Money & Shopping
Inflation is rampant in Syria and all amounts expressed in these guides without dates and/or in Syrian pounds, should be treated with suspicion.
An international student card reduces the entry fees to many tourist sites to 10% of the normal price, if you are younger than 26 years. Depending on who is checking your card it is even possible to get the reduction when you are older than 26 or have only an expired card. It is possible to buy an international student card in Syria (around USD15). Ask around discreetly.
In the souks (especially the Souk Al Hamidiya in the Old City of Damascus where you can easily "get lost" for a whole morning or afternoon without getting bored), the best buys are the "nargileh" waterpipes, Koran, beautifully lacquered boxes and chess/draughts sets and (particularly in Aleppo) olive soap and traditional sweets. The quality of handicrafts varies widely so when buying lacquered/inlaid boxes, run your hand over the surface to see that it is smooth, check, in particular, the hinges. In the souq haggling is expected. Bargain ruthlessly.
Syrian traders who price goods in foreign currencies now face up to 10 years in jail after a decree issued by President Bashar al-Assad "forbids the use of anything other than the Syrian pound as payment for any type of commercial transaction or cash settlement". This was because of the increasing "dollarisation" of an economy in ruins after two years of civil war.
The unit of currency in Syria is the Syrian pound or 'lira' (ISO 4217 currency code: SYP) and its subdivision of 'piastre' is obsolete. You will see a variety of notations used locally, £S, LS or S£, Arabic: الليرة السورية al-līra as-sūriyya, but Wikivoyage uses the ISO 4217 currency code of SYP immediately prefixing the amount in our guides.
Although Syria had been designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979 by the US and subject to US sanctions, since the Syrian insurrection and European sanctions started in earnest in 2011, the exchange rate has very quickly deteriorated from USD1 = SYP47 (official) in March 2011, to USD1 = SYP129 (official) and over SYP300 on the black market in September 2013. Hard currencies such as the Canadian and US dollars, pounds sterling or euro can not be bought legally; the only source of foreign currencies available to Syrian businessmen, students and the very many who wish to escape abroad is the black market. The maximum foreign currency amount that it is technically permissible to export is a remarkably generous USD3,000 equivalent per year for each traveller. Any amount in excess of USD3,000 risks confiscation by the authorities and time in jail. Additionally and separately, the Syrian pound is not a hard currency, and there are restrictions on its export of a maximum amount of SYP2,500 per person.
Because of these sanctions, all amounts expressed in these guides without dates and/or in Syrian pounds, should be treated with suspicion.
Before the civil war started, a number of ATMs had become available in most major cities: banks, main squares, and 5 star hotels. None of these ATMs now access the international networks. The Real Estate bank had the widest network that accepted foreign cards but cards also used to be used in machines run by the Bank of Syria and Overseas and the Commercial Bank of Syria. Even before the war ATMs did not exist outside of big cities and it would be wise to carry enough cash when leaving big cities to complete your tour in the countryside and return to the city before running out of cash. Bank Audi used to be the best to try if you had a US issued card.
It is nearly impossible to change traveller's cheques in Syria.