The good news it that if you are travelling from Europe, North America, Japan, Australia or New Zealand you are going to be pleasantly surprised how cheap Thailand is, but you still do of course need to take quite a lot of money with you.
In this chapter we are going to look at a few ideas for how to carry your money and how to get access to it from Thailand.
I’ll also include a few security and essential money related tips, here’s one that many people get caught out with:
Important Note Departure Tax
Since 2007 it has been a requirement that all Thailand Airport departure taxes are paid at the time of purchasing the ticket The fee is Bht700 per person.
However there are still occasional reports of travellers being asked to pay the departure tax at the airport.
So make sure that when you buy your tickets that all airport taxes are included and that the receipt clearly states airport taxes included.
How Much is Our Holiday Going to Cost?
How long is a piece of string? No honestly, I can’t give an answer to this question without some idea of what you want to do and what is your idea of acceptable accommodation and food. If you are looking for 5 star luxury then you will certainly find it at a price. You can reduce that price if you book with one of the tour companies who offer high end packages. Otherwise expect to pay $250 per room for half board accommodation.
If, like me, you are constrained by our budgets then, assuming a family of four, you perhaps need to budget around $500~700 per week for accommodation and food, you can have a holiday in Thailand for less than that but if you are aiming for a supper low budget I still suggest that you include money for the odd decent hotel and perhaps an occasional up market hotel.
The following prices apply in August 2010 (Based on a family of four):
A very good quality Hotel Room in Bangkok will cost Bht3500 per night inclusive of breakfast.
A perfectly acceptable room, but perhaps without lifts can be found for Bht1500 per night.
A very good hotel can be found Up-Country Hotels (The Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, Chiang Mai etc) with rooms at Bht1800 per night including breakfast, but you can find perfectly acceptable rooms at Bht700 per night.
Guesthouses in Thailand are extremely varied, both in their quality and price. You can find rooms as cheap as Bht500 in the less touristy areas, while some of the very best guesthouses will charge Bht3500 per night.
Accommodation on the islands varies according to popularity but prices range between Bht1000 per room for a very simple beach hut to perhaps Bht6500 per night for a chalet in a resort.
Unless you are really looking for an upmarket five star holiday then I really can’t see any justification in spending more than an average of Bht2500/room/night, at that you will be extremely comfortable and you can be very comfortable at a third of that price. We normally pay around Bht1600 per night (April 2010).
A word of caution about the prices in guidebooks, they are very often a year, perhaps two years and sometimes even more out of date.
Tip: If you want the latest prices, go online and search hotels in the area you are heading, you will come up with a range of prices for rooms that might not be available, but at least you will have an idea of how much you might have to pay if you can’t find a cheaper guesthouse.
Here’s a something that I am not comfortable with, the top hotels will quote their room rates in US$, my first objection to this is, they pay their staff and service providers in Baht, they should charge their customers in Baht.
The second is, they don’t actually give you the opportunity to pay in dollars, what they do is recalculate the rate in Baht, using their exchange rate and then quote that tariff. If you then pay with a credit or charge card you will pay a second exchange rate back to your currency to your bank/credit card company.
Like, what is that all about?
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
This is without a doubt the number one item of good money advice when travelling anywhere, not just Thailand.
Thailand has a very modern and accessible banking system, it has all the facilities to help with safe and easy access to your money during your holiday.
Take advantage of this and try to carry as many different ways as getting to you money as you can, I recommend all of the following:
Cash in Thai Baht perhaps Bht10,000 to start with and a minimum float of Bht3000.
Travellers Checks perhaps $200 for emergencies
ATM Visa Cards with access to your bank account back home
Your own Currency, no more than the equivalent of $200.
Always split your money and credit cards up between you. Use room safes and if there is a safe in the hotel reception, use that too, the more you split your money up, the less chance of loosing it all in one go.
Tip: If two adults are travelling then it is better if both have credit and visa cards, preferably from different providers, again this is sharing your eggs between baskets.
Carrying Cash in Thai Currency (Baht)
All transactions in Thailand will be conducted in Thai Baht, the exceptions will be some tourism shops that will accept major currencies, but you will be charged a very unfavourable exchange rate.
