Dollar Days in the Dutch Caribbean   January 2nd, 2011

Yesterday, New Year’s Day 2011, marked another significant change for my small part of the Caribbean. It was the day that the Netherlands Antilles Guilder (also known as the Netherlands Antilles Florin or just NAF) ceased to be legal tender on the islands of Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius. Replacing the NAF is the U.S. Dollar, which is now the sole legal tender. (More here on this subject.)

This was a change wrought by the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010 (see post below). It was decided that although our island were now part of a special municipality of The Netherlands – appropriately called the Dutch Caribbean, the U.S. dollar would be a better currency for use than the Euro. I agree.

Neighboring Curacao and St. Maarten in the north, both of which are now countries under the Dutch crown, much like Aruba, will continue to use the NAF as their official currency for the rest of the year. In 2012 they will switch to a new currency – the Caribbean Guilder. No idea why they would waste time and money on a new currency unless it’s part of the nepotism protection actions favored by their politicians. Seems like they should have switched to the dollar too.

In any event, here on Bonaire, at the stroke of midnight, ringing in 2011, all NAF-based bank accounts magically became U.S. dollar accounts, at a conversion rate of NAF 1,79 = US$1.00. Likewise, ATM machines now only dispense dollars here on Bonaire (with one exception – apparently the ATM at the airport will dispense Euros if asked nicely).

So far, things are smooth, but it’s also a holiday weekend, so local businesses are closed. The fun starts tomorrow as locals with little or no familiarity with U.S. coins get to deal with them for the first time (dollar paper money has been widely used as a substitute currency for years, so that should not be a problem). It was pointed out to me, however, that folks who play slots at the sole casino on the island would have little problem with the U.S. coins because the slot machines use them too. I never thought of a casino as an educational facility – at least not in this context.

Of the two on-line banking web sites I regularly use for my local accounts (both from the same bank but one for personal and the other for business), the personal one is functioning properly, but the business site results in a blank page. I’m hoping they fix that soon so we can pay some bills. Also, the dollar-based checks we should have received last week were no shows. Hopefully they show up this week too.

I plan on braving the bank lines tomorrow to deposit the NAF we had in our pockets at the end of 2010 and to see how difficult it will be to deposit a dollar-based check from the U.S. Wish me luck.

Update – 01/03/2011: The commercial banking site was operational by 5:30am this morning. The bank was a zoo. I got there early, and was sixth in line, waited over a half hour to see a teller, and it then took over twenty minutes to take care of my transactions. By the time I left, there were nearly three dozen people waiting in line. I learned later in the day that a number of businesses were unable to obtain U.S. coins for their cash registers. Off to a rough start, but it should stabilize in a week or two.

The really interesting thing will be seeing how people who have never dealt with U.S. coins cope with the lack of numerals on them to indicate their value – an especially challenging fact, as U.S. coins’ size also does not reflect their relative value, with dimes being the smallest coin, and the half-dollar being the largest (larger than the dollar coins which will soon be popular here).


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