Myanmar’s Obsession With Clean Cash | The New York Times

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I’m Thomas Fuller, and I need cash. I’ve reported here in Myanmar dozens
of times, and know that converting to kyat the local currency,
can be a journey in itself. This one you can’t change?>>No change.>>You can’t change this for me?>>No.
>>The problem with this bill appears to be this little tear. In the top. They weren’t as bothered
with the writing, but there’s also a crease in the bill.>>Basically,
the bills need to look brand new. And in Myanmar, they take that
requirement very literally. If you can’t get your hands
on these kinds of bills, you could be in trouble.>>This one is new, perfect. But because it was
folded they said no.>>Yes.
>>Seven pounds [INAUDIBLE] jacket.>>When I left Australia I
bought perfect $100 bills. But when I went to the bank they
refused to take it because it had a tiny little fold on the corner.>>After I gave them
my perfect money, they gave me back a wadded up brown
piece of money I couldn’t even read. It looked like they got it off
the floor or out of the trash or something. It was. I didn’t even really wanna touch it.>>A bit of a double standard. But as Myanmar struggles
to join the global economy, I think the fussiness may
hinder more than help. Ask whose media company
generates a lot of cash.>>We have 18 people just
to count the cash, go and pick up cash, go and
pay cash to someone somewhere. In our previous office building,
which was not open like this, it was a closed room,
all this mold, fungus, odor, that was just coming out,
just was making them sick. So we had to put in super powerful
exhaust fans, move them into a bigger room so that there
wouldn’t be this congested smell, dampening the whole room.>>Right.
>>This is the smell of money.>>Smell of money. Yes.>>So why do the Burmese care so
much about perfect bills. I tried calling the central bank,
but they said no one could
answer our questions. I wonder if Uton Lewin, the deputy chairman of Myanmar’s
largest commercial bank has an idea.>>When we ship this
currency abroad, to deposit at these foreign banks,
particularly in Singapore. They always examine, and sometimes it’s oh no you’re
this poor, you need to discern. We won’t give you the 100% now. So it’s not an American bank,
because we under sanction. So the government banks said oh, we can only accept buffet bill,
buffet bill. No more, because otherwise
we are going to lose.>>Okay, but I still need a place
to exchange my dirty money. At this point, it seems like
Bogyoke Market is my best bet. It’s a rabbit warren of
checkers games, tea stalls, and money changers. Someone might be willing
to take a chance.>>No change.>>You can’t change this for me? Because of the rip. Oh. Strike one. This one you can’t change? Strike two. Oh, well, nevermind. Okay. Finally, someone bites. [INAUDIBLE]
>>That’s a different rate for smaller notes. So I give you new notes and
you give me. It’s like stained with blood or
something. Thanks. Back in Bogyoke Market, a freelance
money exchanger approaches me to take the last of my cash. What do you got?
What’s your rate?>>1,050.>>So it’s about a 15%-
>>Yeah.>>Cut that I have to take.>>Yeah. I give you.>>Because, but why,
what’s the problem?>>This is not right.>>It’s the writing on this bill.>>Yeah.>>So I gave you that bill, so
these bills are kind of old?>>But no problem!>>No problem, right.>>[INAUDIBLE] no problem! Okay, this one is ripped here. That’s okay?>>[INAUDIBLE]
no problem.>>All right, thanks. It’s a bum deal but
at this point, I’ll take it. So there you have it. If you’re traveling to Myanmar make
sure to bring along a pristine stack of US dollar bills. Tell us what you think about it. We’d love to see your comments. There’s also an underground
market for chat notes. Freshly minted,
which you can obtain for a price. Follow the link to that story. There’s also a New York Times
investigation into the heroin heartland in Myanmar. Opium country in
Southern Shan State. There’s a link for that, too.


  1. not only in Myanmar, also in Peru. The currency exchangers in Lima don't take ripped dollars. so I guess it is common in some countries that they don't take it.

  2. Sounds like there is a big potential for arbitrage here: buy creased dollars for a discount, bring them to the US and get the full value back.

    The bigger question is why the mentioned Singaporean bank won't accept imperfect notes. That's the lead that the reporter should have followed.

  3. This is not the only place, though they take it to an extreme. I ran into the same thing in India and Vietnam.

  4. Yes, they do that. I had brand new 100 bills and were still offered less rate because on some bills the fresh ink was was kind of smudged. Whatever you do, do not fold your bills, get uncirculated bills and if possible only in 100 nominations. Anything else you will get lower rate

  5. So as a solution to this problem…I would worry about losing or being robbed of wads of pristine hundreds…can you withdraw Burmese cash with debit cards or use travelers cheques?

  6. I heard that showing ones blooming genitalia when paying is not allowed neither. These Myanmarians sure seem like fuzzy people.

  7. Ohh yes . I'm used to it already .. Like I'm literally scared to own an imperfect note since it could be useless and wasted in my country ..

