Myanmar (Burma) has only been open to tourists since the early 90s, so it sometimes lacks tourist facilities that other countries have developed. However, this is rapidly changing as more and more people rush to visit the spectacular things that Myanmar has to offer. Blogs quickly become outdated as the Myanmar money ‘situation’ changes every day. There is a lot of mysticism and speculation over money in this country so I thought I would let you know what it was like when visited there in 2016.
Piles of kyat equating to only ~$100USD (Photo from Clay Gilliand via Flickr)
Which currency should I use?
The official currency of Myanmar is the kyat (pronounced “chet”) and the rough conversion is 1300 kyat to $1USD. For up-to-date conversion rates from your currency to kyat, check out XE Currency Converter. However US Dollars are also very commonly used in Myanmar, especially for tourist items such as hotels, buses and activities.
In general, it is good to have both currencies available and when purchasing large items asking for the price in both kyat and USD and going with whichever rate works out best for you (as they will always just roughly convert it).
Kyat is the local currency so if you eat at local restaurants and support smaller businesses (which is both good for the economy and also a lot cheaper), then this currency is more commonly accepted.
READ MORE: Ultimate Myanmar Itinerary
Where do I get Kyat?
As far as I can ascertain, you cannot get kyat outside of Myanmar and you are unable to convert it back outside of the country. Nobody will buy or sell kyat outside of Myanmar.
To get kyat you will can bring cash into Myanmar and then convert it to kyat at a currency converter, hotel or at a bank. These places will definitely accept US Dollars (as long as they are in good condition; see below) and may accept other currencies depending on their policy. I found that euros were accepted at many places.
ATMs are also in all the touristy areas and dispense kyat at a 5000kyat fee for around $450USD worth of kyat. Many people only use the ATMs in Myanmar, and although they can be a bit of a pain to find it might be less painful than bringing in stacks of pristine USD and trying to convert it.
If I bring USD, what must they look like?
Pristine and new, otherwise many people will look at them with disgust and not accept them (but will be happy to give you change in crappy USD bills so look out for this!). They will need to have no creases, tears or marks and be newer than 2009. $100 bills will get you a better exchange rate than smaller bills.
READ MORE: Bagain Bagan – Exploring Bagan On A Budget
Where are the best exchange rates?
It used to be that the best way to exchange money was on the black market but it is not like this any more. Banks now offer exchange from USD (and possibly other currencies) to kyat at a pretty reasonable rate. The exchange rate was 1301kyat to $1 when I was there and the banks exchanged it for 1296 to $1, so that was fair enough. Exchanging through hotels will cost you more and exchanging on the black market is likely to end in a scam.
Should I just use ATMs and not worry about USD?
ATMs can be found in Myanmar and there are slowly more and more popping up. Touristy places such Mandalay, Yangon, Myanmar and Inle Lake have ATMs. There is a 5000kyat withdrawal fee and you can get up to $450 worth of kyat. The ATMs will accept VISA and Mastercard/Maestro.
However, there are sometimes Internet and power problems which cause the ATMs to break down which can be annoying, especially if you need the cash quickly.
These days you would probably be fine just using the ATMs if you are sticking to the main tourist trail in Myanmar. My recommendation would be to bring some pristine USD in case of emergency (as most things can be paid for in USD anyway) and then withdraw money. Be aware that ATMs will not be around in less touristy places, so get out enough money for your needs.
Can you pay on card?
In some really touristy hotels and expensive restaurants you can pay on card, but there is normally a surcharge added and it is hard to know the conversion fee. Probably best to avoid paying on card unless you have to.
So, what is the overall recommendation?
The Myanmar money situation is getting easier every day as more people visit the country. I would recommend bringing some pristine USD and using that until you find an ATM (or keep it for emergencies) and then withdraw money. ATMs are frequent in touristy areas, but if you are only going local then maybe bring and exchange more money. Kyat is accepted everywhere in Myanmar but you will not be able to get it or exchange it back outside of the country, so only get out what you know you will spend.
If you have visited Myanmar recently, let me know about your experiences with money. I would love to hear from you!
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