Slate recently ran an article on getting rid of the $100 bill, claiming that it no longer had a purpose in a society where everything was paid for online or with credit cards. While I might have agreed with the articles arguments in June of last year, reading it as I did five months after moving to the British Virgin Islands made me realize how out of touch with the rest of the world the article's author was.
The almost pure-cash nature of the BVI economy surprises both tourists and immigrants alike. BVI Electric doesn't accept credit cards. Neither do many of the grocery stores. Even tourist-friendly activities like daysail boats sometimes run on cash only, or if they do accept credit cards, they impose a 5% surcharge on their customers. Our favorite bar, Mulligan's, finally got a credit card machine last week, in preparation for the large crowd they had for the Superbowl. Up until then, they would be happy to serve you, but only in exchange for cash.
Obviously, coming from the US where I, too, paid everything online or with my debit card, carrying cash on a daily basis became a big adjustment. I had never before carried large quantities of cash, worrying that I would lose it, or it would get stolen. Debit cards and checks always seemed safer. Now, every other week when I get paid, I feel myself in the shoes of the scores of immigrants in the United States, both legal and illegal, that stand in line to cash their paycheck. Like them, I now pay for everything in cash -- and my ability to carry the requisite amount of cash and to make large transactions is greatly eased by the $100 bill.
So as a heads-up for anyone coming to the BVI anytime soon, you may want to leave your AMEX or Visa at home, but be sure to carry plenty of cash, because here, at least, cash is still king.