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Money & costs
Myanmar's currency is the kyat, pronounced "chut/chat". Prices may be shown locally using the abbreviation of K (singular or plural) or Ks (plural) either before or after the amount and depending very much on who is doing the sign writing. The ISO abbreviation is MMK. Pya are coins, and are rarely seen since their value has become increasingly insignificant with even the largest 50 Pya coin worth less than six US or euro cents in Feb 2014. Foreigners are required to pay in US dollars for hotels, tourist attractions, rail and air tickets, ferry travel and sometimes for bus tickets as well, and are required to pay in kyat for most other transactions (trishaws, pickups, tips, food, etc.). According to law, it is illegal for a Myanmar citizen to accept (or hold) US dollars without a licence but this law is mostly ignored and US dollars are generally accepted. Never insist though because it may be dangerous for the receiver. FECs are still legal tender but are rarely seen and are worth very little.
Kyat officially cannot be exchanged abroad, though money changers in places with large overseas Burmese populations such as Singapore will often exchange anyway. Bring very clean, unfolded US dollars (or they will not be accepted by hotels, restaurants and money changers), and dispose of remaining kyat before leaving.
Due to the low dollar (Sep 2010), an increasing preference for paying in kyat is noticeable, especially when paying for food, private transport (car/taxi), and tours/activities.
In an effort to combat counterfeiting some places, especially currency exchange companies, will seemingly arbitrarily reject US dollar notes, usually big notes such as the USD100 and the USD50. This is usually due to them looking too new or having a certain serial number however not all places will do this.
Visitors do not need to bring a lot of cash when landing in Yangon, as there are now many ATMs accepting MasterCard and Visa cards at the airport [Mar 2014]. If you are in a hurry at the airport, there are lots of ATMs in Yangon. Look near shopping malls, big hotels, and banks. There are about 10 ATMs at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. You still need to bring dollars though to pay for day to day expenses. US dollar bills must be new, unmarked and in pristine condition. Credit cards are increasingly accepted at hotels and upmarket restaurants.
Smaller tourist destinations also have ATM's now (Bagu, Hpa-An, et al.), but not so many. Make sure to carry a buffer outside of Bagan, Yangon, Mandalay, and Inle Lake.
Also, some hotels in Yangon will do a cash advance on a credit card through Singapore. People have reported that hotels charge a commission ranging from 7% up to 30% and may need to see your passport to process the transaction. For US Citizens, it is also possible to receive funds from friends or relatives in an emergencies through the US Embassy.
Especially on holidays and Sundays, all your necessary money should be changed at the airport as banks in town are closed. Money changers offer a significantly lesser rate (5-10% lower) for changing dollars. The most hassle-free option is to change all your required money at the airport, as you can also change it back for a negligible fee. Look around different banks for the best exchange rate.
The foreign currency of choice in Myanmar is the US dollar, though you can readily also exchange euros and Singapore dollars in Yangon and Mandalay, but perhaps not beyond. Other options are the Chinese yuan and Thai baht. The best rates are in Yangon and Mandalay.
Be sure to bring a mix of USD denominations when visiting Myanmar because money changers will not give change and USD20, 10, 5 and one dollar notes are useful for some entry fees and transport.
Official and black market rates
Currency controls have been relaxed in recent times, and banks no longer exchange foreign currencies at the ridiculous rate they used to. These days, exchange rates at the banks are usually better than the black market rates. Most banks accept US dollars, euros and Chinese yuan. Singapore dollars and Thai baht can also be changed at some of the larger banks.
Ensure that your dollars are:
- Unmarked: no stamps, anti-counterfeit pen, ink or any other mark on them at all. Pencil can be removed with a good eraser, but any permanent marks will greatly decrease a note's value and ability to be exchanged.
- Fresh, crisp and as close to brand new as possible. Moneychangers have been known to reject notes just for being creased and/or lightly worn.
- Undamaged. No tears, missing bits, holes, repairs or anything of that sort.
- Preferably of the new design, with the larger portrait, and the multiple-colour prints. Although, old-style USD1 are still commonly traded.
- For USD100 bills, have no serial numbers starting "CB". This is because they are associated with a counterfeit "superbill" which was in circulation some time ago.
USD100 bills give the best exchange rate at banks. Changing USD50 or USD20 notes gives you a slightly worse rate of MYK10-20 fewer per dollar.
Kyat banknotes The notes of MYK50, MYK100, MYK200, and MYK500 are most of the time in a horrible condition, but are generally accepted when making small purchases. The MYK1,000 notes are slightly better, and when exchanging dollars into kyat, check that the banknotes you receive are in a generally good condition.
There are a number of tricks and scams running around Myanmar trapping tourists who are carrying US Dollars. Sometimes, guesthouses or traders will try and pass you damaged or nonexchangeable bills in change. Always inspect all notes when making a purchase and request that the vendor swap any notes you think you will have trouble using down the track (this is perfectly acceptable behaviour for both vendors and customers, so don't be shy).
Some moneychangers will also attempt sleight of hand tricks to either swap your good banknotes for damaged, or lower denomination notes. Other reports suggest that the kyats may be counted and then somehow, some disappear from the table during the transaction. For example, after going through an elaborate counting process for piles of ten 1000 kyat notes, some money changers will pull some notes out as they count the piles of ten.
When changing money, be sure that, after any money is counted, it is not touched by anyone until the deal is sealed. Also do not allow your dollars to be removed from your sight until all is agreed; in fact, it is not even necessary to pull out your US dollars until your are paying for the kyats you received. It sounds extreme, but ending up in a country where you cannot access whatever savings you have, and having a good portion of your budget rendered useless (until you get to more relaxed changers in Bangkok) can really put a dampener on your plans.
Outside of Myanmar, your kyat is almost worthless but do make nice souvenirs. Make sure to exchange your kyat back to US dollars before you leave the country.
Credit cards and ATMs
The CB Bank has around 30 ATMs accepting international Visa and MasterCard (Visa card cash withdrawal is new, so you may find signboards writing only MasterCard is accepted, which is wrong.) Due to former EU and US sanctions, credit cards are still rarely accepted in Myanmar. As of May 2013 more than 50 ATMs are available in Yangon, however not all are working. It may take a while until you find a working one. Usual withdrawal limit is MYK300,000 with a processing fee of MYK5,000. Beside the ATMs, there are places where cash can be obtained with a credit card, but the rates are extremely uncompetitive (with premiums certainly no lower than around 7%, and with quotes of 30% and more frequently reported). An exceptionally small minority of upmarket hotels accept credit card payments (and will surcharge accordingly). In case you run out of money, ask your taxi driver to drive you to the CB Bank ATM.
Travellers cheques are not accepted in Myanmar. The only exception might be some especially shady money changer, but be prepared to pay an astronomical commission (30% is not uncommon).
It's not possible to be comfortable on less than USD25/day (May 2013). Foreigners will likely be charged fees, including video camera, camera, entrance, parking and zone fees. Most managed tourist site charge for carrying cameras of any sort into the area. Double rooms with private bathroom are nearly always more than USD20, in Yangon a double room without bathroom costs USD20. While you cannot save on accommodation, you can save on food. Street food can get as low as USD0.30 for 2 small curries with 2 Indian breads, USD1 for a normal (vegetarian) dish. Even in touristy places like Bagan dishes cost under USD1 (vegetarian) and USD2 (meat). A draught Myanmar beer (5%) is around USD0.60 (600 kyat), a bottle of Myanmar beer (650 ml) is around USD1.65 (1,700 kyat), a bottle of Mandalay beer (6.5%, 650ml) around USD1.20 (1,200 kyat).
See more Myanmar travel guide at here.