As a regular traveller, I’m often asked about managing money while overseas including ATM’s, traveller’s cheques and so on. So here is a brief summary of money in Myanmar (Burma).
LOCAL CURRENCY – KYATS
Kyat pronounced by locals at ki-at but tourists call it chat. Coins are still minted but are rarely seen as most people use the paper notes. The notes that you’ll come into contact with are 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 10,000. The lower denominations are often in poor condition but still accepted by vendors. It’s very hard to purchase kyat outside of Myanmar (Burma).
BRING US $’S
If travelling to Myanmar (Burma) you should bring with you US dollars in pristine condition – no tears or marks or folds as these will be often knocked back by money exchangers and banks. Take care of your notes at all times as the exchange places are very fussy. Best notes are $50’s or $100’s as you get a better exchange rate than smaller notes. Airports offer a good rate if you need kyat straight away. As at 1 October 2015 the exchange rate for US $’s was 1282 kyat to $1 US
I purchased my US $’s through the Post Office (Australia) and received a very good rate. I asked for clean, crisp notes but was told I couldn’t request that. However, when I said I was going to Myanmar the teller made a note and consequently, I received sequential new US $ notes. Once ordered, it took only a few days to arrive. Yeh!
I found most hotels and fancier restaurants want you to pay in US $’s whereas markets, street food stalls and souvenir shops are happier with kyat.
If you are entering Myanmar (Burma) via Europe, Singapore, Bangkok or other countries it’s just as easy to buy US $’s with Euros, Singapore $’s and Baht at the country you’re departing from. The best place to exchange your $’s is at the airport or at banks which are located in most towns . You’ll be guaranteed of a good rate and the security of being given the right amount. Even though many places use money counting machines, still check your kyat before leaving. Banking hours vary and close on public holidays and weekends and during April they are closed for 1 – 2 weeks for the water festival.
ATM’S AND CREDIT CARDS
ATM’s are becoming more common and I had no troubles with them. A reminder to be as careful with your PIN and who are hanging around the ATM as you would in your own country.
The banks in Myanmar (Burma) have a partnership with Visa and MasterCard which makes them the preferred cards to use. Don’t bother taking American Express & Diners. I met a few travellers that had some issues with ATM’s not working but it was mainly in small towns and villages. Note: You will be charged around 5000 kyat to withdraw money from an ATM and there is a limit of up to $300 US $’s. At a hotel or shop you may be charged 3% – 8% extra in to use your card.
Forget it. They aren’t used here and you’ll get a very odd look from a money exchanger if you present them with a wad of traveller’s cheques.
BLACK MARKET MONEY EXCHANGING
Try them or not? NOT. Time and again I came across people who’d been ripped off. Yes, there were some people who got a better rate but frankly, for the few extra $’s you may make, it’s not worth the risk. One guy said he didn’t want to wait in the queue at the airport so paid his taxi in US $’s and then exchanged the rest on the black market in the centre of Yangon. He was ripped of with sleight of hand and ended up with less than half of what he thought he was getting.
When you depart Myanmar (Burma) you can easily exchange your kyat back to another currency. Singapore was particularly good at offer a range of currencies.
Contact your bank at home so they know you’re travelling in case you do use your credit card. I was once cut off from funds in Vietnam because my bank was unaware of my travel plans. Doh!