Forget your wallet, bring a backpack when carrying Uzbekistan money …

In Uzbekistan, using money is actually a full contact sport and something of a ritual here as the largest note is 1000 Sum and is equal to around $0.37 USD. So you inevitably end up feeling extremely rich with wads of cash stashed in your bag. Due to a number of economic and political factors (which I won’t go into), walking around will millions of som (pronounced “Soom”) is not an uncommon concurrence. When the exchange rate vary between 2066 and 2800 som per 1 USD, you’ll find that converting 200$USD will require a dollar bill counter. When buying stuff there, you will have a lot of som … like a lot. Your restaurant bills could range from 25000 – 65000 som ($10 – $25 USD), and if you’re spending $25USD on dinner, you will have a feast.

  • Personally, I used to laugh at Trinidadian money as Monopoly money, since we have so many colours, but Uzbek money takes it to another level. It really is like monopoly money and has about the same value. (No offense meant to my Uzbek friends)

Officially, one USD will get you 2066 som, on the black market, you’ll get about 2600-2800 to the US dollar. (BTW changing money outside of the bank is illegal – so while the governmental rate is financial rape, it will also ensure you don’t get tossed in jail. Personally, I only changed money at the official rate : ONCE) The rest of the time, I could have changed money with different sorts of people in different sorts of places.)

Changing money in Uzbekistan is like being in a drug deal. Everything is under the table and feels shady, but everyone does it – but you do have be very careful – Trinidadians don’t have consular representation and Canada only has an honorary consul. As for getting your money changed …

  1. You cannot trust anybody at the border to give you the correct exchange rate. They practically halved it on my first asking. You need to educate yourself.
  2. The difference between official and black market rates is dramatic, the illegal rate being some 35% – 40% higher.

Anyway, back to the backpacks of money. When you change 100$ or more, it means that depending on your negotiating skills, you’ll be handed over stacks of 1000 som notes. Think I’m kidding … we changed 200$USD and ended up with this …

Finding money changers, is not an issue at all. Knowing who to trust, is definitely an issue. Unofficial money changers haunt city bazaars and it is rare to pass the gates without hearing, “Dochka, dochka, dollar?” (Dochka means daughter and along with ‘sister’ and, strangely, ‘senora’, is a standard way to claim the attention of a strange woman). The standard tourist joke is that if you’re changing more than US$100, bring a backpack. We stopped trying to figure out how much money we had and basically used a “stack” to mean 100,000 som. Prices were estimated in figures like 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 of a stack.

Here is a sample dialog from my first day at the Tashkent Palace hotel … you’ll get the idea

  • Rishi: Do you have ATM machines here?
  • Receptionist: Yes, sir!
  • Rishi: Can I use my Visa here?
  • Receptionist: Yes, sir! (I wander off to the ATM … but it doesn’t give money)
  • Rishi: Excuse me, but the ATM does not work! It won’t give me Som. It will give me USD though.
  • Receptionist: Yes, sir! The ATM works. But there is no cash now! But you can take USD to the currency exchange (points another counter to me) and they will change the USD.
  • Rishi : @$!$~~$$$

Here are a couple tips from my experience

  • If you’re staying for less than 7 days, bring about $1000 USD. This will pay for all your hotels and allow you to convert into som, so that you can negotiate for taxis and buy food. A tour operator like Advantours or Stantours will only take cash for your reservations. With the high levels of inflation, dollars are much sought after. I would advise that you bring all money you need for your trip in USD dollar.
  • This is a cash economy, so here is my sample calculation of how much you will need on a daily basis assuming that you get a rate of 2750 som per 1 USD
    • Food : 40000 som will feed 3-4 people. Assume 2 meals = 80000 som
    • Taxis : Local taxis between 4000 – 8000 som per ride ( you don’t pay by the person). Assume 4 rides around town per day = 32000 som
    • Drinking : You can take your own liquor to places! Seriously … just buy some food. If you have friends in Uzbekistan or someone who speaks Russian, then this will be even easier. Assume 1 nightly bar visit … seating cost is between 5000 – 1000o som per person = 4 people = 40000 som
    • Hotel : I strongly suggest having your reservations premade. You’ll know your cost and you won’t have any hassles.
    • Hence, you should need about 152000 som daily spending money for 3-4 people = which equates to about $75USD. NOTE: This is a VERY HIGH estimate – but I always use a high estimate to avoid surprises.
  • On your first day only … change 100$USD officially. It’s a terrible rate but it will help you get your mind at ease.
  • When you find a good rate (between 2700 – 2800 som) … attack the rate. Change between 300 – 400 USD at a time.
    • It will save you the hassle of changing money multiple times
    • It will save you the hassle of negotiating with money vendors
    • Reduces your illegal exposure. You always want to be safe.
    • It will save you time looking for an emergency ATM. There aren’t many around. If you find one, it might not work.
  • Do actually bring a small knapsack to carry your money in. You cannot use wallets – there is no wallet or pocket that can fit all those notes
  • Don’t even bother trying to make sense of 1000 som notes … it will blow your mind.
  • When entering Uzbekistan, you have to declare all money you have on you. It doesn’t matter how much you have, there is no need to lie. Keep the copy of the declaration. When you exit, you have to declare all the money you have on you again. You cannot have more money with you when you exit Uzbekistan than when you entered.
  • Be aware that there are scammers around and lots of fake and real police – but if you’re cautious, you’ll be fine. I had ZERO issues with money or police there. It’s a police state, so it’s super safe for tourists. At no point, did I ever have any anxiety about safety. The prevailing sentiment is that locals have lots more to fear than tourists.

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at [email protected]

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