Banking and money made easy with this handy Myanmar travel guide

Myanmar is a country slowing opening up to the world however the process is a gradual one, especially in the banking sector. With that being said, there are some peculiarities, eccentricities and even large-scale obstacles that remain for those traveling and doing business in the Golden Land. This article will break down everything from exchanging money to withdrawing money as a traveler to working with the local banks and handling the local bureaucracy.


All about the Kyat

The Myanmar Kyat is the official currency of Myanmar and is pronounced exactly like the English word ‘chat’. Most high-end establishments such as hotels, restaurants, historical and tourist sites, certain businesses and airplane companies accept US Dollars as well as the kyat although new legislation has been place recently to limit the amount of dollars used in day-to-day business. Tourist sites like Bagan now only accept the kyat currency. Local and small businesses only accept kyat and, if you are outside of the main cities such as Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw or Yangon or the tourist destinations of Bagan or Inle Lake, you’ll be expected to pay almost exclusively in kyat. Pro-Tip: Local shops and most businesses price their goods in kyat (written as K, KS or MMK) and if they accept dollars, will give a much higher rate costing you much more. Know the official exchange rate and pay in either USD or kyat depending on which is cheaper!

Myanmar is still a cash-based economy so you’ll find it difficult to pay for meals and goods with a credit card. Traveler’s Checks are not accepted in Myanmar. Point of sale payments are rapidly expanding in Myanmar but at the moment this shouldn’t be relied upon as a payment method. Most ATMs (more on ATMs below) take accept major credit cards (such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express) but usually offer a worse exchange rate than an official money exchange and charge a usage fee (along with your local bank’s fees). Airplane tickets, hotel rooms and vehicle rentals from large national companies usually accept major credit cards.

Currency Exchange Locations and the US Dollar

Pro-Tip: Money changers in Myanmar will ONLY accept flat, crisp and unmarked United States Dollar bills. Make sure your money is in perfect condition before you arrive! Money changers will also not accept bills marked with AB or CB at the beginning of their serial number. These are the pre-2006 facelift bills.

Sounds strange doesn’t it? If your bills are folded in half (like in a conventional wallet), have any signs of wear or tear or bent corners, you won’t be able to change them in Myanmar. Fickle money changers will not accept them and you’ll be in some trouble if you don’t plan ahead of time. Money changers are notoriously strict when it comes to examining bills but fear not! There are some ways to help make money more acceptable:

  1. For Money that is marked in either pen or stamps, you can use acetone and nail polish remover to clean the bill.
  2. For money that is folded and bent, steam gets the wrinkles out.
  3. Spritzing a folded bill with starch before ironing can make a bill almost as crisp and flat as new.
  4. For bills just slightly bent, you can store them in a book between the pages and they will flatten out.

Another to keep in mind is that money changers also adjust their rates based on the bill being exchanged. For example, if the rate for exchanging a $100 bill is 1,243 kyat, the rate for a $50 bill may be 1,233 kyat and a $20 bill may be 1,223 kyat and so on.

So now that you’re ready to change your money, where can you go? Until recently, travelers could only change their money on the black market and from characters (some shady, some seemingly respectable) hanging around the markets. Thanks to recent government reforms, you should no longer change your money on the black market and instead use exchange counters officially licensed by the government. Black market exchangers now exist only in the function of giving worse rates and ripping off tourists (not to mention it’s illegal)! To get the most out of your money, steer clear of ATMs and the black market and head to official exchange locations, located in most hotels, grocery stores and near major markets. Banks offer exchange as well. Major international airports like Yangon International, Mandalay International and Nay Pyi Taw International all offer money exchange at fair rates.


ATMs, Credit Cards and Banking

It’s advised to bring US Dollars and/or Euros to Myanmar to stretch your money further, however ATMs are now frequent in the big cities in order to withdraw cash from your international bank account.  As covered above, major international credit cards (such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Maestro/Cirrus) can be used at the thousand-plus ATMs that dot the major cities of the country but they usually offer a worse exchange rate than an official money exchange. JCB of Japan and Union Pay of China cards are also accepted at certain bank ATMs. ATM usage fees (around KS 5,000) and your local bank’s fees along with the aforementioned worse rate mean it’s possible but not a highly-efficient way of stretching your money further especially if you’re traveling on a budget.

While there are no international banks currently in Myanmar (a reform process is underway along with the establishment of a new government) this is expected to change in the forthcoming years. Two of the main banks of Myanmar are CB Bank and KBZ bank. Both banks accept the major international ATM cards listed above and have many small branches located throughout the country. You can find their ATMs at malls, markets, airports, in front of restaurants and apartment buildings and throughout downtown Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.