Are you traveling to Kyrgyzstan and wondering if you can use your foreign bank card to pay or withdraw from an ATM?
Or you’re just looking for those nice ATMs that don’t charge a commission for withdrawals? (Actually, most don’t!)
I mean, a land of nomads and card payments don’t really go hand-in-hand…or do they?
Here you can learn all about money in Kyrgyzstan as a tourist!
Currency in Kyrgyzstan
The currency in Kyrgyzstan is the Kyrgyz Som with code KGS. In Cyrillic, it’s spelled “СОМ” which is how you would see it on the money.
The Kyrgyz Som has been somewhat stable against the US dollar since 2016. Kyrgyzstan is not a rich country, on the contrary, it’s quite poor, and its currency is not a strong one.
There are both coins and banknotes in Kyrgyzstan. The biggest available banknote is the 5000 KGS (~56$) but I never managed to see it during my 2 and a half weeks there. That’s a lot of money in Kyrgyzstan!
I mostly carried 20, 50, 100, and 200 KGS banknotes and rarely the 500 and 1000 ones.
When it comes to coins, a fun fact is that Kyrgyzstan is one of the few countries to have a denomination of 3. Thus the coins are 1, 3, 5, and 10 KGS.
Can you use you use your card in Kyrgyzstan?
Yes, you can use your foreign card to pay while in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan has been growing its tourism sector for the past 10 years. It has seen a steady increase in international visitors and with this comes the need to connect to the global financial sector.
Which it has done. But only in big cities.
As of 2023, you can pay using a debit or credit card in bigger hotels, bigger supermarkets, and some museums in Bishkek and Osh. Outside of the 2 biggest cities, paying by card is impossible.
However, there’s a high chance you will be charged a 1% to 3% commission even if you pay on a POS terminal.
Smaller supermarkets, traditional open-air markets like Osh Bazaar in Bishkek and Jayma Bazaar in Osh, family-run guesthouses, etc. only accept cash. Is anyone surprised?
Visa and Mastercard are accepted on most POS terminals. Maestro is accepted only at some places. American Express cards are mostly NOT accepted.
ATMs in Kyrgyzstan
ATMs are a new thing for Kyrgyzstan. But not too new anymore.
Nowadays many Kyrgyz locals have a bank account with a card, so the need for ATMs is there. Thus, ATMs can be found in pretty much every town in Kyrgyzstan.
In Bishkek and Osh, there is no shortage of ATMs and you will certainly find one around the corner.
If you go in the mountains though, as you might’ve guessed, no ATMs exist.
All ATMs will accept Mastercard cards. Most will accept a Visa. Some ATMs will accept Maestro. Almost no ATMs accept American Express.
The maximum withdrawal amount on most ATMs is 15,000 KGS or 25,000 KGS (168-280$). This is a lot of money in Kyrgyzstan and you probably don’t have to withdraw too often.
Here comes the tricky part – avoiding those pesky ATM withdrawal fees. I’m not talking about the fees you get charged on your end from your bank – those you can avoid by using a FinTech solution like Revolut, Curve, or Monese.
I was delighted to find out that most ATMs in Kyrgyzstan do NOT charge a withdrawal fee! Such banks are Commercial Bank, Demir Bank, and Kazkommertsbank.
If an ATM displays that it will charge you withdrawal fees, just cancel the transaction and go to a different one – I guarantee you will save some money by just walking a few meters down the road.
ATMs that dispense USD
It used to be easy to withdraw USD from Kyrgyz ATMs before the War in Ukraine started.
You’re probably wondering what one has to do with the other. Simple – Russians in Kyrgyzstan started withdrawing all the US dollars (and then hoarding it instead of spending) leaving Kyrgyzstan strapped for greenbacks. Read more about it here.
Nowadays, you can still find ATMs in Kyrgyzstan that dispense USD, but they quickly run out of cash. Do not rely on this option.
If you need to get a hold of USD (say you will be traveling to other Central Asian countries and need some exchangeable cash) you will have to withdraw KGS, then go to a bank and exchange to USD.
