Myanmar Travel Information - Money Matters

by Lissie

Myanmar (Burma) is one of the world's ONLY completely cash economies - at least for tourists. No credit cards or ATMs are available

Cash Is King in Burma - For Real!

As an experienced (i.e. old) traveller I have carried traveler's cheques and large sums of cash in the days before the worldwide convenience of ATMs. To this day I don't often use credit cards in Asia because you often pay a premium - but those ATM's on all but the most remote islands are handy. 

So you get complacent - if you run out of money you can always get more. Usually you can - but not in Myanmar! 

1989 - Official Exchange Rates, FEC and A Bottle of Johnny Walker (Red) 

When I first considered visiting Myanmar it was 1989 and I was in Bangkok. At the time you could only get a 7 day visa, the flight cost a fortune, and the incoming tourist was forced to exchange some about of US$ for the universally hated Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC) - with which you had to pay for most hotels and all airfares.  The smart budget traveller also brought in a single bottle of whisky. The whisky you took to one of Yangoon's markets on the first day and exchanged it for a wad of local currency kyat - at a rate about 10X better than the official FEC one. 

2012 - Cash Is Still King US$ and Kyat -

In Myanmar You will need both

I thought the history lesson might be helpful - before you run in horror from the concept of a country which is still cash-only country. The reason that no one will take your credit card and few ATMs won't accept foreign cards is simple. The US embargo on finanancial transactions with Myanmar. Hopefully this will be lifted soon as the government seems to be making significant progress on improving its international relations. 

US$ is What You Need To Carry
US$ is What You Need To Carry

Meanwhile there is as of 2012 there is no black market anymore in Myanmar. You will arrive by air in Yangon (no land borders are open for more than border town travel in Burma), and you will get the best rates in the country for cash US$, Euros or S$ right in the arrivals hall.  

Don't rush and change all your foreign exchange into kyat though. 
Myanmar runs on a dual currency system. Some things you need to pay in US$ for, some in kyat. Its truely a dual currency country, its not like Cambodia where you will hand over US$ and get local currency back. If they have change you will get it in US$.

Paid for in USD Paid for in Burmese Kyat

airfares 

boat fares

train fares (including Yangoon's local commuter train

travel arrangements through local agents

government "tourist fees" payable in places such as Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake

almost all hotels that are licensed to take foreigners 

"tourist" restaraunts

taxis to/from Yangon

airport departure tax ($10, included in AirAsia fares) 


local and long distance buses 

some cheaper hotels in remote locations 

tourist fee for Sagadawan Pagoda, Yangon

local markets

local restaraunts, bars and street stalls 

You Must Budget Right For Myanmar Travel

With the lack of ATMs and credit cards, you will need to bring all your spending money with you. You can't even buy internal flights outside the country. So working out your budget is critical. A decent guidebook is a good start. 

I often travel these days without a guidebook, after all many countries have excellent tourist offices, and there are heaps of good websites all available on my smart phone or laptop. Your cellphone won't work in Burma (international sanctions again), and the Internet is very, very slow. The tourist offices - hmmm - buy a guide book! There's not much choice - fortunately this one is pretty up to date - and although not perfect - its a good start. 

Best Myanmar Travel Guidebook

Only Worthwhile Guidebook
Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) (Countr...
$24.99  $4.74

How Much Will Myanmar Cost?

This is as impossible to answer as how much does it cost to live in <insert your home town>.  You can spend $200/night or $20 for a hotel Yangon, you can spend $2 for a meal on the street of $20 in 5-star hotel. You can fly everywhere or you can take buses everywhere. Study up the guidebook, check forums for the most recent prices - and then add 20-30% safety allowance would be my advice. 

Bring the Right US$ For Travelling in Myanmar

A $1 is $1 surely? Nope - Myanmar is notorious for only accepting notes that are in  pristine condition. They don't have to be new, but notes that have any form of mark, tear, crease, or a just dirty. Won't be accepted. 

Its also to have notes newer than 2006 - the ones with colour, and to NOT bring $100 notes with serial numbers starting "CB" (commonly forged - this is not just an issue in Burma). 

If you live in the US it will be fairly straight forward to get the near-new notes required. 
If you in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur - popular gateways to Myanmar - the bigger banks are familiar with this game of the "new notes for Burma". If you are further afield you will have to argue. But trust me it will be a lot easier to win the argument at home than it will be in Burma. 

