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Romania is quite cheap by western standards. With the same amount of money you can purchase more than you could in the western world. There are exceptions to this rule though. Imported products subject to high customs taxes or excises such as digital cameras, computers, perfume etc. are much more expensive compared to Western Europe.
Just check the price of a digital camera on Amazon.com and then go to Emag.ro (a Romanian shopping site) and check the price for that same camera and you'll convince yourself. Let's take the Canon A620 digital camera as an example. As of the end of July 2006:
- on Amazon.com, it costs $224.94
- on Emag.ro, it costs $351.46 (984.1 RON at an exchange rate of 2.8 RON per USD).
That's 56,24% more expensive in Romania than in the USA or Western Europe. Point is, Romania isn't the place to shop around for electronic items.
UPDATE: It appears that a 42% tax applied to high-end electronics (such as the above item) will be reduced to 15% after EU entry. This'll cause prices for these items to align themselves with the ones in other EU countries.
The exchange rate is (for late July 2006) 2.8 RON to a USD and 3.5 RON to an EUR. Check our "currency" page for more information on this.
Cheaper items include clothing, shoes, wine or chocolate, just to name a few.
Romanians still love cash. Despite the growing popularity of cards, Romanians use them mostly to retrieve their salaries in hard, cold cash once a month and that's it. With that said, card usage for other endeavors is on the rise and it's safe to say that you can use your card without problems in large cities or resorts though it won't be to get something from a neighbourhood shop, but for purchases in gas stations, malls, cash & carries, hypermarkets, hotels or restaursnts. Always have cash with you. Public transportation is a cash only affair, for example.
ATMs have started to become ubiquitions in medium/large urban areas and resorts. You may have problems finding ATMs in small urban areas. As for the rural areas, you'd be better off just with cash because finding an ATM is a nearly impossible task.
Only change money in banks, through ATMs or through exchange offices. Check out the Romanian National Bank website for the official exchange rates before proceeding (see our currency page for more). Do check a couple of exchange offices before settling for the best deal. Don't exchange your money at the first exchange office in your sight after your entrance in the country as they may try to take advantage of your lack of information. One other thing you need to make sure when exchanging money through exchange offices is the fact that some of them charge a commision ranging from 0% to even 8% of your money. Most don't but some do. This commision is usually written on the windows of the exchange office but you'd be better off asking before proceeding with your transaction.
DO NOT, under any circumstances, exchange money in the street, through black market transactions. Not only it is illegal, but it is extremely stupid and the chances of getting scammed are huge. The individuals doing these things will usually approach you in front of exchange offices, although they have nothing to do with the respective offices and start offering you a better deal than them. If you refuse, then they'll either let you go or start offering you a better deal, and then an even better one and so on and so forth. They'll eventually offer you so good a deal that you should wonder yourself on where's the profit for them. Well, here's the profit: if you accept the deal, and say, for the sake of this example, want to exchange $100 , you give him the $100 bill, he'll put it in his stash of cash, then he'll start counting the stash of cash in order to give you your RON (Romanian lei), he'll then have a sudden change of mind, stops counting his cash and gives you back your money, fast. He'll then leave quickly. You won't take an immediate look at the money he gave you back (believe me, you won't; he just pulled a psychological trick on you), thinking it's the same money. You then proceed with those money to the exchange office. You hand the $100 bill to the cashier and tell her you want all $100 exchanged. You'll get a "But that's just $1." or "But those aren't USD." reply. Why? Well, when the black market individiual gave you the money back, he didn't actually gave you YOUR money, but another bill (most likely a $1 bill), from the bottom of his stash of cash. No need to run around and try to find the guy. They have their shortcuts predetermined and there's no way you'll find him again. Let me end this paragraph how I started it and tell you again that you SHOULD NOT, under any circumstances, exchange money in the street.
Inflation used to be a problem for Romania but nowadays it's on the decline. 2006 is expected to end with an inflation rate of around 6-7%, must lower than the inflation of the previous years but higher than the inflation of Western European countries (about 2-3%).
Bucharest is more expensive than other regions of the country. The same goes for other large cities such as Constanta, Cluj-Napoca or Timisoara.
Stores, supermarkets, cash & carries, hypermarkets
You've probably heard it before if you've read other travel guides: the best place to buy food are farmers' markets. It's quite a romantic phrase that will turn into a cliche in travel writing. In farmers' markets you get "fresh food", "natural, organic produce" and all that. While it's true at times, I'd say the disadvantages overshadow the advantages.
Personally, I hate farmer's markets for a couple of reasons:
- they're not exactly clean; plenty of them are very dirty
- the food isn't always fresh, it just depends on your luck
- instead of peasants selling their products, you get shady middle men in their place, increasing the price substantially
- you move at a snail's pace through these places and lose a considerable chunk of your time just to purchase some food
You should give hypermarkets a try. There are plenty of them in large urban areas, especially in Bucharest and there's plenty more that are being constructed. They have all you want (fresh!), you can buy what you need very fast at very low prices given the efficiency of their supply chains and be well on your way. The major hymermarket chains in Romania are Carrefour, Cora and Real, brands you've heard of before if you're coming from Western Europe.
Supermarkets , although more expensive than hypermarkets, can be a good choice if you think the hypermarket is too far away or you're in a city that doesn't have any hypermarkets. They're usually clean and well lit. Those that aren't are probably not supermarkets but remnants of old communist stores, with sour clerks and a depressing atmosphere. They're rare but some still exist.
Almost every neighbourhood has a small shop on the first floor of apartment blocks or in a neighbourhood house or garage. These are run by neighbourhood folks, aren't as cheap as supermarkets or hypermarkets but they have a great advantage in proximity. They might also be your only option in small urban areas and rural areas. They're great in case of emergencies, if you need a pack of cigarettes or a soda.
Most stores have different schedules, so you'd be better off checking them out than guessing. For example, some hypermarkets are opened non-stop during summers, same for some supermarkets. Some small shops have extended schedules running up to 22:00 or 00:00. It depends on the area they're in and their own policy.