Friday, January 8, 2016

Money Matters.

Photo by Veronidae.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The trips to Thailand and Myanmar and the Caucasus are pretty happening back to back so while I was reading up the currency and money issues for Thailand and Myanmar, I decided I would just read up for the three Caucasus countries at the same time.

The one thing about traveling to developing countries is that it's sometimes a challenge getting money.  I'm so spoiled with being able to use my debit and credit card with no issue at home that I rarely even ever carry cash with me.  For this trip, I think the opportunity to use cards at ATM machines will be limited - it looks Thailand might be the only country where getting local currency from an ATM will be the norm for us.  We'll need to figure how much cash to bring for each country to pay for the local tours and cover daily expenses.  It's hard to estimate because you really don't know how much you will spend each day so I will reach out to the local guides for advice.  They usually over estimate which is fine.

In the case of Myanmar and Georgia, neither currency is traded on the international market which means we have to be sure to exchange it all back to USD, if possible, on departure.

We will definitely have some money challenges on both these trips so I'm glad I did some research before hand so I am at least aware of the issues we will face.  We will be prepared!

Here are the currencies that will touch our hands on these two trips.

Photo by fr:User:Siren
Thailand

The official currency of Thailand is the Thai Baht.  (ISO 4217 code:  THB; symbol: ‎฿)

One baht is divided into 100 satang.

Coins come in denominations of: 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht, as well as 25 and 50 satang.

Banknotes come in denominations of: 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 baht.

The most commonly used coin is the 10 baht and the most commonly used note is the 100 baht.

USD to baht exchange rate as of January, 2016: $1 = 36.33 baht.
 
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are plentiful throughout Thailand, and most will accept cards issued by any of the major international banking networks (Plus, Cirrus, etc.)

Foreign debit and credit card withdrawals from Thai ATMs incur a 150 or 180 baht fee levied by the local ATM owner, in addition to any fees added by your home financial institution.

Major credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, JCB and American Express, are readily accepted at most hotels, airlines, restaurants and upscale merchants.

While we will be carrying cash with us, I will most likely use the ATM for convenience.  We can pool together our exchanges to save on the transaction fee.

Myanmar

The official currency of Myanmar is the Kyat, pronounced "chaht"  (ISO 4217 code:  MMK; symbol: ‎K)

One kyat is divided into 100 pya.

Coins come in denominations of: 5, 10, 50, 100 kyat and 10 and 50 pyas.  The pya coins were last minted in 1991.

Banknotes come in denominations of: 5, 10,20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 kyat.  In general, tourists will use 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 kyat notes the most often.  I have a feeling we're going to be very quickly accumulating the smaller bills - we'll need to be mindful so we don't end up carrying a wad of small bills everywhere we go!

USD to kyat exchange rate as of January 1, 2016:  $1 = 1292.55 kyat

Although there are many International ATM's in towns, hotels, and at most airports that take UnionPay, Plus, Cirrus, MasterCard, and Visa Cards and issue Kyats, there is a fixed charge of 5000 Kyats (plus your own credit card charge), making small withdrawals expensive.  So for us, we'll be bringing USD with us which is what our local tour operator wants to be paid in anyways.  When I asked our tour agent what we should bring in terms of USD bills, his response was brand new, unused $100 bills. I also read that new $100 bills will also bring better exchange rates that if you were to exchange smaller bills like $10's or $20's.  Our tour will cover the cost of hotels, breakfasts, and internal transportation so all we need to cover are lunches, dinners, snacks, water, other incidentals and souvenirs.  I don't anticipate that we'll be spending much.

One thing to keep in mind and that is kyat are not an International convertible currency so whatever we want to give up, we should exchange at the airport before departure.

Azerbaijan

The official currency of Azerbaijan is the Manat.  (ISO 4217 code:  AZN ; symbol: ‎Azeri manat symbol.svg or lowercase m).

One manat is divided into 100 qəpik.

Coins come in denominations of: 1,3,5, 10, 20, and 50 qəpik. 

Banknotes come in denominations of: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 manat.

USD to manat exchange rate as of January 1, 2016:  $1 = 1.57 manat

While some major credit cards are accepted in Baku, at large hotels, restaurants and banks, Azerbaijan is generally a cash-only economy.  We will have to bring a good amount of cash with us - more brand new, unused bills.  In Uzbekistan, they willing accepted my $20's so unless I read to the contrary, I will most likely bring mainly $20's with me.  The exchange rate is almost equivalent to that of the euro!

Unfortunately, we arrive on a Sunday morning and the banks will be closed.  I typically would rather not exchange at the airport but in this case, it might be our best bet.   Plan B would be to do it at the hotel, presuming the hotel has a currency exchange desk.  Plan C would be to find an ATM that takes foreign cards.

Non-Azeri visitors are allow to bring in as much foreign currency as they want but it must be declared upon arrival.  Of course, you would be expected to leave with less foreign currency than you brought in.  This reminds me of Uzbekistan!  Hopefully, they will have English customs declaration forms at the airport and thankfully, we'll only be entering and leaving the country once as opposed to the multiple times that we had to do this in Uzbekistan.  Keeping track of how much som we had, each of the three times we exited Uzbekistan, was a nightmare!  I would rather not relive that in Azerbaijan.

From Azerbaijan, we will be heading to Georgia via train.  I don't know how easy it will be to exchange manat into lari either on the Azeri side or the Georgian side but we'll need to find out before we board the train!

Photo by George Mel - www.nbg.gov.ge.
Licensed under GFDL via Commons.
Georgia

The official currency of Georgia is the Lari.  (ISO 4217 code: GEL; symbol: ლ, ₾ ).

One lari is divided into 100 tetri.

Coins come in denominations of: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 tetri and 1 and 2 lari. 

Banknotes come in denominations of: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 lari though the 1, 2, and 200 bills are rarely used.

USD to lari exchange rate as of January 1, 2016:   $1 = 2.42 lari

ATMs are common in Georgia though of course, there will likely be a transaction fee and foreign cards not accepted. We'll be staying in Airbnb apartments in Tblisi and I'll ask our hosts for advice on where there might be an ATM that would take our US issued cards.

USD can be exchanged at special exchange shops, found throughout Tbilisi, while other currencies must be exchanged in banks.

The Georgian lari is also not exchanged on the international market so whatever we have left when we leave the country, we will need to exchange.  The challenge will be to do this before we leave Tblisi.  I've not decided not we are traveling by train or some other form of public transportation. Hopefully, the local guide we've hired can help us figure it all out.

Armenia

The official currency of Georgia is the Dram.  (ISO 4217 code:  AMD ; symbol: Armenian dram sign.svg ). One dram is divided into 100 luma though lumas are no longer used.

Coins come in denominations of: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 dram

Banknotes come in denominations of: 1000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 (hisun hazar), 100,000 dram

USD to lari exchange rate as of January 1, 2016:   $1 = 483.75 dram 

We will be staying in Yerevan the entire time we're in Armenia and ATMs are plentiful though again, we have to find one that accepts foreign cards.  We'll be staying an Airbnb apartment in Yerevan and I'll ask our host for advice on where there might be an ATM that would take our US issued cards.  We're staying just about a couple of blocks from one of the main commercials streets so I would hope there will be an ATM there that will issue us the money we need.  If not, we'll still likely have USD on hand.

I'm now beginning to contemplate how to determine how much money we need to bring with us for each country and to track usage.  The challenges never end !