The unit of currency in Syria is the Syrian pound or 'lira' £S. All prices are now in even numbers of pounds, so the subdivision 'piastre' is obsolete.
Exchange rates current in January 2010:
1 UK£ = £S 75.4
1 USD$ = £S 45.6
1 Euro = £S 64.4
1 AUD$ = £S 41.6
100 JPN Yen = £S 50
In recent years, a number of ATMs have become available in most major cities: banks, main squares, and 5 star hotels. However, it should be noted that not all ATMs access the international networks. The Real Estate bank has the widest network that will accept foreign cards but cards may also be used in machines run by the Bank of Syria and Overseas and the Commercial Bank of Syria. There have also been instances of foreigners finding ATMs not in working order. Outside of big cities, ATMs that accept foreign cards may not exist e.g. in Palmyra 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. Also note that US issued bank cards may apparently give additional problems. Bank Audi is apparently the best to try if you have a US issued card.
One thing to keep in mind is that exchange rates using the ATM system are lower than the official rate which is still lower than street rate. Many private money changing offices exist, but will change cash only. It is nearly impossible to change traveller's cheques in Syria, so do not rely on them but bring cash or credit cards instead. If you're feeling lucky or desperate, the Commercial Bank of Syria may be able to exchange them.
Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, and are even accepted at many smaller shops and budget hotels. Don't count on acceptance, though, as it is far from universal. It is also virtually impossible to get an advance on your credit card in Syria if you are out of Damascus and Aleppo.
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 U$ 15. 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 laquered boxes and chess/draughts sets and particularly in Aleppo olive soap and traditional sweets. The quality of handicrafts varies widely so when buying laquered/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.