Many pictures float around the internet of people with man-high stacks of Uzbek sum as inflation sky-rocketed. Until recently, the unwillingness of the Uzbek government to recognize the high inflation of the Uzbek sum made that no higher-denominated notes were printed as prices rose. In practice, this meant that you needed a stack of bills to pay for little things like a meal or a taxi ride.
The situation made Uzbeks into some of the fastest money-counters in the world. Getting the hang of their counting technique was a rite of passage of travel in Uzbekistan.
With the ascendancy of a new president in late 2016, a new 10 000 sum bill went into print in March 2017, alleviating some of the pains. A new 50 000 bill came in September, and 100 000 sum is in print as well.
Nowadays, you can just carry a wallet instead of a backpack.
On the 5th of September 2017, the Uzbek government took the momentous step of abolishing the currency black market, by raising the official rate of the Uzbek sum against the dollar from the official rate of 4210 sum/$ to 8100 sum/$, above the black market rate. At the same time, big fines were levied against those still exchanging on the black market.
In short, the black market no longer exists for tourists. You can simply and easily exchange your money at the bank. Actually, you have to.
Bringing in money
We previously suggested to bring at least most of the money you plan to spend with you. We don’t do so anymore since people don’t like to do that. So don’t bring any money if it makes you feel unsafe. There are ATM’s, but they don’t always work and it might take some time to find one (see below).
If you are ok with traveling with cash in your pocket, it will save you some time running around the city trying to find a working ATM.
Previously, we recommended you brought US dollars, because they commanded a premium on the black market versus other currencies.
Since you can now easily exchange at the bank at a fair and official rate, you can also bring Euros, British pounds and Japanese Yen. These are the 4 currencies we have so far seen advertised in banks.
- Bring your passport
- Make sure your money is crisp and clean
- Bank opening hours are 9 to 18 Monday to Saturday
- You can exchange money in the airport, but not at the border (officially). There are no exchange offices yet, only banks can exchange money.
- Banks now exchange foreign money into sum, as well as the other way around.
Previously, when entering Uzbekistan, you had to declare all money you had on you. Since 2018, this is no longer necessary.
Changing sum back to USD/EUR/…
It’s difficult to exchange Uzbek sum outside of Uzbekistan. You can change sum back to USD in a bank, but changing sum back at the border is still an issue.
We have confirmation it is possible at the Dostyk border between Andijan and Osh at normal bank rates. We have not had confirmation yet it is possible at the airport or at other border crossings.
In Osh, near the bazaar, you can also get rid of your sum. On the train to Kazakhstan you can change sum to tenge at a decent rate. More places to exchange sum outside of Uzbekistan are welcome if you find them.
Paying for hotels
There was some confusion about paying for hotels in 2017, as the black market was abolished. You could only pay in som, or only in dollar. This now seems to be resolved and you can pay in either, as you prefer.
Paying with credit cards is possible in a few high-end hotels and restaurants in Tashkent, where you can also get cash advances on your card. We’re unsure if Mastercard or Visa is more widely accepted, it depends who you talk to. 3% commission is normal.
ATM cash withdrawal
ATM’s in Uzbekistan dispense Uzbek sum, with some also barfing US dollars. Due to lack of money they sometimes don’t work properly, and outside of Tashkent, there are not that many to begin with. So even though you will likely be able to take money out of an ATM, it is safest not to have to rely on them too much.
There is the possibility to withdraw dollars in the ATMs of luxury hotels. For instance in Tashkent the Grand Mir hotel, Uzbekistan hotel, Radisson and other 5-star hotels all offer this option. You can also withdraw dollars in the banks (especially outside of Tashkent) but it takes more time/paperwork and commission.
So there is always a way to get more money if you need it, but it’s good not to be dependent. All cash machines in town might be out of money, your card could be refused, or you may have to wait in line for hours.
If you are wondering how much money you should take with you to Uzbekistan, check out the travel budget page.