The first currency used in the Maldives were cowry shells, but these days you will need to carry money called rufiyaa (MVR). You can only get it in the Maldives, so don’t try to exchange sterling for rufiyaa in the UK before you fly.
As a rough guide, one rufiyaa is worth just less than 5p. So, if you bring £200, you will get about Rf4,400 in return. You’ll use notes most often, from Rf5 (worth just over 20p) to Rf500, just over £22. There are also one and two rufiyaa coins. One rufiyaa is made up of 100 laari and there are 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 laari coins. A 10 laari coin is worth less than a halfpenny.
You can pay in some resorts using sterling or euros, while the US Dollar is legal tender throughout the Maldives. So you could use up any American currency you might have or change your sterling into dollars before you leave the UK. You can use any branch of Thomas Cook or order online and have your dollars delivered to your door.
If you don’t have time to pick up your spending money before you leave, the best way of getting your currency in the Maldives is to bring sterling notes and swap them for rufiyaa at the airport. The Bank of Maldives counter in the arrival hall is the only dedicated foreign exchange in the islands. The alternative is to exchange money at banks in Malé, but queues are common.
Another option is you can withdraw rufiyaa from a local cash machine as there are ATMs in Malé and on the bigger islands. But make sure you’re aware of any charges and limits your bank may have. Some may charge you to withdraw in a foreign country, or in a different currency, so make sure you check before you head out on holiday.
A safer alternative is to take a Cash Passport. This prepaid travel card means you’re protected if things get lost or stolen. It can be used at cash machines, and with chip and pin and credit card readers worldwide, so it’s very convenient. And of course, there are always travellers’ cheques. Few businesses accept them as direct payment today, but they’re still a great way to pick up a bargain exchange rate by changing them for cash at a bank when you need it. They are also secure and can be quickly cancelled and re-issued if lost or stolen.
You’ll be able to use credit cards like MasterCard and Visa at most resorts but it can be more difficult to pay by card in small shops and restaurants on local islands. If they accept them they may also charge a fee, so take some cash. You’ll also need cash for local markets and for tipping.
Keep hold of your exchange receipts as you will need to produce them to change local currency back to foreign currency before you leave the Maldives. You might have trouble changing back currency you got from ATMs. It’s also worth noting that banks in the Maldives are very particular about the condition of bank notes and will reject any damaged or defaced ones. Don’t be offended if shopkeepers turn them down.