Money & costs
Within Mongolia, travellers on organised tours spend around US$100 per day (more for extra luxuries). Independent travellers can see the same sights and stay in midrange accommodation for around US$80 per day. Sharing the cost of a private jeep or minivan and camping rather than staying in more-expensive ger camps can bring this down to about US$25 to US$40 per day. If you are hitching and using public transport around the countryside, allow about US$10 to US$15 per day for this.
Accommodation and food will cost at least US$10 per day in Ulaanbaatar, but allow up to US$20 per day for half-decent accommodation, some tastier, Western-style meals and trips to the theatre and museums.
The Mongolian unit of currency is the tögrög (T), which comes in notes of T5, T10, T20, T50, T100, T500, T1000, T5000, T10, 000 and T20, 000. (T1 notes are basically souvenirs.) There are also T50 and T100 coins. The highest-value note is worth around US$17.
Banks and exchange offices in Ulaanbaatar will change money with relative efficiency. Banks in provincial centres are also fine; they change dollars and give cash advances against debit and credit cards. However, since they are so remote it’s still a good idea to leave the capital with enough cash to keep you going for a week or so.
When paying out large sums of money (to hotels, tour operators and sometimes airlines) its fine to use either US dollars or tögrögs. Other forms of currency aren’t usually accepted, although the euro is probably second best. Cash offers the best exchange rates and you won’t be paying any commission charge, but for security purposes you can also use debit cards (travellers cheques are going the way of the dinosaur).
Moneychangers who hang around the markets may or may not be legal. They offer the best rates for US dollars and are usually safe, but the risks are obvious. Remember to change all your tögrög when leaving the country as it’s worthless elsewhere.
The Trade and Development Bank has plonked down ATMs at a few key locations in Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan and Erdenet. These ATMs accept Visa and MasterCard and work most of the time, allowing you to withdraw up to T400, 000 per day. Because most of the Golomt Bank branches are open 24 hours, they don’t have ATMs (just give your card to the teller). Ordinary ATM cards issued from your bank at home probably won’t work; try to get a ‘debit’ card linked to your bank account. It should be associated with a credit card company.
You can’t rely on plastic for everything, but credit cards are becoming more widely accepted in upmarket hotels, travel agencies and antique shops. Most of these, however, charge an additional 3% if you use a credit card. Banks can give cash advances off credit cards, often for no charge if you have Visa, but as much as 4% with MasterCard.