Tip: If you are in a shop that accepts foreign currency, you are probably already paying a lot more than you need too, somewhere nearby there will be a store selling much the same things for a lot less.
You can exchange your currency at the Airport in Bangkok at very good exchange rates, better than you will get at home, but I still advise that you bring some Thai Currency with you (Perhaps Bht10,000), while the banks at the airport are advertised as being open 24/7 I still wouldn’t rely entirely on changing money at the airport, there is always the chance that you have to rush through the airport with no time to stop to change your money.
Public Holidays and End of The Month
Try not to get caught with this one, it happened to me once and it was a miserable experience.
Thai Banks close for the major public Holidays, I have listed these in the attachments to this guide, and because Thai people get so few holidays from work they will all go on holiday during any public holiday of more than a couple of days. New Year, Chinese New Year, Songkhran and Loiy Kratong are the main ones.
If you are in Thailand over one of these periods make sure that you go to the bank a few days before the holiday and draw enough money to last you until the holiday is over.
The end of the month is not quite so bad, it’s pay day and you may find that around mid day there are huge queues at the ATMs and in the Banks.
ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) Cash Points
These are by far and away the most convenient means of accessing your money, and, depending on your home bank, they can be the cheapest.
The first thing you need to do is check that you can use your ATM card overseas, you need to talk to your own bank about this, most cards with a visa symbol or Cirus can be used in Thailand, but check before you leave home. And do remember, you cannot withdraw money you do not have, so make sure that you have funds or an overdraft facility to cover what you expect to spend.
If you are travelling as a couple then it is always best if you have ATM cards from different banks, what ever you do, don’t keep them in the same place.
There is usually a maximum withdrawal of Baht 20,000 per day on any one card from ATMs in Thailand, usually a maximum of Baht10,000 per withdrawal. Two or more withdrawals with a total not exceeding this limit
Also be aware that your own bank will set a limit on the amount you can withdraw in one day I’d recommend you agree a limit of no less than $300 per day with your bank.
Thai ATMs work exactly the same as the machines at home except there is an additional language question and a selection of which account to use.
Be aware that since 2009 you will be charged Bht150 for each withdrawal you make at any Thai ATM This is in addition to any charges your own bank levy. Manual withdrawals against your card inside the bank do not carry this charge.
Using a Thai ATM
1. When you put your card in you will be asked to select your language, one question will be in THAI SCRIPT the other ENGLISH, select “ENGLISH”.
2. You will then be asked to enter your PIN number just the same as at home. Enter the number and follow that by the “ENTER/CONFIRM/OK” Button, either next to the screen or on the keypad. Note, you get three chances just like at home, and if you get it wrong you will be not be given your card back by the bank, it will be retained by the ATM and posted directly to your bank at home.
3. The machine will ask you to accept a Bht150 charge to withdraw cash.
4. The Machine will now present you with the options, usually various amounts and “OTHER TRANSACTION” select “OTHER TRANSACTION” and then select “WITHDRAWAL FROM CREDIT CARD”. Even if you are not using a credit card this is the option you must select. Now enter the amount you want to withdraw and follow that by “ENTER”.
5. You will either be given the cash and receipt or the message ‘COMMUNICATION ERROR”, if you get the Communication Error message then don’t despair try a different bank. You card will not be swallowed for trying several banks, it is just that the bank you have tried does not have a communication with your own bank.
I have found the following Banks to be the most reliable for machines that work and availability of machines around the country (in descending order, favourite at the top):
Kasigorn Thai (Thai Farmer Bank) - Always my first choice.
Siam Commercial Bang
Thai Military Bank (Now in partnership with DBS)
Everything you do in Thailand is flavoured the Thai way, and this is of course so with the ATM. There are a couple of things to be aware of, Thais will very often stand right behind you and look over your shoulder, they are just being nosey and are not very likely to be trying to rob you. Just turn around and say ‘excuse me’, Thais do not like confrontation so that will be enough to get the message across.
The other thing to watch for is a Thai with twenty ATM cards, this happens around payday when Thai factory and office workers will send one colleague to make withdrawals for a whole bunch of people, it can be extremely frustrating if you get caught behind someone making withdrawals for half their friends, but heck, look at it another way, it says something for the levels of trust between Thai friends.
