Changing Money in Indonesia
On the larger islands across the archipelago money exchangers are widely available. In places like Bali and Lombok there seems to one on every corner or every fifteen steps!. However there are also just as many scam artists around. The decision to make whether or not to bring travellers cheques, cash or go crazy on the credit card is a matter of personal choice.
It is strongly advised that when you exchange your hard-earned money at a moneychanger that you make sure they do not charge a commission. Wherever you walk you will see the exchange rates board out front and some rates look too good to be true and that’s because these dudes charge commission to change your money.
Changing your money at a bank is safer but the exchange rate you receive will be less than that on the street. Please make sure that your banknotes are not ripped, wrinkled, or stained because more often than not, they will be rejected. If you are heading over to the smaller islands in the archipelago then stock up on Rupiah before heading off. Banks and money exchangers on outer islands are sparse and frequently offer drastically reduced exchange rates of 10-20% or more!
ATM Cards versus Credit Cards
I have a friend who travelled to Jakarta for a few days and then enjoyed a month in Bali whilst putting everything on his credit card. When I spoke to him after his holiday he was not a happy chappy because his bank had hit him with big fees.
This brings me to the point of using your own bank ATM card. In Bali there are ATM machines and so it might seem wiser to use an ATM card rather than a credit card. ATMs are common in any major cities in Indonesia especially in the capital of the provinces such as Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan, etc. Be careful when using credit cards, as cloning and fraud are a major problem in Indonesia. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, but American Express can be problematic. At smaller operations, surcharges of 2-5% over cash are common.
Changing American Dollars
Money exchangers are very fussy about bill condition, pre-1999 dollar bills or imperfect bills (ripped, wrinkled, stained, etc) will often be rejected. Banks frequently won’t change any 1996 dollars. Counterfeit US dollars are a huge problem in the country and as a result the older your dollars are, the lower the exchange rate. You will get the highest exchange rate for dollars issued in 2001 or later and the exchange rate drops for 1999 and 1996 dollars. There are even different exchange rates according to the serial number for dollars from 1996! (Wikipedia)
The only hassle with changing traveller’s cheques is that you will need your passport to prove who you are at a bank of moneychanger. This means carrying your passport around with you unless you return directly to your hotel after changing your money. There are pickpockets and bag-grabbers everywhere in Indonesia!