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MyanmarTravel.Info  - amigo tour, myanmar travel, myanmar travels, myanmar tour, myanmar tours, myanmar tour operator, myanmar tour guideMoney

Currency

Myanmar uses three currencies, two of which are legal tender for everyone, one of which Burmese citizens need a licence to use. All three currencies are strongly linked to the US dollar and the Japanese yen.

Kyat

The first is the everyday national currency, called kyat (pronounced chat) and divided into 100 pyas with a confusing collection of coins that is rarely seen anymore because the kyat has decreased in value so much over the last few years.
At present the following kyat banknotes were in use:K1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 45, 50, 90, 100, 200 and 500. Towards the end of 1998 the government announced it would soon introduce a much-needed K1000 note. To discourage the black market, K50 andK100 notes were demonetised in the 1960s, and K25, K35 and K75 notes underwent a similar fate in 1987; unscrupulous money-dealers occasionally try to foist these older bills on unsuspecting visitors. Make sure that any K59 or K100 bills you're offered are labelled Central Bank of Myanmar, rather than Union of Burma Bank. In general, any note reading Myanmar rather than Burma should be OK. Exceptions are the K45 and K90 notes, both of which bear Union of Burma Bank but are OK. To make it more confusing, K1 and K5 notes come in both Union of Burma and Central Bank of Myanmar versions, and both are legal tender.

A sum of 100,000 is called thein in Burmese, so K100,000 is thein kyat; the Indian term lakh (100,000) is also common.

Foreign Exchage Certificates

As soon as you exit the immigration checkpoint at Yangon international airport you're supposed to stop at a counter and exchange US$300 for 300 FECs- Myanmar's second legal currency. Printed in China, these Monopoly-like notes issued by the Central Bank of Myanmar ' for the convenience of tourists visiting Myanmar ' come in denominations equivalent to US$1, 5, 10 and 20.

Payment for FECs is accepted in US dollars in cash form, British pounds sterling, Australian dollars, Canadian dollars, Swiss france, French francs, German marks and Japanese yen, or in the form of travellers cheques in Us dollars or British pounds only. Credit cards may also be used to purchase FECs in Yangon, but not at the airport. Note that buying FECs with travellers cheques will cost US$2 commission for each cheque exchanged. Only travellers cheques issued by the following banks are accepted in Myanmar; MasterCard, American Express (Amex), Bank of America, National Westminster Bank, First National CitiBank, Swiss Bankers and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

One US dollar always equals one FEC; the rate for other currencies fluctuates according to dollar variance. Along with the FECs you'll also receive a Foreign Exchange Certificate Voucher, which you'll only need to save if you plan to convert more than US$300 at the official rate. Reconversion of FEC to US dollars or British pounds sterling is legal only for conversions in excess of US$300 and only when accompanied by the FEC voucher. At least that's the official story. In everyday practice you can usually exchange surplus FEC back into US dollars at hotels in Mandalay and Yangon, as long as they have enough US dollars on hand. Other currencies? Forget it.From a reader:

Keep the cleanest and crispest FECs for your departure tax. A Thai Airways International employee refused to accept one of our FEC notes beacuse it was slightly soiled.

FECs can be spent anywhere in Myanmar. No special licence or permit is necessary for a citizen of Myanmar to accept FECs; this is not the case for US dollars. Officially approved hotel rooms, airlines, Myanma Railways (some stations) and larger souvenir shops require payment either in US dollars or FECs is not something necessarily to avoid, since they can be used to pay your hotel costs.

FECs can also be exchanged for kyat - at the free-market rate - at shops or from moneychangers that accept FEC. If you run out FECs while on the road, MIT is quite happy to sell you more. FECs may also be purchased at the Central Bank of Myanmar and the Foreign Trade Bank in Yangon and at state-owned hotels.

On the other hand, FECs aren't absolutely necessary for Myanmar travel, and if you can get away without having to purchase them you might as well. The staff at the FEC exchange booth at Yangon airport will usually permit couples to exchange US$300 for both persons rather than US$300 each. Some individuals have also got away with buying less than the US$300 minimum - this usually involves the offering of a small 'present' to the staff behind the exchange counter.
This entire complicated system revolves around the desire of virtually every Burmese person - and of course the government - to get their hands on hard currency, commonly referred to as FE (foreign exchange, pronouced like one word, effee).

If, as we' ve heard may happen soon, the government banishes FECs and gose to a straight exchange rate,none of this will matter anymore.

US Dollars

The FE most desired is the US dollar, Myanmar's third currency - and the most basic to the country's overall economy. Cash dollars can legally be used only at establishments possessing a licence to accept US dollars. In reality all merchants are happy to take them. They can also be used to exchange for kyat from licensed money changers or on the black market.

Exchange Rates

With the FEC system in place, it's quite rare and plain stupid - for any foreign visitor to exchange money at the ridiculously low official exchange rate. Since it's legal for Burmese to posses FECs without any special permit (not so for US dollars, which require a licence issued by the government), the visitor no longer needs to consider the official exchange rate and can instead concentrate on getting the best free or black market rate.

This means the old whisky-and-cigarette scheme - buying a bottle of Johnny Walker scotch and a carton of 555s at Bangkok airport's duty - free shop to sell for free-market kyat - is no longer if you do it! These items are usually less expensive in Yangon than in Bangkok.

One can now choose to change either FECs or US dollars for currency at the freemarket rate. Shops, hotels and even permanent moneychangers make FEC exchanges quite legally. Since both FECs and kyat are legal tender for Burmese citizens as well as foreigners, it stands to reason that the currencyholder may trade back and forth.

Only foreign investors doing business in Myanmar need worry about the exchange rate - certain types of investment require a portion of the capital to be converted at official currency exchanges, though even for these the gorvenment usually compromises at a higher-than-official rate (usually somewhere around K100 to the dollar).

Where the official rate really comes into play is with regard to joint ventures between the government and foreign investor. For example, Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd, an army-owned company, can contribute 'equal' capital to a joint venture and gain 50% voting rights, while in reality investing only US$55,000 for every US$1 million contributed by the foreign investor (ie US$1 million figured at the official K5.5 rate is only worth US$55,000 in real-world,K 100-to-US$1 purchasing ratios).

For the record, the official government exchange rate against the US dollar at the time of writing - established by the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank - was K6.25. Again, these rates are basically meaningless, since no visitor with any sense changes foreign currency for 'official' kyat.

The actual free-market rate, however, as posted at licensed moneychanges and bandied about among street changers, ran closer to:

These rates vary from day to day, sometimes by as muck as K50 per dollar, so you need to keep tabs on the rate if you have enough cash on hand to wait for an optimum rate. The rate is usually best in Yangon - typically 5% to 10% higher than upcountry.

Note that it is illegal to bring kyat into the country.

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