The Armenian currency is the dram, which currently (2013) stands at about 418 per American dollar. After Independence, the Central Bank of Armenia set its value, but in 2009 the exchange rate was allowed to float and the dram was greatly devalued.
Coins are available in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 drams. Paper currency is available in notes of 1000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 dram.
The roller-coaster ride of the dram dates back to the early 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Armenian economy was largely dependent on US Diaspora dollars. In the early 2000s, the country was so flooded with US currency that the dollar dramatically sank against the dram (some say the oligarchs brought about this change in order to import cheaper goods). In 2003, the Central Bank of Armenia issued a decree that dollars would no longer be used as currency, and mandated use of the dram. Since than, the Central Bank has been heavily promoting the dram, and even erected a statue to it in Yerevan. With a 45 percent increase in value over five years alone, the dram was rumored to be in danger of succumbing to unchecked growth, ultimately affecting local producers, who would find it extremely unprofitable to export their goods. On the other hand, this growth was intended to benefit the few importers who wanted to continue procuring goods for lower prices.
With the recent devaluation the situation again seems to have changed. One thing is certain is that Armenia is currently a cash society. Although some supermarkets will take credit cards, almost all transactions are preferred in cash, in denominations of less than 20,000 dram (some markets will refuse to cash your 20,000 dram note).
Yerevan has several local banks and a few credit unions. Also, Armenia's banking legislation is among the most liberal in the former Soviet Union countries and there are no restrictions on foreign banks. Therefore, British and Western European banks are prevalent in Yerevan. HSBC has a large presence in the city, and staff members all speak English. Most banks, foreign and local, have English-speaking personnel.
Since many merchants request passports before making a large sale, it is wise to keep yours with you. Banks also require a passport if you want to make a significant withdrawal, and even the post office requests this form of identity when you are picking up a parcel. Driver's licenses are generally not accepted as proper identification, and many Armenians carry their passport with them at all times. There are few incidences of passport theft.
Exchanging Money - The best cash currencies are US dollars, euros and Russian roubles, roughly in that order. Georgian lari can also be changed in Yerevan and border towns. Other currencies are hard to change except at a handful of major banks in Yerevan. There are moneychanging signs waving flags and rates at customers everywhere in Yerevan and around shukas in all major towns. Virtually any shop can change money legally, and many food stores and small goods vendors do. Scams seem to be rare, and transactions straight forward.
Travellers cheques are rare in Armenia and not recommended. Bring cash or an ATM or Visa card. Some local ATMs are linked to the Plus system and others to the Maestro system. There are cash machines in prominent locations around Yerevan, including half a dozen HSBC branches. You can withdraw money in US dollars from HSBC machines and sometimes from local bank ATMs as well. All other main cities and even some small towns have ATMs, though you may have to poke around to find one that matches your card. There are Western Union offices all over the country. Visit www.arca.am/atmsearch.php-en to access a clickable search of every ATM in the country.
Tipping & Bargaining - The usual tipping rule at cafes and restaurants is 10%. Taxi drivers won’t complain if you set the price when getting in and stick to it when getting out. Shops have set prices, but shukas (markets) and outdoor fruit and vegetable stands are more negotiable. Foreigners might be charged a little extra but might also be laden with extra goods.
If you have any questions about travel to Armenia (visa, hotels, guide services, transportation), please feel free to contact us at any time and we will gladly answer your questions.