Turkmenistan’s currency is the Turkmenistani manat. Due to the isolated nature of the country, there are few working international banking services in the country. It is best to take all the money you expect to spend with you into the country.
Dollars are king
Dollars are king in Turkmenistan. Take plenty with you. You cannot pay with dollar in shops or restaurants, but you will be asked to pay with them in hotels, certain tourist sights and for your tour operator. You cannot exchange manat outside of Turkmenistan, so only exchange what you intend to use, as it is impossible to exchange manat back into dollar inside Turkmenistan.
Be sure to take lots of 1$ bills. Very handy to pay for little things when you just landed/crossed the border and haven’t had the opportunity to exchange yet. Also remember, when entering Turkmenistan you need to pay 13$ entry tax. Good if you can pay with correct change.
The rate of manat is pegged at 3.50 manat for 1 dollar. So 100 dollar = 350 manat. Banks have limited opening hours and are closed on Sunday, but there is no other legal currency exchange.
However, due to currency controls, a black market has sprung up with higher rates against the dollar than what banks offer. We are following up on the black market rate in this forum topic.
Be aware that exchanging money on the black market is deemed illegal by the government. You can find money exchange easiest on the bazaar. For risk-free exchange, ask your tour operator or hotel to do it for you.
Watch out for scammers!
Make sure you get rid of your manat before you leave the country, it is very difficult to exchange it once outside of Turkmenistan. Questions and reports are welcome in the exchanging manat outside of Turkmenistan forum thread.
In 2013, the US introduced new 100$ bills that look more blue than green. These are the only 100$ bills accepted in Turkmenistan; don’t arrive with older 100$ bills. Make sure they are in good-as-new, crisp condition. Smaller denominations should also be in crisp condition, but there are no new bills to worry about, any bill is fine.
If you are carrying euros, you should also be able to find someone willing to give you a good rate. Since the euro fluctuates against the dollar, this rate is not fixed. But don’t carry euros.
Turkmenistan is in serious economic trouble. Its solution is to go cash-free as much as possible, making exchanging money more difficult, but at the same time, pushing up exchange rates for dollars on the black market. Eurasianet has the details.
Due to the government’s war on smoking, cigarettes have started commanding a premium. It is worth taking them as gifts even if you do not smoke yourself, as a pack of cigarettes now costs around 70 manat in Turkmenistan, which is serious money for locals.
You can get things moving in the right direction with border guards, police men, … by handing out some cigarettes. You can even use them to pay for small things like a haircut or a meal. Just like prison, yes, and the comparison is not that far-fetched.
Note that the legal maximum number of cigarettes you are allowed to import into Turkmenistan is 2 sealed packs, or 40 cigarettes, and another open packet with maximum 17 cigarettes. Some reports indicate no one is counting, while others have reported the opposite.
By the way: don’t smoke in public. Your experiences are welcome in the Turkmenistan cigarettes forum thread.
In 2009, to counter hyperinflation, a new currency was introduced with a price of 5000 old manat for 1 new manat. Occasionally someone still says things like: “20 000 manat for these tomatoes!” Divide by 5000.
Credit and debit cards, money transfers
There are a few hotels and banks in Turkmenistan where you can use a Visa card to pay or take out money. Seeing the difference with the black market, this is often a bad idea.
Mastercard and Maestro are practically useless, save for the Nissa hotel in Ashgabat. Most ATMs are only of use to locals and do not accept foreign cards.
However, one decent option is to get a cash advance on a credit card from a bank, in dollars. This way you can avoid the difference with the manat’s black market value.
Banks that might be able to do this are Vnechecomombank for Visa, and Senagat for Mastercard.
Can money be transferred in and out of the country by a foreigner? We’re not sure, but Western Union is present in the country.