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What currency do they use in Tahiti?

Being used to welcoming international tourists, most businesses and services in French Polynesia will usually accept euros and dollars. You can also pay by credit card throughout Polynesia. But we do have a specific currency for our islands: the Pacific franc.    

Money has not always been used in the South Pacific. Before the Europeans arrived, trading and bartering were conducted between various clans or tribes, and between different principalities or islands.  

Following first contact with the Europeans in the late 19th century, it took almost a century for currency to spread right across the archipelagos. And it was through a succession of political and economic events that Tahiti came to have its own currency, in common with New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna: the Pacific franc.

Air Tahiti Nui currency

From bartering to using money

For centuries, mother-of-pearl, sea shells, precious wood, tools, weapons and food served as currencies for trade between the peoples of Polynesia.

At the time of first contact, which is how we refer to the historical event which first brought the Tahitians into contact with Europeans (the Englishmen Wallis followed by Cook in 1767 and 1769, the Frenchman Bougainville in 1768), a barter economy was set up. The Europeans wanted to buy fruit, vegetables and pigs for their circumnavigation (voyages of exploration around the globe), but also mother-of-pearl, pearls and items fashioned from wood; similarly, the Tahitians wanted to acquire nails, fabrics and various products manufactured in Europe. 

Before the 1830s, currencies were seldom used in the Polynesian islands. It was during the reign of Queen Pomare IV (1827-1877) that currencies first began to spread through Tahiti and Moʻorea. Contrary to popular belief, due to the English dominating in the South Seas, it was not the sovereign, (predecessor of the pound Sterling) which was used as the currency for trade, but Spanish pieces of eight and gold doubloons. 


Currencies of the Pacific

The standard currency in Tahiti very soon became the American dollar (dalla or tara in Tahitian). Once the Protectorate was established this was replaced by the currency of France, with the silver 5 franc coin, equal in value to the very widespread Chilean pieces of eight. Alongside these circulated pieces of eight and dollars from Spain, Chilean condors, Bolivian pesos or even British sovereigns… not forgetting the counterfeit currency arriving from San Francisco or Peru, made of alloys which diminished the value of the coins. Confusion surrounding all these different currencies in circulation would last until 1910.


Creation of a Pacific franc

During the Second World War, bartering sometimes took on an essential role in trade, quite simply because cash stopped arriving from France; the French Establishments in Oceania had actually sided with Free France against Marshal Pétain's Vichy France.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, General de Gaulle devalued the French franc by decree on 25 December 1945. Two new currencies were established for the colonies:

  • the franc of the French Colonies of Africa (CFA franc);
  • the franc of the French colonies in the Pacific (CFP franc), not devalued and which retained its parity with the dollar (US$ 1 = FCFP 49.6). 100 Pacific francs were worth 240 French francs at that time.


Why is €1 worth F 119.33?

In 1949, France decided that the parity of the CFP franc would henceforth be determined depending on the value of the French franc, and would therefore follow its fluctuations in relation to other currencies. But on 1st January 1960, the transition to the new franc in mainland France, where its value was divided by 100, was not applied to the CFP franc, so the exchange rate of 100 CFP francs corresponded to 5.50 new French francs. During the transition to the euro (1st January 1999), the exchange rate for the CFP franc in relation to the European monetary unit was worked out by simple conversion, so 1,000 CFP francs = 8.38 euros. On the other hand, compared to the dollar, the Pacific franc follows market fluctuations.


How to pay for things in Polynesia?

While travelling around our islands, if you wish to pay in cash for purchases, excursions or souvenirs, or tip your guide, you can change the currency of your home country by visiting a bureau de change or certain banks, at the rate in force on the day. Many businesses also accept US dollars and euros. You can of course pay using your bank card, whichever type you use (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Union Pay, JCB). So now you know why bartering is no longer used on our islands – except on very rare occasions.