The Samoan tala is divided into 100 sene. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 sene and one tala, and banknotes of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 tala. Samoans often speak of dollars when they mean tala, and many tourism-related businesses add to the confusion by quoting prices in U.S. dollars. Always note the currency carefully, as the difference is around three to one!
The foreign banks charge exorbitant commissions on traveler's checks, especially the Westpac Bank and the ANZ Bank. Several private currency exchange offices around Apia give similar rates without commission and you don't need to queue up! Traveler's checks attract an exchange rate about one percent higher than cash, but it's always good to have some U.S. currency in small bills in case you happen to run out of tala, as everyone will gladly accept it (though at a low rate). If you plan to go upmarket, also have an adequate supply of U.S. dollar traveler's checks in small denominations (see below). Foreign cash can be changed at the banks and exchange offices without commission.
Upmarket facilities that quote prices in dollars are often cheaper if you pay them the exact amount in U.S. dollars, cash or traveler's checks. If you pay by credit card, you risk having the charge inflated 15 percent because the dollar amount must be converted into tala, then the bank converts the tala into New Zealand dollars because all credit card charges are cleared through New Zealand, then the NZ$ are converted into your own home currency, all at rates unfavorable to you. This situation definitely applies to bank cards such as Visa and MasterCard; however, it may be possible to be charged the exact amount in U.S. dollars if you use a private card such as American Express (ask the merchant/hotel).
Tala are heavily discounted outside Samoa, so change only what you think you'll need. If you overestimate, excess tala can be changed back into U.S. dollars at the airport bank without question. As you're doing so, try to pick up some Tongan or Fijian banknotes, if that's where you're headed.
Tipping is discouraged, and one should avoid giving money to children, as this only creates a nuisance. There's a 15 percent sales tax, which is usually charged extra (not included in the sticker price).
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