Are you planning a trip to Ghana? This beautiful country located in West Africa is known for its rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, and friendly people.
To make the most of your trip and have an unforgettable experience, it’s important to be prepared and knowledgeable about certain aspects of Ghana before you go.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know before traveling to Ghana.
1. Know the Currency
To minimize confusion and potential fraud, it is crucial to become familiar with the local currency before visiting a new country. In Ghana, the official unit of exchange is the Ghanaian cedi (GHS). The currency is available in both coins and banknotes, with denominations ranging from 10 pesewas to Ghc200. It’s recommended to exchange your money for GHS at a reputable bank or foreign exchange office upon arrival in Ghana. While some establishments accept credit cards, it’s best to have cash on hand for smaller transactions.
2. Know the Language
The official language of Ghana is English, which is widely spoken and understood across the country. However, with over 80 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language and dialect, Ghana is a multilingual nation. While learning the native tongue is not required, making an effort to speak a few basic phrases in Twi, Ga, Ewe, or Fante can greatly enhance your experience and help you connect with the local population.
3. Avoid Drinking Tap Water
It is generally advised against drinking tap water in Ghana due to potential contamination with harmful germs and viruses. To stay hydrated, it’s recommended to drink bottled water or other commercially packaged beverages, which are readily available in supermarkets, hotels, and restaurants throughout the country. When purchasing bottled water, always check the seal and ensure it is from a reliable source.
4. Expect Weak Internet in Most Areas
While internet access and speeds have improved in recent years, it’s important to be aware that internet service in Ghana can be spotty or unpredictable, especially outside major cities. Consider obtaining a local SIM card and data plan from one of the main mobile network providers to stay connected. Additionally, many hotels, cafes, and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi to patrons, but the quality and speed of these connections may vary.
5. Use Cash for Online Taxis (Uber and Bolt)
When using ride-hailing services like Uber or Bolt in Ghana, it is customary to pay with cash. Although credit and debit cards are accepted, many customers prefer cash for its convenience and accessibility. Simply select the “Cash” option when booking your ride and pay the driver in cash upon arrival. Before starting your journey, it’s advisable to confirm the rate with the driver and be aware of any surge pricing or additional charges during busy times.
6. Get a Local Phone Number
To facilitate communication with locals, book reservations, and access essential services, it is highly recommended to get a local phone number in Ghana. You can easily purchase a prepaid SIM card from major mobile network service providers like MTN, Vodafone, or AirtelTigo. Activation requires presenting identification such as a passport or national ID card. Having a local phone number can reduce international roaming costs and make it easier to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
7. Never Underestimate Accra Traffic
Accra, the capital city of Ghana, experiences significant traffic congestion, especially during rush hour and peak times. Navigating the city’s chaotic and crowded roadways can be challenging, particularly for visitors unfamiliar with the area. It’s crucial to plan your journey times and routes carefully, allowing extra time for delays and unforeseen detours. Consider using ride-hailing services like Uber or Bolt to avoid the hassle of driving and finding parking.
8. Expect the Police to Stop You
Police stops are common in Ghana, usually occurring at night but also during the day. During these stops, officers may conduct random searches of your car, request identification, and/or search your bag. It is advisable to cooperate with these searches, which typically last around five minutes. In Ghana, it is also customary to give officers a small tip, known as “dashing,” which can range from Ghc10 to Ghc20 (US$0.95 to US$1.90).
9. Watch Your Belongings
Like in any country, it’s important to be cautious and keep an eye on your belongings while in Ghana. Pickpocketing incidents can occur, particularly in crowded areas such as Osu, Madina, and Makola Market. To prevent theft, keep your bag in front of you and away from the roadside, and avoid carrying excessive amounts of cash. Additionally, be cautious with your phone and avoid using it in a way that makes it an easy target for theft.
10. Respect the Elders
Respecting elders is a significant component of Ghanaian culture and is highly regarded and treasured across the nation. Elders are seen as providers of experience, wisdom, and direction, as well as role models and community leaders. When visiting Ghana, it’s important to respect elders and observe regional traditions and customs. This can include using formal titles and greetings when addressing elderly individuals, such as “Aunty” or “Uncle,” and demonstrating deference and respect in your speech and actions.
11. Always Greet Others
Extending greetings to others is considered a mark of respect and courtesy in Ghanaian culture. Whether you are meeting someone for the first time or interacting with locals during your travels, it’s important to be polite and respectful in your greetings. Ghanaians commonly say “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening,” depending on the time of day. Handshakes and head nods are standard ways to welcome someone, and it’s important to address individuals you’ve just met using formal titles like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” until you obtain permission to use their first name.
12. Eating With Your Hands Is a Cultural Practice and Normal
Eating with your hands is a popular cultural practice in Ghana, especially among certain ethnic groups and in rural areas. It is considered a natural and intuitive way to enjoy food and establish a connection with the food and the people you are sharing it with. Traditional meals like fufu, banku, or kenkey are often eaten with hands. While eating with your hands is common, it’s important to be aware of the traditions and conventions associated with it. Avoid using your left hand for handling food, as it is traditionally reserved for hygienic activities.
13. Locals Are Generally Friendly
One of the highlights of visiting Ghana is encountering the friendly and hospitable locals. Ghanaians are known for their warmth and kindness towards visitors, often greeting them with smiles and a welcoming attitude. Whether you’re exploring markets, visiting historical sites, or simply walking down the street, you’ll find that people are generally eager to engage with you and make you feel at home. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to share a meal or attend a local event, as Ghanaians are happy to share their culture with visitors.
14. People Will Randomly Speak in Twi to You
Ghanaians may spontaneously speak Twi, one of the most widely spoken languages in the country, to visitors, especially if they notice that you are a foreigner. This is not meant to be rude or exclusionary but rather a way for Ghanaians to show their hospitality and connect with you on a more personal level. If you’re not familiar with Twi, politely explain that you don’t understand and ask them to speak in English instead. However, learning a few basic phrases in Twi can be a great way to show respect for Ghanaian culture and make connections with locals.
15. Forget You Have a Left Hand
In Ghanaian culture, the left hand is traditionally considered dirty, as it is used for activities like using the restroom. Therefore, using your left hand to handle food or shake hands is considered rude. When interacting with others, always use your right hand for handshakes and pleasantries. It’s also important to keep in mind that certain traditions and customs, such as pouring libations or exchanging kola nuts, are traditionally carried out with the right hand as a mark of respect and tradition.
By knowing these essential things before traveling to Ghana, you can ensure a more enjoyable and memorable experience. From familiarizing yourself with the local currency and language to respecting cultural traditions and customs, being prepared and knowledgeable will help you navigate the country with ease. Embrace the friendly nature of the locals, try traditional foods, and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Ghana. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on your journey to this beautiful West African country.