What Was the Christmas Island Dollar?

The Christmas Island Dollar was formerly the official currency of Christmas Island, a small Australian island located in the Indian Ocean. 

The first person to sight the island was a British captain named Captain William Mynors, who sailed past it on December 25, 1643; hence the name "Christmas" Island.

Key Takeaways

  • The Christmas Island dollar was the official currency of the Pacific Island, Christmas Island, which was at various times a territory of Great Britain and Singapore.
  • In 1958 the Island became a part of Australia and the AUD became its official currency.
  • The island has around 2,000 residents currently, with an economy based on tourism and phosphate mining.

Understanding the Christmas Island Dollar

The Christmas Island Dollar is now obsolete, as Christmas Island has adopted the Australian dollar (AUD) as its official currency in 1958.

Britain annexed Christmas Island in 1888. After World War II, Christmas Island became a jurisdiction of Singapore, until Singapore transferred the island to Australia in October 1958 for a payment of $20 million to cover the loss of earnings from the island's phosphate supply.

As of 2020, Christmas Island had an estimated population of a little less than 2,000 people, mostly inhabiting the north side of the island. A significant portion of the island’s population comes from Chinese ancestry, followed by Australian and Malay ancestry. Now, more than two-thirds of the island is a national park. The island also houses an Australian immigration detention center.

The island's economy consists primarily of tourism and a phosphate extraction industry that is dwindling.

Christmas Island Flag
The Christmas Island flag is divided diagonally; the upper triangle is green with a yellow Golden Bosun Bird; the lower triangle is blue with the Southern Cross constellation, representing Australia; centered yellow disk holds a green map of the island. Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007

Transition from the Christmas Island dollar to the Australian Dollar

The legal tender used on Christmas Island is now the Australian dollar (AUD) which is the official currency of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is made up of 100 cents and is represented with the symbol $, A$ or AU$.

The Australian dollar is also the official currency for the Pacific islands of Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati as well as Norfolk Island. Australia is the world’s 13th largest economy, and its economic and political stability has made its currency highly traded, as the Australian dollar is the fifth most traded currency in the world.

This switch from the use of a local currency to the use of another jurisdiction's currency is called dollarization or currency substitution and is a common phenomenon. 

Unlike the case of Christmas Island which became an Australian territory, dollarization sometimes also takes place in developing countries that have unstable economies or weak central governments. The primary benefits offered by dollarization include economic stability, attracting domestic and foreign investment, and the ability to counter high inflation. The process of dollarization can either be partial or full. When partial dollarization takes place, a portion of a country’s assets are held in the adopted foreign currency. Other countries that have undergone dollarization include Zimbabwe, Ecuador and El Salvador.