An Australian or US dollar is worth just under two Tongan pa'anga, although the actual value fluctuates slightly. The pa'anga is divided into 100 seniti. There are notes of one, two, five, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pa'anga, and coins of one, five, 10, 20, and 50 seniti. Try to keep a supply of small coins in your pocket if you don't want petty expenditures to be rounded up to your disadvantage. Tongan banknotes are difficult to exchange outside Tonga, so get rid of them before you leave.
The banks are crowded on Friday (pay day) but a few branches in Nuku'alofa and Neiafu are open Saturday mornings. The Westpac Bank of Tonga branches in Nuku'alofa, 'Ononua ('Eua), Pangai (Lifuka), and Neiafu (Vava'u) charge a small commission per traveler's check. The MBf Bank charges a higher commission, while the ANZ Bank charges the highest commission of all (inquire about the commission before signing your checks as these things do change). The numerous Western Union branches in Tonga change money at competitive rates without commission.
Foreign banknotes are changed at a rate about two percent lower than traveler's checks. Cash advances through hotels cost about 10 percent commission and many businesses add five percent to all charges paid by credit card. Thus it's probably better to carry the bulk of your travel funds in traveler's checks. There's no American Express representative in Tonga.
Tipping and bargaining are not customary here, although monetary gifts (fakapale) are often given to performers at cultural events (Tongans stick small bills onto the well-oiled arms and shoulders of the dancers during the performance). A 15 percent consumption tax is added to all goods and services. It's often hard to tell if this punishing tax is included in sticker price. Many stores include it, but some add it on at the cash register. At hotels and restaurants, you really never know and the only way to be sure is to ask first.
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