There is one other issue that is not so pleasant, queue jumping, I have had this happen perhaps once of twice a year in Thailand; a Thai who regards him or herself better than everyone else will jump the queue. I will leave the response to yourself, do not be afraid of letting them know you are not putting up with it, they will always back down, but they will usually wait until you have gone to jump the queue again.
What if the ATM Swallows My Card?
I mentioned the ‘three strikes and you are out’ rule above so I had better give you some advice on what to do if your ATM card gets swallowed by the machine. It has only happed to me once in over ten years so don’t go worrying too much about this.
In the unlikely event that the ATM swallows your ATM Card go into the bank and ask for a receipt and make sure that it is signed and dated, contact your bank at home to tell them what has happened and send them a copy of the receipt. I would contact them by fax or follow a telephone call up with a fax or letter, and make a note of where, when, the banks name address and branch code.
The first thing to remember is, do not ask your bank to issue a new card, either to you in Thailand or at home. Rather instruct your bank that you will either collect your replacement card at your bank or that you will request a new card when you get home. I know this image of the card company rushing a new card to you in some remote village is right out of one of their advertisements but the last thing you want is a second card going astray.
Don’t expect your bank to tell the Thai bank to return your card, they will not do that, how do I know? It happened to me.
This of course is another reason to have multiple means of getting to your money.
One last point, if you need to contact your bank to cancel your card and you are using a shared account with your partner, make sure the bank does not cancel your partner’s card too Make that a very specific instruction.
Using Your ATM (or Credit Card) in the Bank
If you are worried about making a withdrawal on an ATM, or you don’t want to pay that Bht150 ATM charge, then you can take your card into the Bank and ask for a cash advance on your card from the international exchange desk or any teller.
You will need either a credit card or a direct debit card with the Visa mark on it, again ask your bank at home if this is allowed with your card(s) before you leave home.
You will also need your passport, (the passport of the cardholder).
Simply go into the bank, approach any teller, or the foreign exchange desk and ask them to help you make the withdrawal. It will take some time and there will be a small fee for this manual withdrawal but at least you will not have to worry about PIN numbers or the ATM swallowing your card.
You may be asked to answer some security questions, from the information you gave the bank when you applied for the card so don’t go forgetting your mother’s maiden name.
Most banks in Thailand are now operating a ticket queuing system, so first off as you enter the bank collect your queuing ticket.
It depends which bank you are in but be prepared for people to talk to the Teller while they are dealing with your business, for people to pass their paperwork to the Teller while your business is not yet finished and the Teller calling other people out of the queue while your business is not yet complete.
This can seem to foreigners to be both disconcerting and very rude, I can only advise that you go with the flow.
It’s just the Thai flavour of things.
And to be honest I can say the service I get from Thai banks beats that of banks back home hands down.
Tip: If you want any special services from the bank or you are in trouble, lost money, cards etc, dress smartly and you will receive a whole different level of treatment. If you have any complaints at the bank, read the chapter ‘If Things Go Wrong’ and take note of what I say about dealing with Thais and complaining. Thai bank staff can make or break your day, and they wrote the rules.
Plastic Money Exchange Rates
You need to check with your card issuing bank but the exchange rates on expenditure and withdrawals on Credit and Debit Cards is usually the spot rate at the time of the expenditure or withdrawal, it is almost certainly a better rate than you will get from any other exchange method.
Plastic Money - Transaction Charges
Again your bank will be able to give you the exact information but there are three possible charges that might arise from drawing cash or spending on Credit or Debit Cards overseas, the first is the transaction charge. It will usually be a fixed minimum and a percentage, but will still be better than the exchange of traveller’s cheques.
The second might at first seem like a scam, but is just the way Thais do business. Small businesses will often add their transaction charge to your bill; that is the amount they pay the credit card to service the transaction, this can be as high as 6%. I have queried this with American Express and Master Card, they tell me that it is not illegal nor, provided the establishment charges for all cards in the same way, is it against their contract with the card companies.
The third relates to Cash Advances on Credit Cards, you will be charged interest from the moment of your cash withdrawal. There is a way of avoiding this, but as with most methods of saving expense, it assumes you have the necessary funds to enjoy the privilege.
