Myanmar currency is based on kyat and pya. The basic unit is kyat, with one kyat divided into 100 pyas.
There are a number of different Myanmar currency notes and coins circulating in Myanmar. Myanmar kyat currency notes currently in used are one kyat, five kyat, ten kyat, 20 kyat, 50 kyat, 100 kyat, 200 kyat, 500 kyat and 1,000 kyat notes. For coins, officially there are one pya, five pya, ten pya, 25 pya (one mat), 50 pya (ngar mu), one kyat, five kyat, ten kyat, 50 kyat and 100 kyat coins. Although coins are officially in used, very few coins are actually produced and there is almost no use of coins in Myanmar.
One thing that strikes you when you arrived to Myanmar is the old, dirty and worn out currency notes. Most small value kyat notes are very old, extremely dirty and totally worn out with a lot of tears. One kyat and five kyat notes see no use in Myanmar right now and also extremely difficult to find, even an old dirty one. Ten kyat notes are usually in high demand but very difficult to find enough. 50 kyat and 100 kyat also suffer the same shortage as 10 kyat but not as severe. Some new 200 kyat notes are occasionally seen in the market. Main currency notes in used are 500 kyat and 1000 kyat notes, and new 500 and 1,000 kyat notes are routine found in the market.
Coins are extremely rare to find in Myanmar. The rarity of coins makes it a collector’s item as many street vendors in Yangon try to sell these coins and old kyat notes to foreigners.
As the largest currency in Myanmar is 1,000 kyat note, which is roughly equivalent to US$ 1, it is very inconvenient to buy expensive things in Myanmar. One trip to a supermarket will usually cost you at around 20,000 to 30,000 kyat (or more depending on what and how many you buy). Usually, Myanmar people carry larger bags as wallets cannot carry more than a few thousands kyat. There is no credit card or debit card in Myanmar and checks are not usually accepted in all stores and shops. The only way to buy things in Myanmar is to carry a large bag full of one thousand kyat notes. To buy a car or a land, you will have to carry a large bag full of currency notes, and it will take eternity to count all the money. Sometimes business people carry money in large plastic or cloth bags, a kind of bags used to carry things in supermarkets or in shops.
To solve the problem of shortage of small notes, shops and restaurants in Myanmar invented their own currency system. Instead of giving you a change in small currency notes (which most of the shops don’t have enough), the buyer is given a small item as a change. Usually, this is either a cigarette or a sweet. This is quite annoying as you are not buying any of these, but in most cases, the buyer does not have other choice. Either you take it or you don’t get your change.
There is no satisfactory explanation for not producing enough small notes by the Central Bank of Myanmar, but the most possible reason might be the high cost of producing small currency notes. Thus, most new kyat notes are 500 and 1,000 kyat notes.
Myanmar government used to produce strange kyat notes in strange denomination. During the socialist era, the central bank produced15 kyat, 25 kyat, 35 kyat, 45 kyat, 75 kyat and 90 kyat notes. Yes it is weird, but it was true. Eventually, they were removed from circulation.
During socialist era, the government outlawed some Myanmar kyat notes from circulation. The first time was in 1985. On November 10, the socialist government at that time declared, without prior warning, the 50 kyat and 100 kyat notes illegal! The whole country was shocked. Eventually, the government let the people exchange these notes with newly introduced 15 kyat, 35 kyat and 75 kyat notes. However, only two years after the introduction of these new notes, they were outlawed again, without warning – this time 25 kyat, 35 kyat and 75 kyat notes. In contrast to the first event, no exchange of money was offered, and many people had lost hundreds of thousands of kyat (at that time the exchange rate was only 40 kyat per US$). A new notes, 45 kyat and 90 kyat notes were introduced again.
The illegalization of these notes eventually led to the popular uprising of 1988 and eventual fall down of the socialist government. After that, no kyat note was declared illegal.
15 kyat, 45 kyat and 90 kyat notes were eventually removed from circulation slowly. 20 kyat, 50 kyat and 100 kyat notes were introduced again. Eventually, 200 kyat, 500 kyat and 1,000 kyat notes were introduced. For last 2 to 3 years, there have been rumors of 5,000 kyat notes among the population but no such bank notes are introduced so far.