You can’t get Myanmar Kyat outside of Myanmar so you will need US dollars, Euros or Singapore dollars to change at a currency counter upon arrival. The notes you change need to be pristine and higher denominations get a better exchange rate. We each changed $US100 each at the airport – this is the maximum per person in one go, and there are several counters to choose who all seemed to have about the same rate. We picked the one without a queue. In return we were given 100 x 1000 kyat notes (plus some small ones) which essentially were about $1 each.
Or you can just use the handy ATM’s at the airport. Contrary to popular belief, at least in the areas we traveled, ATMs were everywhere – literally – street corners, in pagodas and near hotels. They can apparently be a bit hit or miss if they work, but no one in our group reported any issues using them.
US dollars are also widely accepted in the major cities, but you will need smaller notes – $1s & $5s are most useful. Again, they need to be in near perfect condition. But you likely will need some local currency as well.
When we went to Mingun, a small village near Mandalay, the children were trying to swap their $US5 notes – which were completely useless to them as there is no bank there. For poor people, this is the difference between eating at the end of the day or not. Please be mindful they are taking US as a courtesy.
In terms of costs, if you budget $US15 a day for meals, you should do very nicely. Most of our meals in nicer restaurants and even sometimes at our hotels was costing around $US7 a meal including a soft drink or juice.
When leaving the country, the Myanmar kyat is useless, you can’t exchange it outside of Myanmar. At the airport, you need to change your money to another currency before you head through to your gate. Ideally at the first currency exchange you see. Once you go past security to your gate, its too late.
If you only have a small amount of local currency left, at the airport are a number of Red Cross Myanmar boxes (as shown in the photo) to pop small notes into for helping the vulnerable communities in Myanmar.
As an aside, wifi is also widely available in hotels, restaurants and even pagodas but at times was painfully slow or virtually unusable. To check emails it was ok, but don’t expect to be able to Skype home.