Exchanging Money in Kyrgyzstan
If you carry a card like Revolut or Monese, you won’t need to exchange money in Kyrgyzstan as withdrawing KGS from an ATM is easy, free, and convenient.
But if you want to be safe, here’s what you need to know about exchanging money in Kyrgyzstan.
What currency to bring
As with almost any country in the world right now, the US dollar is king.
Other currencies that are traded and exchangeable in Kyrgyzstan (in order of ease of exchange) are:
- Russian Rouble;
- Kazakh Tenge;
- British Pounds;
- Swiss Francs;
- Japanese Yen;
- Chinese Yuan.
Some exchange bureaus may offer better rates for higher denomination banknotes. This was not my experience – I exchanged both 10$ and 100$ at the same rate. In general though, 50 and 100 USD notes are seen as “better” and may bring you a few extra soms.
Black Market Currency Exchange
There is no black market for currency exchange in Kyrgyzstan.
There is simply no need for it. The Som is traded openly on the international currency market and no controls have been in place in the past decade. Moreover, it’s been a stable currency that hasn’t suffered sizable inflation like neighboring Uzbekistan for example.
Do NOT exchange money on the street or with a shady dealer in one of the open-air bazaars. You are setting yourself up for a scam and best case scenario – poor exchange rate.
Exchanging at a bank
Exchanging money in a bank in Kyrgyzstan is pretty straightforward and no different than anywhere else in the world.
Mind these points:
- Bring your passport with you;
- Your foreign currency banknotes must be clean, crisp, and have no signs of wear or tear;
- Banks’ opening times are 09:00 to 16:00, shorter on Saturdays, closed on Sundays;
- You can exchange money at the airport, but will face a little lower exchange rate;
- There are many exchange bureaus at the busiest borders, for example, the Dostyk Border with Uzbekistan or the Korday Border with Kazakhstan. The rate is even better than in the city due to the increased competition.
I don’t know if anyone still travels with these nowadays, it seems to me they are a bit of a hassle to deal with.
Maybe that’s why they are rarely accepted in Kyrgyzstan (or is it the other way around?).
As far as I know, only Bakai Bank in Bishkek accepts traveller’s cheques and the commission is around 3,5%.
How much cash to bring to Kyrgyzstan?
As with many things in life – it depends. Since using your card to obtain cash in Kyrgyzstan is pretty easy today, you don’t need to bring as much foreign currency inside the country.
My advice is to have at least 200$ just in case something goes wrong with your bank cards and you need emergency cash until you sort it out.
When I went to Kyrgyzstan I had a bit more than that stashed away. I exchanged money twice – 10 USD at the Kazakh border when coming from Almaty to Bishkek and 100$ in Bishkek because I had already reached the limit of free monthly withdrawals with Revolut.
On the other hand, if you’re wondering how much money you need to travel to Kyrgyzstan, you can check out my backpacker’s budget report for Kyrgyzstan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s answer some of the internet’s (and most certainly your) most burning questions about money in Kyrgyzstan.
What is the ATM withdrawal limit in Kyrgyzstan?
The maximum withdrawal limit on most ATMs in Kyrgyzstan is 25,000 KGS (280$). This is only at some ATMs, not all.
Where to exchange money in Kyrgyzstan?
You can exchange money in various places:
- At the airport just after you arrive. All international airports have change bureaus, although their rates are bad compared to the city;
- At a land border. Look for exchange bureaus just before or just after land borders with neighboring countries;
- At a change bureau in the city (probably the best rates);
- At a bank;
- At a dodgy-looking guy at the corner of a bazaar (please don’t).
Can you use US dollars in Kyrgyzstan?
You can use US dollars to pay for things in Kyrgyzstan but it’s extremely rare.
However, the US dollar is easily exchanged for local Kyrgyz Som.
Can you use Revolut in Kyrgyzstan?
Yes, Revolut cards work in Kyrgyzstan. Both VISA and Mastercard work. Similar fintech apps like Wise, Monese, and Curve also work there.
If you are going to the other Central Asian countries, you may want to read my money guides for them too: