The United Nations recognizes 180 national currencies as legal tender. Welcome to the bottom of that barrel.
Playing Monopoly in Hanoi could be very confusing, not to mention environmentally irresponsible. How about, ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect 4,277,060 Vietnamese dong’. That wildly large number is the equivalent of 200 U.S. $ in the suffering and devalued Vietnamese currency. Forests would be cut down just to buy Park Place!
The devaluation of a country’s money is almost always caused by tragedy and hardships that the citizens of that nation must endure, like predatory trade policies. Many rely desperately on tourism dollars so a visit to these very cheap nations can sometimes be a win-win situation. Those countries with the most devalued currency certainly make dandy bargain vacations (unless, of course, they’re war zones, terrorist havens or malaria hot spots). So if you’ve ever had that dream of lying in a hammock in some tropical jungle with more cash than you can fold, this is the list for you: The Richest’s Guide to the Global Currency Hall of Shame. Or Americas Least Wanted. A single U.S. dollar will buy the following units in these most devalued currencies…
15. 1113.61 S.KOREAN WON (KRW)
Why is a dynamic 21st century powerhouse like South Korea slumming with the afflicted and downtrodden? How come the home to global giants like Kia, Samsung and Hyundai has a currency worth .0008 US$? It’s simple. They like it that way. They deliberately manipulate monetary policy to keep their money cheap which makes their exports cheaper than those from competitors like Japan. Hell, they ate Japan’s manufacturing sector for lunch in the last few decades.
The unfair competition, as critics call it, has taken market share and jobs away in North America too, angering U.S. labour unions. A moral quandary maybe. But Seoul is a happening place. The mountains (San) are sublime. Korean food is hot. Kimchi poutine is coming to a food truck near you. You could be neighbours with Dennis Rodman when he visits his goofy dictator BFF up north. And morally speaking, they don’t sell automatic high-calibre weapons to people off their meds.
14. 1161 IRAQI DINARS
Guess Who’s Coming for Dinars? Not many. The terrorists formerly known as ISIL are putting a damper on things. Is there a tougher job than being the Iraqi Minister of Tourism? Even tougher than coaching the New York Jets. U.S authorities upped their travel advisory in the summer of 2014: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq… U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.
Not exactly an incentive to build a factory, buy a home or book a hotel room is it? Still, it is the site of the mythical Garden of Eden and beer was discovered millennia ago near the Tigris and Euphrates. Shia pilgrims still risk the traditional pilgrimage to numerous Holy sites. Ninety-nine percent of Iraq’s exports are oil-related.
But plunging oil prices and rising sectarian violence strongly suggest the country’s safety and currency value are both heading south. You can imagine what’s in store when poor Iraq is one of the juggernauts of Global Simoleons.
13. 1943.50 TANZANIAN SHILLINGS
This is one of the most magical places on Earth. The names are rich with the heritage of ancient kingdoms, tribal custom and exotic destinations. The spice island of Zanzibar with its Unesco World Heritage site. The legendary wildlife of the Serengeti plains. The haunting image of Kilimanjaro’s snowy top astride the Equator. The country’s treasure trove of things to see and experience may elsewhere be matched but never surpassed.
Tanzania can boast political stability, relative safety and the second largest economy in east Africa. The government is spending US$26 billion (43 trillion-shillings) in infrastructure upgrades. Huge gas reserves have been recently discovered. What’s not to like? Well, sadly, the place just doesn’t work yet.
Tanzania ranks 152nd out of 182 countries on the Human Development Index, 134th out of 192 on Business Environment, and 135th out of 212 on government effectiveness rankings. Remaining stuck in subsistence farming, the per capita income is a depressing $560. The government’s goal is to double that by 2025. And experts warn much of that increase will get gobbled up by Africa’s one per centers in the big city of Dar es Salaam.
12. 2,164.50 COLOMBIAN PESOS
2014 is the 20th anniversary of the death of Andres Escobar, the ill-fated soccer player who was murdered by a drug lord for scoring on his own goal in an international tournament. To its credit, Colombia has seen a miraculous transformation from a failed, murderous drug state to a tourism hotspot.
Colombia does have things North America doesn’t: Real economic growth for one, around 5%, making it the fastest growing economy in the Pacific Alliance. Unfortunately it still has a real, live Marxist guerrilla insurgency which has claimed 600,000 lives. For the foreseeable future, the Colombian economy will be hamstrung by lack of infrastructure and a heavy dependence on the price of oil, which lately is falling faster than Blackberry shares.
11. 4,058.77 CAMBODIA RIELS
Who knows when the horrible killing grounds of the Khmer Rouge will ever fully recover? But it has become a very popular tourist destination. The old capital of Phnom Penh, the fabulous white sand beaches of Kampong Som and the sombre, ancient beauty of Angkor Wat are bucket list calibre stuff. Tourism (including gambling) accounts for 17% of the Gross Domestic Product. More and more of your clothes are made there. There’s oil being found. The future looks brighter (and anything after the insane mass killers of the Khmer regime) but it’s still dirt poor: Average annual income is just $946 and malnutrition among children is widespread.
10. 4363 SIERRA LEONEN LEONE
As if civil war wasn’t enough, Sierra Leone’s stellar economic growth has been tragically stalled by the deadly outbreak of Ebola. Riding higher prices for diamonds, cocoa and coffee, forecasts had predicted 14% growth in 2015, but that has been scaled back to 5%. There were 8000 people employed in the tourist industry, most now likely laid off. There are beaches and jungle wilds to be had if you’re a bargain-loving risk taker.
