The Indonesian rupiah is one of those currencies that are continually in the spotlight. However, not necessarily for positive reasons. On one hand, Indonesia is a popular budget-tourist destination, so a lot of people are interested in how Indonesian currency works. On the other, unfortunately, it constantly ranks as one of the weakest currencies in the world.
For reference, as of September 2021, one U.S. dollar goes for around 14 260 rupiahs. If you are planning a trip to Indonesia or are simply curious about the rupiah, in this article we’ll cover everything you should know about how to use the rupiah and some tips for exchanging it, and provide some interesting facts regarding it.
For centuries, the Netherlands Indies gulden was the currency used in Indonesia, until Japan invaded in 1942 and started issuing their version of the gulden. On October 3, 1946, the Indonesian nationalists, during their struggle for independence, started issuing the rupiah, which would evolve into the modern Indonesian currency.
However, the rupiah was not recognized internationally until 1950, and a lot of local variations of currencies were used, alongside the Netherlands Indies and Japanese gulden. The rupiah was finally recognized only when the Indonesian federal government gained full control of the country and initiated a series of currency reforms between 1950 and 1951.
In 1949, the rupiah exchange rate was set to 3.8 rupiahs to one U.S. dollar. Unfortunately, the rupiah has mostly been devalued since that time, with short periods of stability. Over the years, the rupiah’s exchange rate was both floating and fixed, until we get to today with one dollar being valued above 14 000 rupiahs.
In modern times, a redenomination of the rupiah has been considered since 2010, when the Bank Indonesia (the central bank of Indonesia) proposed the elimination of the final three zeros to ease transactions. Other proposals were also put forth since then, but, as of yet, none have been enacted.
The ISO currency code of the rupiah is IDR and the currency symbol is Rp. The Indonesian currency derives its name from Sanskrit rupyakam – meaning silver. One rupiah consists of 100 sen, however, sen coins and banknotes are obsolete due to having no value.
Both rupiah coins and banknotes are legal tender. The coins can be found in denominations of 100, 200, 500, and 1000 rupiahs. Lower-denomination coins exist, but are slowly disappearing as they are effectively worthless due to the high inflation and are not used in practice.
Rupiah banknotes can that are in circulation are in denominations of 1 000, 2 000, 5 000, 10 000, 20 000, 50 000, 75 000, and 100 000. Similar to older coins, banknotes below 1 000 rupiahs can still be found even though they are no longer printed, but these notes are mostly used for informal transactions.
If you are going to a popular tourist destination or a larger city, you will have no issue exchanging USD (or any other major currency) for the rupiah. You can exchange your currency for the rupiah at banks or exchange offices found throughout the cities, and most resorts include money exchange offices. However, there are two caveats.
If you are going to rural areas, it is advisable to buy the rupiah beforehand, as banks and exchanges may not be readily available. Then, if wish to buy foreign currency with rupiah (for example, if you are leaving and have a lot of rupiah left), you should order it a day in advance, as many banks don’t have large amounts of foreign currency on hand.
First, you can expect everything in Indonesia regarding money to be less formal and strict than you’re used to. Don’t be surprised if you hear a different term used for the rupiah. Many locals call it perak, which in Indonesian means silver (much like rupiah derives from the Sanskrit word for silver).
Then, you shouldn’t be shocked if you rarely get exact change when buying something. As the rupiah has such a low value and the denominations tend to be so big, many locals simply round up or down the change to the nearest hundred. Or, you might even get candies or other knick-knacks instead of small change.
Then, try not to have only 50 000 or 100 000 notes in your wallet, as these can be hard to split. However, avoid exchanging money at airport kiosks or hotel exchanges, if you can. They have a tendency to mark up the exchange rates and may have hidden fees.
Additionally, if someone offers you a denomination below 100 rupiahs, be it a coin or banknote, you likely won’t be able to use it anywhere. Once you get acquainted with the culture and the customs, you may even find that the liberal approach to currency rules in Indonesia is to your liking.
If you want to play it safe and not worry about exchanging money when you go to Indonesia or getting bad rates at airports or hotel exchanges, you can buy Indonesian rupiah online while in the US and hit the ground running as soon as you arrive at your destination.
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