Pre-Loading Your Credit Card
While banks don't like their customers doing this, this is a very effective way of gaining an extra means of accessing your cash without incurring the extra cost of interest on Cash Advances.
It works like this. Pre pay cash onto your Credit Card before you leave for Thailand, if you have more than one credit card choose one for preloading and be careful not to use the preloaded cash on normal credit card expenditure.
Provided there is a positive balance on the card you will not be charged interest if you make a cash withdrawal.
This is also an excellent means of getting money to people overseas who are in need of cash, more about that in the chapter “If Things Go Wrong”.
Secure Use of Credit and Debit Cards in Thailand
I have been using Credit and Debit Cards in Thailand since 1992 and I have never had a single suspect item on any of my cards that was not my own expenditure.
I did get my card cloned once after using it in Singapore and there was one occasion when my card that had been swallowed by an ATM machine in Thailand was stolen and used by a Bank Employee in the UK.
In both cases the credit card company refunded the full amount of un authorised use. If that had been my wallet I would have lost everything.
I believe Credit and Debit Cards are the safest way to use money anywhere, you are protected by the bank law in your own country and you do have a means of recovering fraudulent use, if you can demonstrate the use is fraudulent.
If there is fraudulent use the bank will not be asking you to prove it, but they will be expecting you to be able to demonstrate that you have taken reasonable care of your cards and their usage. Here’s a few tips:
Keep a record, day, date, place, amount and receipt of all expenditure
Do not let your cards out of your sight.
If a store swipes your card and then claims it hasn’t gone through and they need to swipe again, get a business card from the shop and the name of the person who you are dealing with This is how crooks swipe cards, they have a false machine that they use to swipe the card on hence the double swipe
Check your statement against the record as soon as your statement arrives
Don’t ever fax signed copies of your card and if a store photocopies your card and asks you to sign it refuse to do so, they have your signed receipt, that is all they need
Don’t be too paranoid about this card security thing, as I say above I’ve never had a problem in Thailand and I doubt very much that you will either, but if you do, the records I suggest above will be a great help to you and your bank.
One final word, ask your bank for their guidelines and give them a quick read through, they are probably much the same as the advice I give above but there might be a clause somewhere that you need to know about.
The one to watch for is that which relates to the amount of time you have to report errors and misuse.
Lost or Stolen Cards
Lost or Stolen credit cards should be reported as soon as you realise they are missing, the major cards can be contacted in Thailand at these numbers;
American Express (02) 273 5296
Diners Club (02) 238 3660
Mastercard (02) 256 7326
Visa (02) 256 7326
Do take the contact numbers from your own card issuer with you.
Ask for the name of the person you speak to and a ‘Report No’, write these down for future reference. I have lost cards in the past and have always followed my telephone call with a letter to confirm the reported loss, I have included the above name and report number for the bank’s and my own record.
I very rarely use travellers cheques these days but they are a secure and reliable way to carry money overseas, I think they are a particularly good way to carry that emergency fund you might want to have.
Do copy the cheque numbers and keep an up to date record of which cheques you have cashed, if you are carrying a lot of money this way you might want to keep those records online rather in the same place as you keep the cheques.
It depends on what your home currency is but US$, and £ denominations are all accepted in Thailand so don’t go paying an exchange rate to US$ if you use or £.
Where to Make Currency Exchanges
The best option is always the Bank and preferably the Banks in Thailand as they will give a better exchange rate than banks overseas.
You can go into the Bank or use one of the many Bank Exchange booths dotted around the country; certainly in the main tourist areas you will find exchange booths adjacent to many of the bank ATMs.
Hotels, shops, and privately run money changing booths, will also offer exchange but at rates that are considerably worse than the banks.
Do not be tempted to make exchanges with any ‘unofficial’ money changers, you will almost certainly be ripped off.
All face-to-face exchanges will require you to produce your passport.
All the banks in Thailand will offer more or less the same exchange rate, within fractions of a percent, while banks overseas will offer a rate that is perhaps 2 or 3% worse than the Thai banks. Your Credit and Charge Cards will offer the international money market spot rates at the time of the transaction. Hotels and shops will offer rates that are perhaps 5% in their favour, so I really do advise stick to the banks.
The international exchange rates can be found here: http://wwwxe.com