If you ever go to Syria (unlikely, as you will soon find out) you will come across their version of the pound, otherwise known as the Syrian pound. This is represented by the ISO code SYP on the currency markets.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
While you are no doubt familiar with the British pound, which is broken down into 100 pence, the Syrian pound is divided into 100 piastre. This is really a moot point though because thanks to high levels of inflation the piastre is no longer in use. Instead all the coins and notes are in pounds.
There are five coins in use and these are the 1, 2, 5, 10 and 25 pound coins. It sounds odd to say this when you are used to British pounds! There are also five banknotes which at present are the 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 pound notes.
From past to present – the history of the Syrian pound
Up until 1919 the country used the Turkish lira. But this was replaced by the Syrian pound, which is issued by the Central Bank of Syria. In the distant past currencies including the Ottoman lira and the Egyptian pound were used.
How to get hold of the Syrian pound
As you might imagine it is not as easy to get cash in this country as it is in some others. The capital of Syria is Damascus and this is one of the better places to get currency in. Even then though it is not as simple as you might think. Firstly you can forget about trying to use traveller’s cheques as these are a no-no. Secondly while there are cash machines around that purport to take Visa cards, you won’t necessarily find they will accept yours. The lesson here is always to be prepared to find it difficult to get cash!
The best way is to take your own currency into a bank, along with your passport as a form of ID. This usually meets with success in getting hold of Syrian pounds. The good news is you won’t need that many pounds to get by in Syria. The cost of living here compared to many Western countries is very cheap, so you could have the equivalent of a few British pounds left in your pocket and still get dinner and a hotel for the night with no bother.
One final thing to remember is not to worry about trying to get any Syrian pounds before you leave your own country. Syria has what is known as a closed currency. This basically means it is only available in its own currency, the place where it is used. Just be sure you have enough of your own currency to exchange when you finally get there. As you may imagine though, this is all moot really since few people visit the country – and for good reason, as you will shortly discover.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Syrian pound
You can find this out before you go simply by using a currency converter. You can always use the ISO code to locate the Syrian pound more easily if you have trouble finding it in the list. It just pays to be aware that the rate you get in return will be the basic rate. Currency exchange outlets and banks will charge a commission of some kind. It might be hidden in a less favourable exchange rate but it will be there in one way or another.
If you want to find out some more about Syria and how to get hold of a Visa to go there, the best place to go is the embassy. You can do this online by going to http://syremb.com/, which is the official website for the Syrian Embassy in London.
Travelling safely with the Syrian pound
It has to be said that while we have spoken about visiting Syria and where to get cash from locally, the current advice from the UK government is to avoid going there at all. Even if you are not completely up to date with the news you will probably realise Syria is not the safest place to go in the world. Indeed, at the time of writing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that any British people in Syria should leave as quickly as possible.
Furthermore it could not provide any consular services to any Brits who were in the country. Basically speaking, if you were to go there you would be on your own. Your safety would be in grave danger and there would be no guarantee you could get out of the country. Indeed the only people from Britain that are likely to go there at present are those who are reporting on the fighting and unrest that is inherent in the country.
There have even been reports of chemical attacks going on in the country. In truth you just never know what might happen next. People have also been kidnapped and those from the UK are not immune to being attacked in this way. In short, for the foreseeable future it is best to steer well clear. Really, the concern of whether or not you can get hold of the local currency would be the least of your problems if you had reason to think about that issue.
Where to spend your pounds in Syria – and what to spend them on
Normally this is where we provide advice on the highlights and attractions available to see in a particular country. Of course this is not the case with Syria since it is a country that is knee-deep in fighting of all kinds.
Syria is an Asian country and although everyone refers to it as Syria it is officially known by another name – the Syrian Arab Republic. The western border faces the Mediterranean Sea while the northern border faces Turkey. The eastern side of the country and south-eastern corner share a border with Iraq and the next country around in a clockwise direction is Jordan. Finally Israel takes the remaining sliver of border to the south-west.
As we have already mentioned the capital city of Syria is Damascus, a name many people will be familiar with, even if they didn’t know it was the Syrian capital. To say it has a long history is to make a significant understatement. This makes the dreadful conditions in the country at present with all the fighting even more difficult to accept. Damascus is generally regarded as one of the oldest cities in the entire world. It is not quite the biggest in the country but it is perhaps the most important in more than one way.
Furthermore the ancient city of Damascus is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are many great sites here that would be wonderful to see if the city was safe to visit. Perhaps most notably the Old City has some of the original walls and gates still intact. Each of the gates is known by a different name. For example there is the Bab al-Faradis, which translates into the gate of the orchards. Elsewhere in the city you may find Bab al-Salam, which means the gate of peace. The irony of this name should not be lost on many people around the world, given the state of things there today.
While many areas of the city have not been affected by fighting, it is simply the case that you never know which areas might be affected next. Since it is not safe to visit the country in any capacity (you don’t know if you would be able to get back out again safely) you would have to accept that some of these sites may never be visited by those in other countries who want to see them. If you take a closer look at pictures online of some of the gates, you will see how fascinating they are.
Syria isn’t likely to show up on anyone’s list of the top ten places in the world they would most like to visit anytime soon. The situation here could deteriorate at any moment and there is certainly little chance of things improving. It is rather a shame that none of the appealing areas of the country can be visited by others, simply because you don’t know whether it would be safe to do so. The chances of getting involved in nasty situations is simply too high to risk doing anything at all.
Those who live in the country and try to get on with their lives must find it enormously hard not knowing what might happen from day to day. Unfortunately the fighting always tends to see innocent people caught up in it and hurt. Syria will not be a place you should consider going to – or even through – in any capacity for a long time. The UK government website will be updated if anything should change in this respect.