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What is the Zambian Kwacha?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Zambian Kwacha is the official currency of Zambia, issued by the Bank of Zambia and considered legal tender for all transactions. It is not widely traded by currency speculators, as it is subject to inflation and tends to be a very unstable currency, with few benefits for people interested in trading currency. Visitors to Zambia can exchange their foreign currency for Kwacha, although they may also find merchants willing to accept foreign currency, depending on where in Zambia they travel.

This currency was introduced in 1968 to replace the pound after Zambia gained independence from the United Kingdom. The word “Kwacha” is derived from a word in the Nyanja language meaning “dawn.” Each Zambian Kwacha contains 100 Ngwee, another word from Nyanja meaning “bright.” Both words are references to the slogan “a new dawn of freedom” popular among some Zambian nationalists.

Most Zambians do business in banknotes, although Zambian Kwacha coins are still in circulation. The currency comes in a variety of denominations, and the constant inflation forces the government to produce ever-larger bills, such as 20,000 and 50,000 Kwacha notes. Circulation of the Zambian Kwacha is variable in some denominations, and some notes, such as the 20 Kwacha, are harder to obtain than others. Known by the abbreviation ZMK, listings for the Zambian Kwacha can be found on foreign exchange listings for people who want to get an idea of the current exchange rate.

This is a floating currency, with a value shifting relative to the values of other currencies, and almost as soon as the Zambian Kwacha was introduced, rampant inflation became a serious problem. The currency's stubborn inflation rate has proved difficult to control, and has contributed to hardships for many Zambians. People receiving pay solely in this currency have limited purchasing power outside the country, and may not be able to pay for many consumer goods and services produced outside of Zambia.

For visitors to Zambia, some people recommend not exchanging currency, as visitors will almost certainly take a loss when they need to change their money back into their home currency. Some Zambians are happy to accept payments in more stable foreign currencies, while others will insist on payment in Kwacha. It is also advisable to plan ahead for currency exchanges, as some money changers will charge very high service fees when converting into Zambian Kwacha, and this can increase the cost of the transaction.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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