The deal with US dollars in Myanmar – [10 sleeps to go!]

Overseas travel always involves currency exchange at some point, but if you’re like me and are hitting Myanmar for the first time, you might be surprised by the strict standards Myanmar places on currency exchange.

Travel wallet I bought specifically to carry our US dollars in Myanmar.
Travel wallet I bought specifically to carry our US dollars in Myanmar.

Whilst preparing for our upcoming trip, I did a lot of research on the currency exchange situation in Burma because there was so much new information coming to hand.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Take US dollars. I’ve read that Euros can also be used sometimes, but the overwhelming consensus is US dollars are easier. We’ll be taking US dollars when we go. Australian dollars are useless.
  • Make sure the notes are pristine – no spots, creases, folds, tears or marks of any kind. Don’t store them in your wallet if it will fold them either; invest in a good travel wallet like a did which allows you to store your money without folding it.
  • Take US dollars that are printed after 2006.
  • Make sure your US dollars do not have serial numbers that contain AB, CB or BC.

Be aware that exchanging large amounts of Australian dollars for absolutely pristine US dollars might seem a daunting task at first for some exchange counters. I was met by a short tempered lady at the post office I visited first, but I think that was more to do with her misunderstanding of why the standards were so strict (it was also impossibly busy in there too!). My bank was much more helpful and while they couldn’t guarantee they would be able to exchange a large amount all at once, they explained that they would do all they could to get me the amount I required.

Inside of my nice bright wallet.
Inside of my nice bright wallet.

None of my wallets are suitable to carry US currency for Myanmar, as they all fold the notes at some point. Other bloggers have even suggested carrying US currency between the pages of books to keep the notes flat. I bought a travel wallet like the one in the photos for a friend of mine and thought they were such a good idea that I wanted one for myself. Yes, it’s a bit bigger than your average wallet, but it’s more than capable of storing notes without folding them. Sections for traveler’s cheques, passports and other travel documents, as well as a zip pocket and extra sleeves make it a handy little addition to my backpack. And the whole thing zips shut securely! Excellent. I’m also a fan of bright colours… they make it harder to misplace things!

Kate Talks Travel reported in October 2012 that it was no longer necessary to exchange your US dollars for the local Kyat on the black market, as legitimate exchange counters were now offering comparable exchange rates to that found on the black martket, minus the risk. Kevin Revolinski reported in February 2013 that this was indeed the case. One of my biggest worries was the risks involved with exchanging money on the black market. I’m now far more relaxed since hearing that situation has changed.

The situation in Myanmar can change so quickly, and lately its been on the trend of changing for the better. Cirrus (affiliated with MasterCard) is now reported to be setting up facilities in Myanmar. A great convenience for future travelers, but it also further opens the door to Myanmar. All reports say the time to visit is now – before mass tourism takes hold.

Have you traveled to Myanmar recently? How was your money changing experience? Have you visited other countries with strict standards on what notes and the quality of currency that can be exchanged (surely Myanmar cannot be the only one!)?

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2 thoughts on “The deal with US dollars in Myanmar – [10 sleeps to go!]

  1. I’ll be heading to Myanmar at the end of April and have heard exactly the same things (especially from my sister who just went). Good idea on using the travel wallet, I completely assumed my normal long wallet would fit it, and then remembered US dollars are bigger than what my wallet can usually accommodate. Happy travels! and as they say in Myanmar Mingalabar!

    1. Mingalaba!
      How exciting! My partner and I will be there at the start of April, before we head into Thailand for Songkran. Where in Myanmar are you visiting?
      I have a trusty little cheap wallet that I’ve used on past trips, but that won’t cut it for Myanmar and the US dollars. My friends raved about their travel wallets, so I decided it would be a worthy investment!

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