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Money & costs

Money

The currency of Myanmar is the Kyat (pronounced like ‘chat’). The exchange rate for the Kyat is somewhere around 800 to 900 Kyat to one US dollar. The Kyat comes in 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 denomination notes. There are NO coins. The Kyat is the only official currency of Myanmar, but most hotels quote prices in US dollars, and some businesses accept dollars.

Also, entrance fees to various attractions; paya, museums, etc. are in US dollars. In fact, some places may not even accept Kyat. You will need to always have an amount of dollars with you. Also, be sure you have dollar bills in good condition, and preferably new bills. US dollar bills that are badly used, old, torn, dirty, written on, or heavily creased may not be accepted. In Myanmar they seem to be pretty picky about this.

Note: Visitors are no longer required for to bring a certain amount of money, and it is not required to exchange money into FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificate).

Exchanging money

It is actually illegal to exchange money except at the Currency Exchange Centre, and at government approved exchange banks. Unfortunately, government approved exchange banks are not convenient, and do not offer favorable exchange rates. However, some hotels can exchange money. It is said that the best place to change money is at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. However, the money changers around the Sule Paya are notorious for cheating, and should be avoided.

When you exchange money at private money changers, you do so at your own risk. There is an official currency exchange counter in the arrival hall at the airport, but the exchange rate is quite low. It may be best to just exchange the money you need right away, and exchange more money when you get to town.

The exchange rate is highly volatile, there seems to be a new street rate every week. When I was there (March 2011) I got around 840 kyats to 1 USD.

You will need both currencies in Yangon and throughout the duration of your travel in Myanmar (Burma). Straight dollars can be used to pay for accommodation, entrance to tourist attractions, and a few other official things. Kyats are used for day to day living, like purchasing water, food, local buses, and buying things from vendors.

Update (March 2014): There are now plenty of ATM’s available throughout Yangon, so you don’t need to be nearly as concerned about US dollar bills as you needed to be previously.

However, it still might might be a good idea to carry a few clean and new $100 and $50 bills with you when you visit.

US Dollar Complications (Important)

  • Dollar bills need to be crisp, clean, with zero line creases or corner bends in the bills
  • Need to be from the year 2006 or newer
  • Without CB in the serial number on the bill

Consider keeping your dollar bills in a hard case where there is no possibility of them being bent up, it does get frustrating.

Note: The Myanmar Kyat is not convertible outside the country.

ATMs & credit cards

Currently there are NO ATMs that can be used for international transactions.

In spite of recent events, Myanmar is still a very cash-based society, and presently very few places accept credit cards.

Note: Visitors should bring enough cash for their entire trip.

Money is possibly the most important subject to plan ahead for when venturing on a trip to Yangon, Burma (Myanmar). Though the country utilizes the local “kyats,” US Dollars are the king of currency.

Where to exchange US dollars to Kyats

Again, never exchange dollars to Myanmar kyats at the Yangon Airport, wait until you reach a guest house or the market in the center of town.

Once you are in Yangon there are a number of choices of where to exchange money.

Money can be absurdly dirty and difficult to count; Always make sure you have time and a place to count the amount of money you get in exchange for your dollars.

Always be aware of touts offering to exchange money at “great” rates – there’s probably a catch, and might cheat you of the real amount, rushing you without letting you count. I would recommend not even bothering to exchange money with touts on the side of the street unless you are completely strapped for immediate cash.

1. Ask at your guest house: Golden Smiles Inn offered a very decent rate for my dollars in a very safe setting. The rate was always better for $50 and $100 bills.

2. Bogyoke Aung San Market: There are plenty of money traders towards the back of the large central Bogyoke Aung San market. The money exchangers are calm and allow you the time you need to count the bills and contemplate the exchange. As with everywhere, they are picky about the bills they will take and give better rates for larger US Dollar bills.

Simple shopping tips

For Yangon shopping, look at precious stones, pearls, silver, handicrafts and lacquer ware. There are some fine specialist shops that hotel concierges will guide you to. The Strand has a printed recommendation list.

To just plunge in, go to the Bogyoke Aung San Market (once known as Scott Market). It is a huge closed market surrounded by a cloister of small, mostly trendy shops selling fashion accessories. In the market proper, stalls sell stones, jewellery, handicrafts, ropes of pearls and antiques, some for real and some not quite. The place is wide, clean, cool and unhurried.

Shopping here is all about semi-precious stones, rubies (for which the country is famed – the ‘pigeon blood’ being the top cut), fabric, and gewgaws or perhaps larger artefacts. This is not a Mall Mecca so leave those Louis Vuittons behind, toss on a large straw hat, and dumb down for a cooling trawl of small alleys and side streets.

See more Yangon travel advice here.