Credit cards and Forex
All the bureaux de change in Zimbabwe were closed down by the government in late 2003 in an attempt to crack down on black-market currency transactions and maintain control over the country's foreign exchange. Despite this, virtually all businesses still operate, albeit illegally, with dual exchange rates, making it possible (but still illegal) to change money at more favourable black-market rates as long as you are cautious and discreet. Never exchange money with street touts (often police informants), at curio markets or if approached by total strangers. Instead discreetly ask your guide, shopkeeper, or tour operator for their advice and assistance on where to exchange money at the 'best' rate. If someone sends you to the Bank of Zimbabwe, don't press the issue.
At curio markets, ignore requests to pay in US dollars or other hard currency, no matter how many protests to the contrary or how convenient it may be to slip someone a few US dollars. Not only is this very risky, but there's no real advantage to be gained for you are unlikely to garner a better deal.
Use your credit card
in Zimbabwe and you'll be in for an unpleasant and expensive surprise upon receiving your bill with charges six times higher than you may have figured. This is because all credit-card transactions must go through official banks and are converted at the government-set exchange rate, which in March 2004 was a paltry Z$800 to US$1, compared to the unofficial rate of Z$5,000 to US$1. Though illegal, virtually all retailers set prices according to black-market rates. If businesses were to base prices strictly by official rates, prices on everything would shoot upwards 6.25 times, making Zimbabwe totally unaffordable to even the most wealthy visitor.
Nothing illustrates this better than making a purchase on your credit card. If paid in cash, a Z$50,000 lunch for two works out to a reasonable US$10, provided that this has been exchanged at the realistic rate of Z$5,000 to US$1. However, if you pay by credit card (converted at the official bank rate of Z$800 to US$1) then the same meal will set you back a whopping US$62.50. So if you're coming into Zimbabwe, you need to find a way of exchanging US dollars safely at a realistic market rate if it is to be an affordable visit. Avoid using your credit-card at all costs.
I would frown upon such illegalities, but in this case I feel that Zimbabwe's exchange issues are the logical result of a particularly odious regime setting a very dishonest exchange rate. Thus I don't feel that exchanging currency at a realistic rate is in any way immoral, even if it does happen to be illegal.