Money in Myanmar
Dollar bills and Kyat chat.
I was confused about the money situation before I left for Myanmar causing me to have a stressful last minute panic looking for crisp 2013 printed USD. So I will lay it out straight for you here, do not panic about dollars!!
Yes, for a while you were only able to pay with US dollars in Myanmar as their own currency was not worth enough, but it’s slightly more straightforward now.
Burmese Kyat is the local currency and used everywhere for those that are wondering. It is pronounced ‘chat’
ATMs are almost everywhere and in the bigger cities are very reliable for withdrawing cash. By the way they give out Kyats not dollars. They all seem to charge you 5000kyat per transaction, and for this reason you may want to come into the country with US dollars in order to exchange them at a better rate. Best rate I found was at the airport in Yangon before leaving the baggage reclaim area.
It is advisable to have a small amount of dollars with you anyway in order to pay foreigner fees without getting ripped off (see the story here), but again, it is not compulsory and if you don’t have, you will be just fine.
So, I repeat, ‘You do not HAVE to carry dollars!’ I was able to pay for everything, everywhere, in the local currency, Burmese Kyat, including all accommodation, food and transport. In fact they preferred me to pay them in the local currency.
If you do decide to keep some dollars on you or prefer to take them with you over using an ATM, there are some rules:
Must be crisp and look fairly new, no writing, tears, or any signs of being to used.
Must be printed after 2009. The higher notes (50, 100) will get you a higher exchange rate than the lower ones. One more money thing to remember, you cannot buy Burmese Kyat outside of Myanmar before you go and thus you cannot exchange it once you leave the country either! Unless you want to keep it as a souvenir, exchange all your money back before you leave or spend it all.
How much money will I need? I found Myanmar to be more expensive than other South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. Accommodation in particular can hike up the cost of travel there. There are currently not many hostels or dorms, and on average a double room was at least $20 per night, so if you are a single traveller it often works out financially better to find a buddy to share with. Generally you will not get what you paid for in terms of accommodation, for example in Bagan, $25 will get you a damp air-con double room with cold water shower.
If you are sticking with local food, and mostly you wont have a choice, then it is reasonably priced, try and buy from markets when you can. Haggle and bargain for any souvenirs. It is usually at least half of the starting price. Stay strong but don’t be stubborn, if you are happy with paying a certain amount for something, then its ok, you don’t have to grind down to the very very last price.