In St. Martin, there are three main currencies: The Euro on the French side, the Netherland Antillean Guilder (ANG) on the Dutch side and the U.S. Dollar, which is accepted everywhere. The exchange is about .75 Euro cents for every Dollar and 1.79 Guilders for every Dollar. This is why the French side prefers using the Euro and the Dutch side prefers using the Dollar. But seriously, since the Dutch Antillean islands are the only places on earth that use the ANG, there is really no incentive for them to use this currency anyway.
The first thing you need to be careful of is on the French side where sometimes you go to pay something and you’re simply told “Thirty”, “Fifty” or whatever. Are they talking about Euros or Dollars? Well, either! That means that if you’re told 30 and you pay in Euros you will really be paying almost 40 bucks! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t assume they only want payment Euros. One place where you can always come out ahead is in the town of Grand Case where the restaurants are famous for their 1:1 exchange of the Dollar to the Euro. Bring your U.S. Dollars and spend them here. The restaurants are supposedly really great, but we unfortunately didn’t visit on a day where it was convenient to get into one of the nicer restaurants. We only ate in a lolo, which is a kind of informal food stand — it was very good.
On the Dutch side everything, as far as I could tell, is charged in U.S. Dollars. So technically you can get away with never touching a Guilder if you don’t want to. This is good too because even though your bank may charge you to take money out of the ATM since it’s not your home bank, you won’t get charged the exchange fee that you might normally incur if you needed to make a conversion.
Tipping in St. Martin
Tipping in St. Martin is the real headache. You are likely to get a different answer for proper protocol from each person you speak to. On the Dutch side, it is generally considered normal to tip between 15 and 20% — just like in the U.S.
On the French side, however, one person told us that if you pay in Euros, you should tip like the French which is virtually nothing. Essentially, the French just round up to the nearest Euro when they tip, so it really ain’t nothing. But you are expected to tip like an American if you pay in USD. Nonetheless, the waiters will swear to you that even if the menu says service compris (tip included), that that money goes to the entire staff, not him or her specifically. So in this case, you be the judge and decide if you want to tip anything extra. I wouldn’t worry about looking cheap or shortchanging anyone. The entire island is based on tourism and they need to get their spiel down if they want to get good tips.
It is incredibly frustrating when you come from a system such as the one we have here in the U.S. and are used to tipping well, but find yourself in a very expensive place where people are trying to rip you off on top of what you’re spending your hard earned money for. After having lived in France some 22 years ago, I can say that the French definitely have money consciousness issues that go deep. Think of it this way, as an American, no matter what you give, you will probably be tipping way more than any French person would. So don’t feel guilty and just enjoy yourself.