  8. Obama quarreled with the whole world because of support of the anti-Russian rhetoric. Stop of Obama Ukraine was tired of war.

  9. I had this same problem a few months ago. However the ATMs at the airport and at large western hotels (e.g. Sule Shangri La) work to provide local funds – but some are limited to US$ 150/day. If you venture out of Yangon, forget about ATMs and make sure your funds are not only pristine, but also the newest issued notes (preferably in US$ 100 denominations – with the blue stripe)

  10. New York Times – this story makes you look naïve. Many countries follow the same policy, and not just with US currency. Furthermore, many countries offer different rates for Benjamins than Jefferson, Lincoln or Washington notes. Worse for some travelers is many locations only will accept the latest series of any note.

  11. We've experienced similar issues when visiting China. Best to bring brand new $20 or $50 bills. Last time we were there (10+ years ago) they didn't seem to like $100 bills.

  12. Same thing in New York: once I went to New York with some very old 100 notes and many small stores where I tried to buy something they were not accepted. Only big stores accepted. I went to currency exchange stores and asked what was wrong with my 100 dollar bills and they told me that the only problem was that the notes were very, very old. Late I discovered that maybe these notes were out of circulation for the last 30 years. Funny.

  13. The red color that you said looked like blood on the money is most likely qat (betel nut) that a lot of the men like to chew up and spit out. Presumably quite a bit of it gets on the bills.

  14. Its interesting but super funny as well. It was surprising to see how people care about bank notes in that part of world!

  15. This isn't remotely specific to Myanmar. I've encountered this in a number of third world countries on several continents. It never stops being frustrating. Just use ATMs to get local currency and avoid this insane hassle.

  16. IT'S THE SAME all over the region not just Myanmar, Thailand , Cambodia Laos, etc etc etc…    and it's not just Dollars, its Sterling and Euros too.

    ONE of the worst places to get ripped off for money (in my experience) is Cambodia…..
    ….THERE – many people and places will not accept their own indigenous currency from foreigners and insist on Dollars or Sterling (but mainly Dollars). This can lead to violent and life-threatening situations. Especially if you have used a service and have no foreign currency on you, expecting to pay in Local rag-notes or coins.

    PROBLEM: The Government, Banks and Police are Ultra Corrupt so don't go looking for their help or you could end up in officially sanctioned theft which you will have to buy your way out of.
    SOLUTION:  Stay in one place for a while. Make friends with some sincerely amiable locals or ex-patriots and take your time to find a recommended back street dealer.
    Also scrutinize the bills at your own bank at home (as show) before you set sail.
    GOOD LUCK.  😉

  17. this transaction style is also happen in the Philippines. Most money changers do not accept bills that is not new. The exchange rate is lower on lower bills compared to a $100 bill.

  18. Same thing down here in Indonesia. They even only accept bills with a certain serial number. If your bills happens to be an old bill (old serial number) chances are you won't be able to exchange it.

  19. I was there a few months ago. I had brought some crisp 20s from the U.S. and they were accepted fine. More key was the fact I mostly used the ATMs there to get local cash. No having to deal w crisp US bills & also a better exchange rate 🙂

  20. Bitcoin or any cryptocurrency can help with this problem. It is a shame we are putting, so much faith in paper bills that the Fed simply prints.

  21. This is an exaggeration, It really isn't that bad. Also, Myanmar is an amazing place and the people are super nice, highly recommended.

  22. Cambodia is the same struggle. I've learned over the years to check every bill I get back from sellers. They like try to pawn off old tattered bills on expats and tourists.

  23. Well… I didn't face same situation in mainland China. As far as I'm concerned, all foreign banknotes have their standard to be received: US dollars are ranked level 4, which tolerates all tears, rips, crisps, marks. Singaporean dollars and Japanese Yen are all ranked level 1, which is at the opposite of mentioned level 4 : no rips, no marks(especially for Singaporean dollars, any marked notes lose their value immdiately once being marked, from MAS).
    Why Singapore has that strict rule when it comes to receiving foreign banknotes??? Maybe it's better to send them to a Chinese bank to do the exchange.

  24. Same type of situation in India, here the customers don't want the crumpled notes but will pay the shopkeepers the dirty old crumpled notes. But here banks accept the old dirty bills. Here people accept folded notes.

  25. I was born and raised in Yangon (Rangoon) , Myanmar (Burma).
    I know this is crazy but when everyone's in it (all people in Myanmar), I can't be the odd one out.
    Yes, smaller denomination are less valuable to Myanmar. Now the money changers only accept the newly pressed blue inked $100 bills.

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  27. Lol to get pay back i would give them a fake note its perfect fake money in exhcnage for real money that would be my pay back

  28. Since all of these countries are under communist rule. In their sight they try to be uppety by not
    Taking perfect dollars.

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