Black market in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan's currency is the Uzbek Som (UZS), and until September 2017 there were two exchange rates – the official rate and the black market rate. Unlike in neighbouring Turkmenistan though, the black market was for a long time the commonly used rate and was widely regarded as the “real rate”. There was even a website, updated live, which followed the black market rate.
However, during early 2017, the government made a concerted effort to bring the economy back to stability, and gradually adjusted the official rate to become closer to the black market rate, essentially admitting that the black market was in fact the real rate. Then in early September 2017 they finally met at 8,000 som = US$ 1, making it officially so. This coincided with several other changes made which have greatly helped Uzbekistan economically, in terms of stability and opening up to foreign markets.
Uzbek bricks of cash
One of the things Uzbekistan's been famous for though is the “bricks” of cash that you end up needing to pay for everything in. For a long time, the largest note was 1,000 Som, which even at the time was only worth $0.25. Then a 5,000 Som note was introduced, which at the time was worth around $0.70. Uzbekistan isn’t a desperately cheap country, so you’d be regularly having to count out dozens, if not 100’s of notes to pay for quite normal things like meals or basic souvenirs.
Then in early 2017 a 10,000 Som note was produced which for the first time was worth over $1. Now there are even 50,000 and 100,000 Som notes! It might not seem that crazy, but it’s well under 10 years ago that 1,000 was the biggest note.
100,000 is still only worth about $8, so you can still end up paying for things with pretty big wads of cash, but it's certainly not the giant bricks that we had to carry around just a few years ago.
ATMs and card facilities
In conjunction with abolishing the black market in such a sensible way, opening up the economy, and generally making life much easier on the financial front in Uzbekistan, ATMs and card facilities have of course also entered the game. Before 2017 this was unheard of – partly because why on earth would you pay for something using the official rate when you should be paying a fraction of that, and partly because using any sort of foreign cards was completely impossible.
There are now many ATMs that accept foreign cards, and these are becoming more and more prolific, especially in Tashkent and Samarkand. There are a few ATMs in Bukhara, Khiva and Nukus, but not really anywhere else. All ATMs charge a fee for withdrawals from foreign cards though.
There are also more and more places accepting card payment. Most tourist sites will accept foreign cards for purchasing tickets, and increasingly restaurants/cafes/bars/shops/hotels are as well. As with the ATMs, this is especially the case in Tashkent, followed closely by Samarkand, and then less so but also somewhat in Bukhara, Khiva and Nukus.
It is still best to have USD or another stable foreign currency in cash to be exchanged, as this is still by far the easiest and cheapest way to get local money and pay for things.