Largest note: 5000 kyat
Largest note: 5000 kyat

Which Denomination US$ to Bring?

For changing into kyat you will get the best rate for $100, less for $50 and so on.

However for actual transactions, no one will have any change - so its better to have a range of notes. Because of the oddity of the US currency- there is no $2 note (or its not used never figured out which) - then you can end up with a pile of $1's. You will need some - but not a huge number - because they are bulky.

US$ To Exchange To Burmese Kyat

So for the money you intend to change to kyat - bring $100's. If you want the best rate change all that money in Yangon. There is a problem though. The largest kyat note is 5000 - about $8. So if you change $500 and get all 5000's you will end up with 80 notes, if they give you 1000's you'll end up with 400 notes! That's a pile of cash. Fortunately Myanmar is a safe country which seems to have next to none street theft, so having wads of notes in the bottom of your suitcase is probably just fine! 


US$ To Spend Directly in Myanmar

 Here's what I'll do. If the average hotel you intend to stay in charges $20/night - then bring plenty of $20's - if its $50 - bring more $50's! If you are planning on flying - most flights are around $80-$100 - so again bring bigger notes. There is no need to bring $1 for tips - the tipping doesn't exist (yet) in Burma - lets try and keep it that way. 

Can I Bring Euro/Austalian Dollars/Singapore Dollars To Myanmar

Yes you can - but you can only change them to Kyat - probably only in Yangon, and you will still need US$ for that side of the economy. The rate will be slightly poorer too, but probably not as bad as doing the double exchange euro-dollar-kyat. 

What If I Run Out of Cash In Myanmar?

You really don't have too many options. If you end up leaving early - you wouldn't be the first one. Depending on how generous your budget was originally you can always go down a step or two in your choice of hotels and restaraunts. 

It may be possible to get a cash advance from a couple fo 5-star hotels in Yangon - I've heard its possible at both The Strand and Parkroyal - but it depends - and they will charge you between 6% and 10%. Outrageous anywhere else in the world but.. Your chances anywhere else in the country is going to be slim to non-existent. Bring more cash than you think you need. 

More Reading For The Traveller to Burma

Myanmar Travel Map Second Edition (Pe...
Periplus Editions
Only $8.95
The River of Lost Footsteps: A Person...
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$15.00  $11.62
To Myanmar with Love: A Travel Guide ...
Global Directions/Things Asian Press
$21.95  $0.21
Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to...
Oxford University Press, USA
$16.95  $1.88
Burmese Days
Oxford City Press
$13.99  $3.99
Kipling Abroad: Traffics and Discover...
I. B. Tauris
$29.00  $7.20

About the Author

I'm Elisabeth Sowerbutts, I took my first trip when I was about 3 years old, and I haven't really stopped travelling since. I've been to every continent, except Antarctica, and done everything from backpacking to being a business traveller. I spent six months solo travelling through South America and another six months backpacking through India, Nepal and SE Asia. 

My partner didn't used to travel much but I've passed the bug onto him now. Our more recent adventures include Europe in the middle of winter, Thailand, and 35,000km's through Australia's outback. 

I've lived in England, Scotland, Canada and Australia, and currently I'm back home in New Zealand 

I write a popular travel tips blog called: Lis's Travel Tips

I've also published my first book on Vacation Packing: Save Your Back, Time and Money

Updated: 08/23/2012, Lissie
 
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Comments? Been to Myanmar? Planning a Trip ? Love to hear your thoughts here!


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Lissie on 01/14/2012

Really FuturisticWriter - I love the research side of travel - having all the facts in my head it seemed like a good idea to write it all down - particularly as stuff is changing so fast!

I'll write more pages over the next few weeks!

Guest on 01/14/2012

Thanks for all the information provided Lissie! I'm planning to travel to Myanmar next year and you have done a good job by providing these information.

Lissie on 01/14/2012

Totally bizarre! Its a useful denomination -every other vaguely equivalent currency has it as far as I know! What I wonder is why the US still have notes (bills) for $1 and $2 - Australia, NZ, UK - we got rid of them over 10 years ago - they are coins because of their low value (the notes cost more because they have to replaced). I wonder what will happen to places like Burma when the US treasury works out the cost effectiveness of getting rid of them!

bethparker on 01/14/2012

There is a $2 bill (US), but it is rarely used. My great-aunt used to send me one for my birthday every year when I was a kid. You can still get them if you specifically ask for them at the bank.

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