When it comes to exchanging money, Uzbekistan is the winner in shadiness.
A friend who had been to Uzbekistan before told me to bring a paper bag and some rubber bands with me to carry my Uzbekistan Soms (UZS). I laughed thinking if he was really serious.
This is roughly what $100USD worth of UZS looks like:
To explain the ridiculousness of the Uzbekistan currency, have a read of this article by Eurasianet. It’s a bit old so the numbers are off, but it’s still relevant. Here’s an excerpt:
According to Uzbekistan’s Hamkorbank, current currency regulations limit the amount of hard currency each citizen can legally buy to $2,000 per quarter; each purchase is recorded in one’s passport. Black market dealers have devised an ingenious system to gain access to lucrative hard currency, however. Sources in Uzbekistan say currency dealers recruit people (usually pensioners or the jobless) and provide them with cash to buy their quarterly hard currency quota, paying a token remuneration of $2 to $5 per person in exchange for their currency rights. Taxi drivers are sometimes contracted to find “buyers” and paid up to $30 for finding four people to sell their currency quotas.
So, basically the government believes in high inflation and having the public distrust banks.
Here’s the black market versus the official exchange rates:
And since I’ve been in Uzbekistan, the black market rate keeps going up. While the black market’s official DollarUZ.com is not available while in Uzbekistan, there is a DollarUZ.com app for your smartphone and can be updated while in the country. (Even one of my Uzbekistan hosts had no idea that this app exists!)
When in Uzbekistan, you can look for some ATMs that will dispense USD, but it’s better to bring it with you before entering the country. If you get money from the ATM in UZS, you’ll get the official rate. For the whole time I was in Uzbekistan, I saw two ATMs.
Seedy looking guys will hover around tourist spots, train stations and airport parking lots asking “Change money? Good rate!” You can even negotiate rates with these guys. Just make sure there are no police around as this is highly illegal.
Bills come mainly in 1,000UZS (14¢ black market [BM]/¢29 official) and 5,000UZS (71¢ BM/$1.42 official) notes. At one point, I did see a stack of 10,000UZS, but nobody wanted to give that out. While changing money, one guy tried to give me a stack of 500UZS (7¢ BM/14¢ official) for $20.
Another annoying thing is that since the beginning of 2017, the Uzbek government is forcing hotels and hostels to pay everything in USD. Therefore, all guests must pay their hotel bills in USD. Some establishments may or may not include the $2USD tourist tax (per person/per day). And so far, the hostels I’ve been at never have enough USD change. Some have offered to compensate by giving me back UZS but at the official rate. Thank you Uzbekistan!
Robb and I have decided to keep our UZS in a toiletry bag provided by the wonderful Turkish Airlines with a wrist strap to make it look somewhat like a wallet. Although, the zipper has struggled to close a few times.
Now, we have to learn how to count money as fast as the Uzbeks.