© Becky in Burma (photo taken at Central Bank w/ iPod...so sorry for crap resolution!)
This is huge news. Really. It is. There are now around 36 ATMs in Myanmar that allow you to put your foreign plastic in the machine, enter your pin, and instantly receive kyat (Myanmar kyat, the money used here).
This hasn't happened before. Yesterday was the first day - EVER - that you could. MasterCard flew into Yangon on Obama's shirt tails and there you have it: a way to get cash! YES!
This is going to revolutionize the lives of every person living here who has a foreign bank account. Well, if you have MasterCard. Thankfully, I do.
Despite sanctions that my country still hasn't lifted on Myanmar, I could access an ATM today and magically get cash. (Still can't buy anything online using PayPal, though!)
This is the deal: because Myanmar has been a cash economy, even the husband's salary was paid in cash. This actually helped us save money because we only had the amount we were given on pay day to last us the rest of the month...unless we had spare US dollars in pristine perfect-perfect-no-wrinkles-no-folds condition that we could exchange for kyat.
I even know some people have had to make trips to, oh, say Bangkok (rough life!) just to stock up on US dollars so they could come back to Myanmar and have money (after being exchanged to kyat).
In fact, it was just the other week that I told the husband that I might have to make an emergency run like that; the problem was rectified without me booking a ticket to Bangkok. (Darn it! Could've done with a weekend away!)
According to this article in Myanmar Times, the English newspaper in Myanmar, Central Bank (CB) meets international banking standards, so MasterCard decided to allow banking here. MasterCard said they're discussing working with other Myanmar banks as well and hope to make announcements soon. At the moment, only MasterCard, Cirrus, or Maestro is accepted and only at Central Bank branches.
(Note to travelers: there are two Central Bank ATMs at the international airport in Yangon, so you should be able to get cash out upon arrival; still, best to have a load of US dollars with you when you come in. Remember that they need to be crisp and perfect with no tears, no folds, no nothing!)
Apparently, things are changing so quickly, that it seems the husband may not be getting paid in cash anymore. We shall see.
All sorts of rumors are floating around Yangon. Coca Cola now officially sells its products in Myanmar (as of October). I've been told that if Coca Cola sells well here, it's sort of a good way for marketers to discover whether American-based fast food restaurants would be successful as well. Murmurs about a KFC, Burger King, or McDonalds opening here abound. Even Starbucks. You can read more about that here on my friend, Wilson Blades, blog.
I'm not a fan of fast food and I don't miss KFC, Burger King, etc. There are PLENTY of places to get GREAT coffee in Yangon; still, I would feel happy if Starbucks opened. I can't deny it. I really miss my Venti skinny caramel macchiatos.
(Hello: Starbucks? Are you out there? Hi! I'm from the Pacific Northwest. You know. The Home of Starbucks. Yeah, well, I live in Myanmar. What? You've never heard of...? Oh. Sorry. Burma. I live in Burma. Yeah, yeah. Okay. So, that's where I live and it would be really, really nice if you could do me a super-duper big favor and bring Starbucks to Myanmar. Oh. And if you do come, could you do me another huge favor? Right. Could you make sure you offer sugar free syrup for the coffees, too? They don't have the sugar free syrups in Thailand, I don't think. Great. Thanks! Ta!)
Oh, sorry. I digressed. A little hopeful plea to Starbucks. Yes, I know. I'm bad. (Coffee Circles and Ananda Coffee and Cafe D' Angel and Acacia: I promise you I will never stop going to get coffee from you, even if Starbucks comes!)
Like Dylan says, "The times, they are a changin'." (For better or worse.)