HARARE, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Standard Chartered Plc’s Zimbabwean business has restricted the use of Visa debit cards outside the country, in a sign that foreign currency shortages were worsening despite the introduction of a “bond currency” last year.
A shortage of cash has gripped Zimbabwe, forcing banks to set withdrawal limits and delay foreign payments because accounts held by local banks overseas have been heavily depleted of foreign currency.
Standard Chartered said that with immediate effect, clients planning to use Visa cards outside Zimbabwe should apply for a “special consideration” from the bank 72 hours before travelling.
“We regret to advise that we have cancelled the automatic use of your Visa debit card outside Zimbabwe with immediate effect,” said Standard Chartered, adding that there was no change in the use of its Visa card locally.
Customers will now have to “submit evidence of all the expected expenses to be incurred” on foreign travel for the bank to decide whether they can use their debit card abroad.
The southern African nation started using the U.S. dollar in 2009 after ditching its own currency when hyperinflation soared to more than 500 billion percent at the height of an economic recession.
Zimbabwe’s central bank last week introduced a new $5 “bond note”, raising the circulation of the surrogate currency but this has not ended long bank queues.
Although the bond note is still trading at par with the U.S. dollar, analysts say it could lose its value if cash shortages persist and travellers and importers turn to the black market to buy foreign currency.
A huge trade deficit, lack of foreign investment and support from international lenders, as well as a fall in remittances by Zimbabweans abroad have helped fuel foreign currency shortages. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Louise Heavens)