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Money Matters

January 15, 2011

06.01.11 Money Matters
The official currency here is the kyat (pronounced ‘chat’) and it has no connection to any other currency in the world. So the exchange rate is a bit arbitrary to say the least. The official rate, according to the Myanamar government (which recently held very successful multi-party democratic elections by the way, as they tell us on the TV every 5 minutes or so) is six kyat to the dollar. So 6 kyat = $1. I emphasise that because the black market rate is in fact about one thousand kyat to the dollar. That is 1000 kyat = $1. I say black market, it is so open even the fairly posh hotel we stayed in for our first two nights printed all the menus in kyat, say 4000 for a beer. Then cheekily asked you to pay in dollars, working on an exchange rate of 850kyat to the dollar.
We did alright in fact, as Pete only managed to get a rate of 820kyat to the dollar that day, probably because it was the day before a public holiday (4 January is Independence Day here) and because there is still a fair smattering of tourists around. Oh, and the money lender didn’t like one of the serial numbers on a dollar note so he deducted about 1500kyat. True! They can also quite randomly decide that they don’t like the look of your money and will not accept any kind of tear or fold, plus use different rates for different denominations. So we have to keep a stock of pristine dollars about, in varying denominations. Because of course if you pay in dollars for anything (such as at the temple where the tourist visitor rate is $5 or 5500kyats) you have to pay the exact money because no-one has any change, and they don’t want to get rid of their dollars in any case.
Ditto the kyats really, because the internet caff and the taxis invariably demand exact money. The notes themselves are beautiful if a little random (the 1000 note is 2 different sizes) and often falling apart – Pete’s colleague working the delta region gets paid in kyats wrapped in plastic, they are so disintegrated.
Did I mention there are no ATM’s? And it is virtually impossible to access foreign money or accounts here. This means Pete gets paid in cash and every time he travels outside Myanmar, has to stock up.
Although on a good day you can apparently get 1200kyats to the dollar, the difference means a great variation in our cost of living. And needless to say Western goods are expensive. (No more Mini Baby-Bel for our boy, at almost a dollar a pop you can kiss them goodbye sunshine!) Rumours abound that the exchange rate will drop to as little as 600kyats to the dollar which would be disastrous not only for us, but for a lot of the projects Pete is working on. That’s a 40 – 50% drop in budget right there! And rents are already creeping up, with one business landlord demanding his rent be paid in kyats rather than the originally contracted dollars, for example.
There is also the FEC, Federal Exchange Currency, which is 1FEC = $1. I haven’t seen any of these yet but Pete’s staff are paid in FEC’s which is common practice, apparently.
All in all, a little random and a lot worrying.

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