The currency in Turkmenistan is the manat (M, sometimes also abbreviated to DTM), which is made up of 100 tenge. It’s a new currency that replaced the previous manat, whose value had become miniscule. From 1 January 2010, it was the only legal tender in the country, one new manat being equal to 5000 old manats. There is no longer a black market currency exchange in Turkmenistan, which has made everything far more expensive for visitors. All exchange offices change dollars at the fixed rate of 2.84M to the US$. Exchange offices are everywhere, take no commission, and will freely exchange US dollars and euros back and forth (you don’t need to worry about having official certificates in order to change your money back when you leave the country, for example). US dollars remain the currency of choice for Turkmenistan. Euros are also generally easy to change, though less so outside Ashgabat. You can change pounds, yen, rubles and yuan at banks in Ashgabat too, but rates aren’t great and you’ll have no luck elsewhere in the country.
Confusingly, many people still speak in old manats, and when they do so they usually leave off the thousands, as they were implied for years. For example you may ask how much something is and be told ‘20M’ – this means 20,000M, which is 4M. Confused? You will be.
To make things even trickier, more and more people are speaking in new manats every day. To clarify which currency you’re being quoted in, simply ask novimi ili starimi manatami? (new or old manats?). Everything bought in Turkmenistan will be paid for in manats, but travel agencies and hotels still usually require payment in dollars, so it’s best to keep a supply of both currencies. Cash advances on credit cards are only available in Ashgabat and ATMs taking international cards are nonexistent.
Outside Ashgabat emergency money can be wired through Western Union only. Credit cards are accepted by a few luxury hotels in Ashgabat but by few other places, and you’d be ill advised to rely on them anywhere. Travellers cheques are not accepted anywhere. It’s best to bring US dollars in all sorts of denominations. Ones, fives and 10s will prove handy when paying for just about anything; they are especially helpful around borders when you may need just a little cash for a taxi or a customs fees. Note that notes need to be in pristine condition to be accepted. The only time you’ll ever need to show an exchange receipt is if you plan to stay at Hotel Hazar in Turkmenbashi.