Myanmar shoppers exchange kyat overseas
WHEN it comes to spending money abroad Myanmar tourists have an increasing array of options. Local banks are competing to offer international credit cards, and holiday shoppers in Bangkok have now found they are able to swap kyat for baht at licensed Thai currency exchanges.
Myanmar visitors to Thailand previously had to rely on buying US dollars in advance to exchange for baht, trading kyat with Thai black market dealers or using a foreign bank card. Ma Thandar, an online clothing retailer from Yangon who regularly travels to Bangkok for shopping, was forced to deal with black market traders after running out of baht.
But things are changing. On a recent trip Ma Thandar found that licensed Thai exchange firm – SuperRich – offers kyat exchange. “I was surprised when I saw the Myanmar kyat exchange rate on the board of the SuperRich exchange centre,” she said. “It’s so convenient.”
Ma Win Myat Mon, a Myanmar fashion retailer, chooses to rely on a visa card for Bangkok shopping jaunts. “I’d never bring Myanmar kyat because I knew it was a non-convertible currency,” she said.
She was happy to learn that official Thai currency exchanges were beginning to deal in kyat, having previously had to deal with black market traders near the Myanmar embassy.
Myanmar only adopted a managed floating exchange rate in 2012, and the kyat remains a highly volatile currency. In 2015, the kyat lost over 25 percent of its value, and volatility in the US-kyat exchange rate earlier this year prompted Myanmar lenders to temporarily close their currency desks.
The volatility has not dissuaded SuperRich, however, which “sees a wave of travellers venturing to Myanmar after the historic general election in 2015”, according to a company spokesperson.
“There will be an increased demand for kyat in the future and we want to make it available for our clients,” the spokesperson told The Myanmar Times, adding that the firm had started exchanging kyat early this year.
While SuperRich anticipates more tourists travelling to Myanmar, officials at Myanmar banks said that there will also be a wave of tourists from Myanmar visiting neighouring countries.
“Lots of Myanmar people visit Thailand,” said U Soe Thein, deputy managing director of Asian Green Development Bank. “Kyat currency exchange is going to be a big market.”
Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos discussed the introduction of a single visa that would permit travel to all of them at a meeting in June. The following month labour ministers from Thailand and Myanmar discussed an agreement that would make it easier for Myanmar workers to enter Thai labour markets.
Local banks are already catering to customers looking to spend money abroad. AYA Bank, CB Bank and Myanmar Oriental Bank are among those that have recently started offering credit cards linked to the UnionPay JCB and global payment networks. JCB’s network allows Myanmar card holders to use their bank accounts in 191 countries and territories.
‘I’d never bring Myanmar kyat because I knew it was nonconvertible.’
Ma Win Myat Mon Fashion retailer
A shopper walks past a projector displaying a luxury fashion accessory advertisement at a shopping mall in Bangkok in April.