’ll pay the price, plus 15-19% sales tax, plus 4% service fee for using a card. I definitely recommend doing your homework before arriving – you can usually count on hotels taking them (though you can often negotiate a better deal in cash because they (illegally) keep it under the table). Dive shops are 50/50 and restaurants are almost never unless they’re inside a big resort. Hope that helps!
Drive on the Left says
Totally reminds me of Cambodia too! USD was readily accepted (and was the primary currency for most things) but change was given in local currency which in itself was nearly useless outside of Cambodia. It was a dance trying to get rid of the currencies just when i needed to.
Damian L says
Thank you very much.Where is the best place to exchange currency once I get to Roatan?
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
I’m glad you found it helpful! We don’t have a local currency exchange and there aren’t any money changers on the street like you see in some other countries (that’s basically asking to be robbed!), so your best bet is either follow the advice for using USD that I’ve listed in the post, or go to your local bank or currency exchange/bullion before your trip to get Honduran lempira.