Content last updated - November 2016 - please contact me if you have an update!
Burma is like no other country in the world - not only does it have a unique culture but it has been isolated from the West for many years because of sanctions and before that because of a string of crazy/corrupt governments the country has endured since World War II
Which means things are little different there. For example - your cell phone won't work because there are no international roaming agreements. You can buy local SIMS, and they are "only" about $250 - down from $1000 just a few months ago.
Yes I said months, that's how fast things are changing in Myannmar!
The other big problem with Myanmar is - they do not accept credit cards, there are no ATMs that take international cards (yes all of them your travel card will not work) or traveler's checks.
You need to bring cash to Myanmar - you must bring US dollars, optionally you can bring Euros and Singapore dollars.
Two Currencies in Myanmar for the Tourist: Dollars and kyat.
As a tourist in Myanmar you will need two currencies for spending:
- US dollars used for: flights, trains, most hotels, government entry fees, high-end restaurants and shops;
- Burmese kyat for: some very cheap guest houses, buses, local taxis, restaurants, local shops.
You cannot buy (or exchange) kyat outside of the country - you exchange on arrival using US dollars, Euros or Singapore dollars (ONLY no they do not accept Thai baht, Australian dollars, Pounds Stirling - no other currency).
It's trickier than that though - your notes must be pristine i.e.
- no creases;
- no marks;
- no writing;
- no tears
You will also get a better rate for $100/€100/S$100 than smaller denominations. Note you can get €200 and €500 but remember at an exchange rate of around 1110kyat and the largest commonly used 5000k - that's a lot of notes!
Where Does The Tourist Change Money?
The best rate seems to currently be from the official banks, and the very best rate is from the first bank you will find before customs at international arrivals, Yangon airport! Really, told you Myanmar was unique! You will be approached by black market operators wanting to change rates - but a legitimate offer will actually be slightly less than the bank rate. If you are offered an unbelievably good rate on the street - then it's a scam - these guys are very, very good, and the ONLY cases I've heard of tourists being ripped off in Myanmar appears to always involve the black market.
So mostly you will want to stay away from the black market - unless you are stuck with "dirty" notes - then they may be your best option (the other option being leaving the country early).
So Which Mixture Of Currencies Am I Taking to Myanmar
I'm carrying a mixture of Euros and US$. That's not because I live in the Eurozone - I frankly had huge problems getting pristine US dollars. The US still uses "paper" money while the eurozone and many other countries issue "plastic" money - plastic money is a LOT more robust and I got much better €100 notes.
If you earn either Euros or Singapore dollars I suggest that you take 1/3 to 1/2 of your budget in those currencies for conversion to kyat. If you are having difficulties getting clean US$100's you may want to try this too.
How To Carry Your Money In Myanmar
Crime against foreigners is very rare in Burma - for the tourist it's probably the safest country in SE Asia. The reality is that many people have either never, or for us older travelers, not for a long time, carried thousands of dollars with us. First I carry the majority of the money in a money "belt" - mines a shoulder holster - it's more comfortable, plus with a little creative use of cardboard and the little ziplock bags the banks keep currency in I can keep the notes flat and pristine.
However I wanted to carry the cash in at least two separate locations so I also invented a new approach to money concealment - one of these - cost about $2!
Note mine was a very good size for US dollars but the euros are too wide for it - so pick your case with care.
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