There are many great pleasures of the globe-trotting life, but dealing with pesky Travelex lines is not one of them. Sick of exchange rates, transaction fees, and coming home with pockets filled with useless coins? Here are 10 foreign destinations where you can pay with U.S. dollars, from the sunny and subtropical to the still-undiscovered.
United States Virgin Islands
While not technically a foreign country (it's an unincorporated territory), the United States Virgin Islands feel like a million miles away -- and we couldn't resist including this Caribbean destination. A speedy 2.5-hour flight from Miami whisks stateside trekkers to the Virgin Islands, where U.S. passports are unnecessary. The popular tropical stop's official currency is the U.S. dollar -- handy for those looking to splurge on expensive goods in St. Thomas' portside boutiques. High-end labels like Gucci and Coach crowd Charlotte Amalie, where savvy shoppers swamp the jewelry stores, mining for deals on diamonds and Hublot watches. In fact, shopping sprees are among the U.S.V.I.'s big draws: U.S. citizens can purchase up to $1,600 worth of duty-free merchandise here, whereas the rest of the Caribbean caps duty-free purchases at just $800.
British Virgin Islands
Much like neighboring U.S.V.I., the British Virgin Islands employ the U.S. dollar as their official currency. This connection makes travel between the two island groups especially seamless -- and gives the B.V.I. its reputation as a well-established tax haven. Don't have millions in corporate profits to shore up? You can still find a haven of sorts at the Baths on Virgin Gorda; this unusual rock formation is one of our favorite secret Caribbean attractions (and, aside from the swaying palms, it's a lot less shady).
Ecuador's currency has a long history filled with House of Cards-style political intrigue: First, Ecuador employed the peso, then enjoyed a brief dalliance with the franco, then went back to the peso, and finally adopted the sucre, whose value nosedived in the late 1990s during a near economic collapse. In 2000, in order to stabilize the economy, the Ecuadorian government voted to adopt the U.S. dollar as the official currency. The controversial vote led to the ouster of then-President Jamil Mahuad, but the result was inevitable: U.S. travelers to Ecuador can now use the very same dollars they would at home (although Ecuador produces its own nifty centavo coins).
What's better than one official currency? Two, of course. In addition to its Panamanian balboa, Panama accepts the U.S. dollar "at par" (a rate of 1:1). This means that travelers don't have to worry about exchanging money in foreign airports or dealing with fluctuating exchange rates -- making Panama an economical destination, at least for now. In 2014, the nation's large-scale canal expansion will come to an end, opening Panama's pristine beaches to large cruise ships and a surge of value-seeking tourists. So, savvy travelers would be wise to grab a fistful of dollars and head down there sooner rather than later.
Like the Panamanian balboa, the Bahamian dollar enjoys a fixed 1:1 exchange rate with the USD (and the two currencies share a name and a familiar symbol, $). Despite the equitable rate, it may not get you far in this popular (and oft-expensive) tropical destination.
Accommodations can be pricey, but they are abundant, from superluxe ocean clubs to the family-friendly Atlantis. Plus, the added convenience of businesses accepting both U.S. and Bahamian dollars is worth a pretty penny.
Turks and Caicos
Once overrun by pirates, Turks and Caicos is now teeming with tourists drawn to its serene beaches and clear waters. And while Forbes counts Turks and Caicos among the world's top tax havens, the islands have much to offer to the 200,000-some travelers who venture here for pleasure, not business. In addition to its convenient official currency, there is no sales tax or VAT (value-added tax). It may not be the shopping mecca of St. Thomas or St. Maarten, but the island of Providenciales boasts upscale malls and local boutiques, where those U.S. dollars can be spent on handmade artwork and jewelry.
Vietnam's only official currency is the dong (established in 1978 after the fall of Saigon), but U.S. dollars have long been unofficially accepted as payment in this Southeast Asian nation. Urban tourist centers like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offer visitors much in the way of museums, temples, sacred lakes, and even the culinary arts; affordable accommodations at dollar-friendly hotels add to the allure. But in recent years, the State Bank of Vietnam has made a concerted effort to limit the flood of American dollars into the already-shaky economy, even fining restaurants for listing prices in USD. What this means for U.S. travelers is still unknown, but many travel resources recommend relying on the Vietnamese dong.
We recently crowned Cambodia one of our 10 Places You Should Go While They're Still Cheap for a number of reasons, including its immersive culture and inexpensive lodgings. Not only is the country budget-friendly, but cash is king in Cambodia -- American cash, that is. You won't need much of it: Travelers can easily live on less than $50 a day and may never need to change over to the official Cambodian riel. However, Lonely Planet recommends that you always "have about $10 worth of riel kicking around, for motorbike rides and markets."
Another one of our 10 Places You Should Go While They're Still Cheap, Nicaragua has been on our radar this year for its diverse natural wonders and relative affordability. The Central American nation has its own currency, the unusually colorful cordoba, but payment in U.S. dollars is widely accepted throughout the country. Don't be surprised if the price goes up the minute you pull out a stack of greenbacks, though: According to some experts, shopkeepers may charge you a bit more when paying in U.S. dollars. Your best bet may be to carry small bills in both currencies, especially outside of your resort.
Belize is a nation that defies simple definition. Technically part of Central America, yet outwardly Caribbean with its laid-back culture and spotless white sands, Belize is a former British settlement that currently holds USD-backed currency. Indeed, the nation has never attached its currency to the pound sterling; rather, its legal tender (the Belizean dollar) has always been pegged to the U.S. dollar at a 1:2 ratio. This makes beachy Belize one of the priciest Central American nations but, curiously, one of the cheapest destinations on the Caribbean Sea.
Note: Though many businesses accept U.S. bills, prices in Belize may be quoted in the official currency or in USD. It's wise to ask your tour operator or shopkeeper about their pricing method before you whip out your wallet -- especially since the two dollars share the same symbol, $.
-- By Dara Continenza
Read the original story: 10 Foreign Destinations Where You Can Pay with U.S. Dollars by Dara Continenza (Google+), who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.