Dollars and Pounds
Yesterday, the 2nd of January 2014 I tried to buy a small box for storing stuff (organising stuff in boxes or on shelves is my idea of heaven)
but at the cashier ran into a problem –
“Sorry Miss, that’s not proper money”
It is not unimaginable that I might have tidied Monopoly money into my purse, but I can reassure you that I have not the skills to forge currency.
The problem was that I was handing over a “horizontal note” (see picture)
As from 1.1.2014 these are no longer legal tender.
The BMA (here it stands for Bermuda Monetary Authority, not the more familiar organisation that sometimes fails to negotiate fair deals for UK doctors) had apparently been advertising this upcoming obsolescence since June 2013, but somehow I had not seen any of the posters or news articles.
Real Bermuda money looks like this:
Pretty isn’t it?
The features are a Longtail, Whistling Frog, Angelfish, Marlin, Bluebird and Red Cardinal (not shown – I don’t have any $100 notes to hand!) and on the other sides – St Peter’s Church (oldest in Bermuda), St Mark’s Church, Somerset Bridge (smallest drawbridge in world at 18″), The ClockTower at Dockyard and The Deliverance (ship built locally in 1609 by Sir George Somers after wrecking Sea Venture on the reef) Perhaps oddly, the Cahow, Bermuda’s National Bird, is not depicted on any of the notes or coins – maybe that is saved for a $200 note in the future.
In 2009, the $2 Bermudian note was named “Banknote of the Year” by the International Banknote Society: http://www.theibns.org
The website is a fount of information about printed currency – and I have learnt a new word: fungible = mutually interchangeable
They select notes for artistic merit or innovative security – personally I think the $20 note is prettier with the tree frog on one side and St Mark’s Church on the other:
The notes have interesting security features – each has an oval window about one third down the note and held up to the light one sees a small repeated image of the Bermuda islands interwoven with metallic threads. Also the serial numbers increase in size from top to bottom or left to right – presumably making forgeries much harder.
The Queen’s head appears on the left hand lower side on the front of each note in a colour to match the scheme of the note.
Dollars, not Pounds
It may have surprised my UK readers that being a British Overseas Territory Bermuda uses dollars. Up until 1970 the currency was sterling. Then Bermuda adopted a decimal currency ahead of UK, and began issuing its own coins – in dollars and cents rather than pence. In 1972 they broke the link with British currency and aligned the Bermudian dollar to the US dollar – it remains pegged to the dollar today.
Bermudian notes and coins are not valid overseas so if visiting you might prefer to have your change in US dollars – nowhere near as pretty and definitely confusing given that all the notes are green.
The first million notes of each kind have a serial number that begins with a Bermuda onion:
(the one on the left is an onion, not a perfume atomiser or water pump which you might assume from a quick glance)
The watermark on all of the notes is now a hibiscus flower with a small sailboat to one side where before, in the horizontal notes, it was a tuna fish.
In 2012 the $50 notes were modified:
On the left is an older note and the right one is a 2012 note – an error back in 2009 depicted a Red-Billed Tropic Bird rather than the White-Tailed Tropic Bird or Longtail which is endemic to Bermuda.
The coins are specifically Bermudian as well:
They depict a wild hog, Easter lilies, an angelfish and a longtail. The $1 coin has a Bermuda fitted dinghy on the reverse.
The coins all bear the Queen’s head, the same image as appears on British stamps and coins. These images were designed by Arnold Machin (1970-1985), Raphael Maklouf (1986 – 1998) and Ian Rank-Broadley (from 1999) – three names that perhaps could be more widely known – they each have Wikipedia pages, but none with pictures of the sculptors themselves.
The US dollar is also legal tender in Bermuda, but you wont be able to spend your Pence or Euros.
Even though 1 Bermudian $ = 1 US $, to exchange the currencies a foreign currency purchase tax (FCPT) of 1% is charged. So to transfer $100,000 into a UK bank account (I don’t actually have that sort of money but its more fun talking about large numbers) it would cost $1,000 tax on top of the bank charges. No wonder most ex-pat workers are wise to request their pay in US dollars rather than Bermudian dollars.
Banking on Bermuda
Whilst on the topic of money it would seem appropriate to say a word or two about banking on the island. There are 4 banks:
- Capital G
- Bermuda Commercial Bank
They all charge for having an account – about $8 per month.
There is not much to choose between them, though with HSBC one can easily link and transfer money with any UK accounts you might hold with them.
There are over 50 ATMs on the island – probably far more than one might expect in 21 square miles of UK or US. There is no charge for using an ATM of one of the other three banks. The ATM will dispense Bermudian notes, not American ones.
If you are moving here then opening an account is one of the first things you should do. This requires an appointment and you should have with you a letter of reference from your own UK (or other) bank and $100 cash. Although HSBC in UK advertise the possibility of opening an account before you arrive in Bermuda, we tried and failed – it seems to be not common knowledge among the counter staff and eventually an email told us to book an appointment when we arrived on the island. So you will need to bring other means of payment to tide you over until your account is up and running – this took several days in our case. It is complicated by the fact that to open an account you need an address, but to rent a property you need a bank account … see where its going? My only advice is to take a deep breath and repeat to yourself “This is Bermuda”, don’t stress over it as this wont get it done any quicker – did I not say the pace of life is slow here?
Subsequently our dealings with the bank have been minimal and pain-free. But I haven’t asked them to do anything complicated, just look after my money!
I do now however have to make a visit to a bank in order to exchange my old-non-legal-tender-horizontal-$50 note for a fungible piece of paper.