Accessing Money in Yangon

Accessing money in Yangon became much easier with the arrival of Visa and Mastercard towards the end of 2012. It’s still a good idea to have some $US or Euros as a backup, but generally it is now possible to get cash solely from ATMs. Credit cards are still very rarely accepted. Only a few of the international hotels will take them and they’ll hit you for a good 10% commission for the privelege.

International ATMS

ATMs that accept Visa and Mastercard were introduced in Myanmar in late 2012. There is now a sufficient supply of ATMs that accept foreign cards throughout Yangon. The withdrawal limit on these ATMs is 300,000 kyat (approx $350) and there is a charge of 5000 kyat (approx $6) per withdrawal.

Generally, the ATMs are working ok. But keep in mind that this is relatively new technology in Myanmar. Reports say that it is not uncommon for transactions to time out or ATMs to be out of order. It’s still a good idea to have at least some $US as a backup.

Changing Money in Yangon

Although international ATMs are now operational in Yangon, it’s a good idea still to bring $US as a backup option, especially if you’re planning to stay long-term in Yangon and want to rent an apartment. In order to rent an apartment or house the entire rental period (usually 12 months but you might be able to negotiate a six-month lease) needs to be paid up front. With a 300,000 kyat withdrawal limit on ATMs, you’ll need a lot of transactions to cover the full lease.

It’s also possible to exchange Euros and Singapore dollars but $US are always the best bet.

The importance of perfect $US bills

Yes, the stories are true. The slightest blemish and money changers will refuse to accept them. That means no creases, no marks of any kind, no tears. They should also be of 2006 or later issue. It is possible to find money changers who will accept bills with a mark or a coloration problem, but they’ll give you a lower rate. Often it’s only 5 kyat or so per dollar less so it’s not a huge issue, but still better to avoid if possible.

For the best exchange rates, $100 bills are best. However, there are instances when you might need smaller denominations (see Using Kyat or $US below).

Where to Change Money

It’s no longer worthwhile dealing with money changers on the street. They might offer a slightly better rate but it’s such a marginal difference these days that it’s not worth the risk of the scam they’re likely to try. Use banks or money changers with a legitimate shop. Banks might ask to see your passport. Hotels and guesthouses will often change money for you as well.

In the past, also, it was recommended not to use the currency exchange at the airport due to the much lower rate they offered. Currently, however, their rates are almost as good as you’ll get in the city so you can change some money there if you like. However, taxi drivers from the airport will all take $US.

If you’re stuck, a good place to try is at the Summit Parkview Hotel. From the main entrance, go left past the cafe to the end of the hall where the shops are. Turn right, then turn left. At the end of the corridor are two shops that change money.

Local currency – the Kyat

The kyat is the local currency of Myanmar. It commonly comes in denominations of 10000, 5000, 1000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Occasionally you’ll get a 20 or 10 kyat note as well, though more often than not the price is rounded to the nearest 50. It’s also not uncommon to be given a small token (lollies, hand wipes, a chocolate) as a substitute for change at a cafe when they don’t have any 50s or 100s to give back to you.

Using Kyat or $US

Further confusing the money situation is that some places request payment from foreigners in $US. For example, tourist attractions such as Shwedagon Pagoda will want your entrance fee in $US. Trains and ferries also want payment from foreigners in $US. For these purposes, it’s a good idea to have some smaller notes. If you’re getting $US in change, be sure to scrutinise the bills as closely as any money changer would and request a different one if it’s not up to scratch. It’s also possible to pay in kyat for the aforementioned things, but the exchange rate will be bad (eg. if the entry fee is US$5 they’ll probably ask for 5000 kyat).

Hotels and guesthouses generally want payment in $US but you can probably talk them around to kyat if you prefer. Most hotels will accept $US or kyat at their restaurants and bars, as do some of the western-style restaurants (eg. 50th Street Restaurant and Bar).

For basically everything else, you can pay in kyat only.

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