What Is the Samoan Tala (WST)?

The Samoan Tala (WST) is the national currency for the Independent State of Samoa, not to be confused with American Samoa. The WST, represented in writing using the symbol WS$, SAT, ST or T, subdivides into 100 sene. The word "tala" is the Samoan equivalent to the English word "dollar" and "sene" to the English word cents.

The Central Bank of Samoa is responsible for issuing and regulating the WST, managing the exchange rate of the tala with foreign currencies and supervising commercial banks that deal in the currency. The exchange rate tends to hold relatively steady, with the rates falling between $0.38 to $0.46 since 2010. As of December 2020, a tala was equivalent to $0.39 in U.S. dollars (USD).

Key Takeaways

  • The Samoan Tala (WST) is the currency of Samoa.
  • It was introduced in 1967, replacing the New Zealand dollar (NZD).
  • The economy of Samoa is based largely on services such as tourism, as well as commodity exports such as fish products, fruit juices, and petroleum.

Understanding the WST

Before gaining independence from New Zealand, Samoa used the banknotes of New Zealand. Five years after receiving freedom, the Bank of Western Samoa issued the first tala banknotes in 1967. The tala pegged to the New Zealand dollar (NZD) at par until 1975, when it changed to float based on supply and demand.

In 1985, the Central Bank of Samoa replaced the Bank of Western Samoa as the country's central bank. In 1990, the bank issued new 50 and 100 tala bills and discontinued the one tala note. Today, the WST’s banknotes feature significant locations and icons from Samoan culture. Examples include the residence of Robert Louis Stevenson, a famous Scottish author who lived in Samoa; the headquarters of the Central Bank of Samoa; and the Samoan pigeon, which is the country’s national bird.

The country circulates one and two tala coins, as well as 10, 20, and 50 sene coins. In 2011, the Central Bank of Samoa reissued the coinage, minted by the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra, with new images depicted. The coins are smaller than their predecessors and have new shapes to reduce the cost of production. The most common paper banknotes include the two, five, 10, 20, 50, and 100 talas.

Real World Example of the WST

Like all national currencies, the value of the WST is ultimately supported by the strength of its economy. In the case of the WST, the economy of Samoa is based largely on the export of food products such as frozen fish, poultry, and fruit juices. 

Other commodities, such as petroleum oils, are also important exports for the island nation. The service sector in general, and tourism in particular, is a major contributor to Samoan gross domestic product (GDP) and is responsible for supplying roughly 50% of all jobs in the economy. The country has experienced modest inflation on consumer prices in recent years, ranging between -0.4% in 2014 and 0.98% in 2019. Unemployment, meanwhile, has held steady at around 8.5% in recent years.