9. 4629 PARAGUAY GUARANI
Little-known, little-visited Paraguay has until now been chiefly known for harboring hundreds of Nazi war criminals, including the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele. The current President has suspected ties to drug cartels, has served jail time for money laundering and has been the subject of an investigation by the DEA.
The country is also growing its guerrilla movement. A bumper soybean crop boosted economic growth to double digits. But it’s hard to build an economy on soybeans, however protein-rich they may be. So it’s going nowhere thanks to widespread judicial corruption, growing poverty and poor education. Still, some guide books recommend it as a bargain, off-the-beaten-track destination with some notable natural beauty.
8. 6359 ZAMBIAN KWACHA
Another of those rapidly growing, fundamentally flawed economies. Where many others rise and fall with the price of oil, so Zambia is hostage to the price of copper at a time when that’s not a good thing. It also suffers from a high birth rate and HIV/AIDS burden. It remains one of the safari capitals of the world in its huge, remote, unblemished national parks where you can go eyeball to eyeball with exotic fauna. Lusaka, the capital, is a happening place. Victoria Falls is the largest in the world discovered by the English explorer immortalized in the greeting of New York Herald reporter Henry Stanley, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
7. 7092 GUINEA FRANCS
Another West African nation suffering at the hands of Ebola, experts think the Guinean economy will actually shrink in 2015. And that’s not going to boost the exchange rate. Even before the ebola outbreak, the franc was expected to stagnate for decades, falling to 7022 to the dollar in 2050.
The nation has been blessed with an abundance of minerals but cursed by its location bordering civil-war-torn countries Sierra Leone and Liberia. A flood of refugees has drained the treasury. There is much exotic landscape to be seen, but at the moment it’s likely only healthcare providers are going to visit.
6. 8,054 LAOS KIPs
Stunning scenery. Memorable history. The serenity and spirituality of monks’ saffron-colored robes. World famous beer. Watching an incredible sunset in the UNESCO Heritage city of Luang Prabang on the shore of the timeless Mekong River. Laos is the region’s most pristine, laid back and culturally vibrant place. The economy is growing quickly but ¾ of the work force is tied up in growing rice. The communist government’s goal in graduating from the UN Development Program’s list of least-developed countries by 2020 is achievable.
5. 10,869.00 BELARUS RUBLES
2013 was a total bust for the former Soviet republic. And it’s only going to get worse as its main customer’s economy is also tanking badly. Russia is staggering from tough economic sanctions and falling oil prices. A crisis in potash markets whacked badly needed export earnings. Experts see more ruble devaluation. Two years ago, the ruble lost 65% of its worth. Poor Belarus is about to give the countries below a serious run for their worthless money. And the Magic Kingdom it is not. It remains a Soviet-style dictatorship with a lousy human rights record. It was badly affected from radioactive fallout from Chernobyl. The Lonely Planet guide lists as an attraction an apartment once inhabited by Lee Harvey Oswald. It has real winter, no coastline and little to see outside of the capital Minsk (immortalized by Woody Allen in “Love and Death” as the site of the Village Idiots convention.) Most of us will pass on a visit here, despite the potential bargains.
4. 12,260.00 INDONESIA RUPIAH
Indonesia is an archipelago nation. No one really knows how many islands there are. But, to save you work, you only need to think about visiting two: Java and Bali. Why is the rupiah such a joke? The Economist magazine, known for its blunt language, describes Indonesia’s problems as: “awful infrastructure, foot-dragging bureaucrats and rampant corruption”. Aside from that it’s first rate. The government subsidizes gas prices so much, it doesn’t have enough left over to build modern infrastructure. Any party that tries to reduce them would be committing electoral suicide.
Some of the poverty in the nation will break your heart, but Bali must be done once before you pack it in. The rupiah will be a hospitable bottom feeder of a currency until the Cubs win the World Series.
3. 19,750 SAO TOME DOBRA
Never heard of them? You are not alone. Aside from the worthless currency with an unfortunate acronym, these tiny volcanic bumps in the Atlantic off the east coast of Africa may be the closest thing to unspoiled Paradise left on the planet. Stunning tropical beauty with a Portuguese-Creole spirit. Still undeveloped, laid back, without the massive, hideous Franken-hotels destroying what you came to see in the first place. It’s an agrarian economy with crops like cocoa, cinnamon, coffee and papayas. Actually it barely has an economy, hence the lowly Dobra. They’ve found some oil nearby so go early and often before the lovely heritage buildings get Golden Arches.
2. 21,393.96 VIETNAM DONGS
A feast for the senses, there’s almost too much to do and see in Vietnam. It has become a capitalist economy after the central planning of the Communist regime. It’s growing fast, yet its natural and cultural wonders have not been paved over like those in other Southeast Asian countries. The dong is kept low to boost exports and everyone seems to like it that way. It’s striking that a half-hour away from the main cities, agriculture is still almost medieval, powered by people and oxen. Experts say that the unfortunately named dong will stay right where it for some time. So don’t just sit there; book your trip!
1. 26,905.00 IRAN RIALS
The Heavyweight Champion of Worthless, Iran’s economy is still recovering from revolution, war with Iraq and a knuckleheaded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. International sanctions over the nuclear program it stubbornly clings to have hit hard. Some estimate that Iran needs oil at $140 a barrel to balance its budget. As prices implode to $60 a barrel and counting, the future does not look pretty.
So the rial will be sucked right down the nuclear centrifuges they insist are for peaceful purposes. Still, the Lonely Planet guide says “If travel is most rewarding when it surprises, then Iran might be the most rewarding destination on Earth.” As long as the surprises don’t include a stay in Tehran’s notorious Evin jail.