Kazakhstan's currency, the tenge, was introduced on 15 November 1993, replacing the rouble (15 November is still commemorated as the 'day of national currency'). The tenge is in theory subdivided into a smaller unit, the tiyn (1 tenge = 100 tiyn), but the latter have not been minted since 1993, their value is negligible, and they are no longer found in general circulation. There are notes to the values of 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500 and 200 tenge, and coins of 100, 50, 20, five, two and one tenge.
New notes were introduced in 2006. These are much more elaborate aflairs than the previous versions, and were designed by a team headed by Mendybai Alin, Senior Designer of the Central Bank. In contrast to the earlier notes, which featured a portrait of scientist Al Farabi, the new notes portray no personalities. Instead, the obverse side of each note features the Baiterek Tower, together with the state flag and national anthem, abstract designs based on petroglyphs, and an open- palmed hand apparently reaching up towards the tower. President Nazarbaev's signature is written across the hand. The reverse side features the outline of the map of Kazakhstan, within which are depicted different sights on different denominations: feather-grass steppe and the building of the Ministry of Transport and Communications on the T200 note; and the presidential palace of Ak Orda and the Charyn Canyon on the T10,000 one. The denomination is written in Kazakh on the obverse side; in Russian on the reverse.
Tenge (T) is mainly accepted, use of US dollars or euros is not directly possible though plenty of exchange services available. ATMs abound at banks, shopping centres, supermarkets, hotels, some train stations and elsewhere. Look for ‘Bankomat’ signs. Most accept at least Maestro, Cirrus, Visa and MasterCard.
BANKS The banking system in Kazakhstan is well developed. Major Kazakhstani banks include Kazkommertsbank, Bank Turan Alem and Halyk Bank, and there are also a few branches of foreign banks such as HSBC, ABN Amro and Citibank, though these are restricted to the largest cities. Banking hours typically run from around 09.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday, though opening and closing times vary slightly (the HSBC branch in Almaty is, for example, open from 08.30 to 17.30). Most bank branches also close for lunch, from 13.00 to 14.00. A few are open on Saturdays, usually in the morning.
ATMS ATMs are probably the most straightforward means of getting money. These are moderately easy to find in urban Kazakhstan (the term to use when asking directions to one is bankomat), typically inside and outside banks, in shopping centres, the lobbies of modern office complexes and at larger railway stations. They generally accept Visa and MasterCard, as well as all cards displaying a Maestro or Cirrus symbol, though there are some variations between the machines belonging to different banks as regards what cards are acceptable. On inserting your card, you are typically offered a choice of languages, including English. There is normally a T30.000 limit on any individual cash withdrawal, but if you need more money, you can simply take T30,000 out in the first transaction, and then immediately repeat the procedure, subject to the limit on your own card. Do not expect to find ATMs in smaller towns.
CASH US dollars in cash are also good to bring out: they can be converted into tenge at one of the licensed exchange bureaux, found as little kiosks all over the place. Your US dollars should be from notes issued after 2000, and free from tears or blemishes. It is worth asking for a receipt (and retaining those from your ATM transactions), although, unlike some other countries in the region, you are highly unlikely to be asked by anyone to produce your exchange receipts. In Kazakhstan, as everywhere, be alert to the risks of robbery around ATMs and exchange offices. Please note that you are required to pay for purchases in tenge, even though some swankier stores confusingly sometimes display their prices in US dollars, or 'УЕ' ('units'), another name for dollars also found in Russia. If you are travelling outside the main cities, make sure you have an ample supply of local currency as there is a shortage of ATMs, and local people may be unable to exchange large quantities of dollars.
Bring a little cash (euros or US dollars) to start out and as a fallback if you run out of tenge. Exchange offices (marked ‘Obmen Valyuty’) are common on city streets. You can change US-dollar or euro travellers cheques at many banks but it’s time-consuming and there’s usually a 2% fee.
CREDIT CARDS Credit cards are increasingly accepted in the smarter hotels, restaurants and shops in Kazakhstan's cities. There is often a surcharge for doing so. Visa is probably the most widely accepted card. Except at places like the big international hotels, it is unwise to rely on being able to use a credit card: the plaintive apology of the waitress that their credit-card machine is out of order is quite a common sound in Kazakhstan's restaurants. And in small towns and rural areas, as well as cheaper joints in the cities, you are unlikely to be able to use them at all.
TRAVELLERS' CHEQUES Travellers' cheques are potentially useful as emergency back-up funding, for example if an ATM eats your card. Not all banks will change them, but in larger towns you will usually to be able to find one that does. US dollar travellers' cheques are probably best, to avoid the risk that you may be levied additional exchange rate charges.