The best way to bring money into Turkmenistan is with good old fashioned cash, preferably U.S. dollars.
Euros are becoming better known but dollars are still the currency of choice. Bring money in the best condition you can find as people can be picky about notes with too many creases or marks on them.
We didn’t see any ATMs as we transited between Sarakhs and Farap. If you’re in a pinch, banks in Mary and Turkmenabad have Western Union outlets.
Changing money on the black market is really your only option as the government keeps official exchange rates artificially low. If you go to a bank to swap your hard currency you’ll only get a quarter of what you will on the black market; 5,000 manats to the dollar compared with about 20,000 manats on the street.
Currency data courtesy coinmill.com
Money changers tend to hang around markets and will likely shout “dollar” at you as you pass by or wave wads of bills in your face. If you can’t find a money changer, just ask around. Nearly everyone is happy to perform this service for you and cafe or hotel owners generally have no problem being paid in U.S. dollars instead of manats. We changed our money once in a hardware shop and a second time with women selling jewellery in a market.
The biggest Turkmen banknote is 10,000 manats or about $0.50 U.S. so when you change money for your trip across Turkmenistan, you’ll find your pockets stuffed with cash. All the bills we received were inexplicably crisp and they seem to change design nearly every year. Don’t worry if you get a note that looks completely different from the one you saw before. It’s probably legal tender.
UPDATE: Around Mid-April 2008, the government’s continuing economic reforms caused the prices to go up by about 25% since our transit across the country.