Although Myanmar’s banking system is fast catching up with the rest of the world, for the time being its undeveloped state means that many transactions by foreign visitors have to be made in US dollars. The kyat is accepted for small pay ments, but for larger ones (such as hotel bills), only mint, or near- mint, US dollar bills will do. Credit and debit cards are rarely accepted, and traveler’s checks and VisaMoney are not taken anywhere. Currency exchange no longer has to be carried out on the black market, but even the banks require dollars – which means visitors have to carry enough US cur rency into the country to see them through their entire trip.
It is essential that any dollar bills brought to Myanmar are in pristine condition. The Burmese will reject one if it has even a tiny fold, pen mark, blotch, or tear. When buying US currency prior to departure, check each bill front and back. Some trav- elers even resort to smoothing out potentially offensive wrinkles with a hot iron. Protect the bills from dirt and moisture inside a plastic bag if they are stored in a money belt.
Myanmar’s unit of currency is the kyat, pronounced “chaat” and abbreviated to “K” (or “MMK”). Although US dollars remain the currency of choice it is useful to keep some kyat handy for smaller expenses – taxi fares, admission, camera tickets for pagodas, and restaurants and street stalls. Bear in mind that the kyat cannot be converted outside Myanmar, and is not accepted in the transit areas of international airports.
Banks and Exchange
The stabilized exchange rate means that the black market is no longer the place to change money – banks now offer the best rates of exchange. US dollars are still the currency of choice, and while it is now sometimes also possible to exchange euros, and occasionally Singapore dollars, it is much better to bring cash in US dollars. Modern and efficient, private banks such as CB Bank and KBZ Bank are the quickest and easiest places to change currency. Some banks have also started offering Western Union and Money- Gram money transfer services at selected branches. When checking your encashment make sure that a certificate or receipt has been issued, as it may later be demanded by customs officials.
Banking hours are generally 10am–3pm Monday to Friday. Outside these times, currency can be changed at hotels, markets (such as Bogyoke Aung San Zei in Yangon), and large souvenir emporia, although the rates they offer may be lower than those of the banks. Note that better rates of exchange are given for higher denomina- tion bills, so bring more hun- dreds than fifties and twenties.
Cash machines, or ATMs, have become far more common across Myanmar in recent years, but some do not dispense cash advances against foreign credit or debit cards. When they do, a large transaction fee (typically of around K5,000 or 4 per cent) is levied, and the money is dis- pensed in kyat. Large branches of both the CB and KBZ banks have ATMs in most of the main tourist destinations; they accept foreign-registered MasterCard, Visa, and Cirrus cards.
Credit and Debit Cards
Although an increasing number of airlines, restaurants, shops, and hotels accept cards, the overwhelming majority don’t and visitors should never count on being able to use one. Places that do take cards usually charge a very large transaction fee for the privilege.
Traveler’s checks, and equivalent digital travel money, are useless in Myanmar, even if issued by major interna tional agencies such as Thomas Cook, Visa, or American Express.
Myanmar bank notes are circulated in denominations of 50 pya, K1, K5, K10, K20, K50, K100, K200, K500, K1,000, K5,000, and K10,000. However, the smaller denomina tions are rarely used and are being phased out. Bills with tears or repairs tend to be refused, but may be exchanged at banks.
Although coins are legal tender, it is extremely rare to find them actually in use. One kyat is divided into 100 pya. Officially Myanmar uses the following coins: 10 pya, 50 pya, K1, K5, K10, K50, and K100.