If you plan on spending more than one week in Uzbekistan, you have several options for getting Uzbek cym currency for yourself.
- Use one of only two ATMs in the entire country, conveniently located in the most expensive hotels in Tashkent. These dispense in UZS (Uzbek Cym currency) at the official rates or in USD. They do take a small commission for the service.
- Take your currency to one of the official currency exchange points (banks) and lose 20% due to the artificially unfavourable exchange rate. You will however be issued with a receipt for your exchange and as such can use this money to then buy a plane ticket.
- Take your USD or EURO to one of the unofficial black market exchangers and gain a better rate for Uzbek cym currency. These people rarely take other currencies.
- Exchange your money in Kazakhstan (or the country you plan on entering Uzbekistan from) and bring a small (or large) backpack all of your cym currency.
After spending all the cym currency I had with me, I needed to exchange some USD into UZS – whenever you travel try to have USD or EUR with you, they tend to be accepted/exchanged everywhere, USD more so than EUR.
Speaking with a guy I’d met one night, he tells me I can go to a bank and laughs at the idea or I can go exchange with his preferred money changer and proceeds to give directions to the place.
- You will hop on the metro and get off at the third stop. Leaving the metro you will cross the road, turn left and continue for several hundred metres to the bazaar.
- The main entrance to the bazaar will be in front of you, you will walk around from the side entrance to the right and ask for the dairy section on the second floor.
- Once you reach the dairy section, you will do a lap around it to make sure there are no police around.
- Once you’re sure there are no police around, you will walk into the shop selling sausages and when you catch the attention of the shopkeeper, you will make the signal that you need to exchange currency – horizontally rotating your index fingers around each other, similar to the travel signal in basketball or the thumb twiddling motion when you have nothing to do.
- When the shopkeeper finally asks you what you want, point to the sausages on the left for USD, on the right for EUR and how much of that currency you want to exchange.
- If the shopkeeper has enough to cover it, they will tell you the rate for one unit of that currency.
- Mention my name, where I work and that you’re my nephew and they will give you a more favourable rate.
- They will tell you that the sausages you want are in the back, you will go there and get your cym currency. Count it, twice. After you’ve counted it twice, count it again and give them the money.
- Hide the money in your pockets (or bag depending on how much you’re changing), smile, thank them and leave.
- Don’t forget to get me some of my favourite sausages as a thank you.
I ask the guy what the exchange rate should be for USD to Uzbek cym currency , he tells me that three days ago it was 1900, though now it’s closer to 1800 but at his rate, 1850 should be possible.
Just for giggles sake, I decide to check what the official rates are for converting USD and Euros to Uzbek cym currency, according to the banks.
I approach the sign and take a photo, turn and leave. A guy follows me some ten metres before asking me how much I want to change (unofficially). Looking back into the direction of the bank, I see the policeman trying to make himself look inconspicuous. I tell the man to go back to his friend and that I only deal with banks.
I reach the bazaar, but it ends up being the wrong one and given the amount of police walking around, I decide not to ask around for currency exchange. Time for plan B.
Plan B is to use the same strategy that I used in Vietnam. Changing currency in Vietnam is best done at gold shops and not in banks as the gold shops will give you a more favourable rate after intense negotiation.
I walk into one jewellery store some distance from the bazaar and ask them if they exchange currency. The girl at the store tells me they don’t, but the jewellery store across the road should.
I ask at the store across the road and they ask me what rate I want, I tell them 100USD at 1850 cym to the dollar. They accept, the other customers pretend like nothing is happening and the manager goes out the back to get the money.
She emerges with three packs of cash and tells me I’m free to count it. I point to the counting machine and tell her we can use that, she smiles and tells me that I’m smart to not manually count it. Twenty seconds and 270 bills later (100 at 1000 cym and 170 at 500 cym), I’m satisfied that I haven’t been ripped off. A minute later a guy comes in, inspects the bill I gave, says it’s genuine and takes it for himself. I stuff my pockets with the bills and the manager makes her commission, win-win and no need to risk dealing with police and manual counting of bills.
My advice, if you want to risk illegally changing cym currency in Uzbekistan, find a jewellery store. If you don’t speak the language, write on a piece of paper how much you have, how much you want for it and show it to the manager (e.g. 20th August 2009, $100 = 185,000 CYM).
Before exchanging currency in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
After exchanging currency at the black market rates
Now I challenge you to find a store selling wallets in Tashkent. They do exist. Give up? Back home, we call them backpacks.
Everyone who comes to Uzbekistan cannot leave until they’ve taken a similar photo.
Good luck exchanging your USD into Uzbek Cym currency, and of course don’t forget to ask around for the latest information to make sure you’re getting the best rates.