Sending money to Thailand can be a tricky matter. Between international transfer fees and hidden fees in the exchange rate, there are a lot of pitfalls when transferring money from abroad into Thailand. This guide will help clear up some confusion and allow you to transfer your funds swiftly and reliably, while minimizing exchange rate fees.
Aside from traditional forms of banking, there are a number of alternatives that allow you to remit money from overseas to Thailand. Each offers its own kinds of benefits, from lower fees to easier payments, but they also come with their own drawbacks.
Please keep in mind that the information in this article is provided without any warranties and is based on my personal experience. Your own bank or service provider might handle things differently, so I recommend to check with them first – especially if there are more substantial amounts at stake – to see if the same conditions apply to them.
Heads up: I'm very detailed. This article is approximately a 24 minute read. No time? No worries. You can email the ad-free version of this article to yourself and read it later. This way you also have phone numbers in your inbox for when you need them.
- 1 Things to Watch Out For
- 2 Transfer Options
- 2.1 International Bank Transfers
- 2.1.1 What You Need to Decide
- 2.1.2 Country-Specific Recommendations
- 2.2 Foreign Currency Checks
- 2.3 Forex Companies
- 2.4 Western Union
- 2.5 PayPal
- 2.6 Bitcoins
- 2.7 Cash
- 2.1 International Bank Transfers
- 3 My Personal Solution
Things to Watch Out For
Regardless which options you choose, there a few numbers you should pay attention to. Some of them are obvious – like transfer fees – others are hidden in the fine print and won’t show up on any receipt – like systematic, unfavorable exchange rates.
Many providers charge you a fee when sending money abroad. Sometimes that fee is fixed (as in the case of banks), sometimes that fee is a percentage (often the case with credit cards used abroad), and sometimes it is a combination of both (like PayPal, where you pay a small fixed fee, but a very high percentage fee). Depending on the amount you’re sending, different providers might be more suitable.
The lion’s share of international transfers fees lies hidden in the exchange rate. This means in addition to the fee charged by your bank, PayPal, the credit card company or other service provider, there’s an additional fee that can account for up to 4% of the transfer amount. Sometimes companies call it a ‘hedging fee’ – but similar to the airline’s ‘fuel surcharge’, it’s just that: a substantial extra fee that you end up paying.
This exchange rate spread is rarely mentioned anywhere outside of the fine print and for larger amounts it can add up quickly: if you transfer USD 5,000, then that’s up to USD 200 in hidden fees! If you want to uncover hidden exchange rate fees, you can check the (historical) exchange rates on XE and compare it with the one you got. Due to delays in reporting current rates, I generally recommend XE (<2min) over Oanda (<1 day) and Google (<15min) to check live exchange rates.
Transaction speeds can vary a lot and may be way different from what you’re used to back home. This can mean it’s a lot faster (e.g. bank transfers from Hong Kong to Thailand often clear within seconds), or a lot slower (cashing a check from the US can take up to six weeks to clear). There are some guaranteed instant transfer options you can use in emergencies, but these will cost you accordingly.
78% of Thailand’s population are ‘banked’ and have access to an extensive network of bank branches and ATMs. Transfer methods using this network directly (e.g. wire transfers) or indirectly (e.g. Western Union can be sent and received at selected Bangkok Bank branches) have the widest reach in the country.
There are a number of different options available. Main differences are cost, speed, convenience and – sometimes – legality.
International Bank Transfers
An international bank transfer is often the first thing people think of when it comes to sending money to Thailand. Given Thailand’s well-established banking system, you can send money to pretty much everyone, as opening a bank account won’t take more than a national ID or a passport with a tourist visa.
What You Need to Decide
Unless you look into things more closely, all you seem to be able to choose is whether the transfer fees are paid by the sender, the receiver or split evenly between them. But there’s a lot more to it. Here’s what you need to decide.
Each sending bank has their own payment structure. Transfer fees are often easy to determine, exchange rate spread is a tougher one, and many times the tellers might not know. If it’s a significant amount, ask the bank to call their foreign exchange desk for an exchange rate quote and compare it with the mid market rate on XE before you sign or confirm a transfer. Of course, if you send the payment in a foreign currency (and have the Thai bank do the conversion), this doesn’t apply.
Not all Thai banks are equal when it comes to receiving foreign currency transactions. Similar to sending banks, each receiving bank has their own payment structure. Unlike sending banks though, you can’t get an advance quote on the exchange rate, and it’ll get converted at whatever rate they use, regardless if you like it or not.
As a general rule of thumb, Bangkok Bank is the cheapest bank in Thailand to receive money at (due to low exchange rate spreads, you only lose about 0.5% on incoming transfers). In addition, Bangkok Bank maintains correspondent offices in a number of countries, making transfers through them particularly cheap.
Deduct Fees From Sender or Receiver
Usually you can ask banks outright what the fees are. If transferring money to yourself, it makes sense to pick whatever option results in lower fees. In the majority of cases, it will be sender paying the fees (as even if you specify the receiver to pay the fees, the sender still gets charged a fee – albeit a lower one).
Transfer in THB or Your Home Currency
This will depend on which country you’re sending the money from (see below for specific country instructions). Some foreign banks take up to a 4% cut of the entire transfer amount in the form of unfavorable exchange rates. In the majority of cases, it’s better to send it in your home currency and have a Thai bank with favorable rates (e.g. Bangkok Bank) convert it. If in doubt, ask for a quote by your bank before sending a payment.
Depending on which country you’re sending money from, you can save a lot of money by going with the right bank.
Bangkok Bank has correspondence branches in a number of countries. When sending payments in those countries in a local currency, the bank has an amazing service: you can use the routing code of their local branch to make a domestic transfer. It’ll get credited to your Thai bank account at Bangkok Bank’s internal and very favorable exchange rate. This works for everyone who has an account at Bangkok Bank, no prior sign-up or account abroad necessary.
Below you’ll find details about where this service is available, as well as where there are more competitive services you can use instead.
Based on anecdotal evidence, German co-operative banks (‘Volksbanken und Raiffeisenbanken’) convert at 1.7% below mid market rate, public banks (‘Sparkassen’) convert at 2.1% below mid market rate: Both are significantly worse than Thai banks (usually around 1% below mid market rate, with Bangkok Bank being the exception at 0.5%). Based on this, you’re better off transferring the amount in EUR and have the Thai bank do the conversion. The fixed rates charged to senders usually tend to be lower in Germany than the receiving fees in Thailand, so set fees ‘to be paid by sender’ in your wire instructions.
From Hong Kong
There are no exceptionally cheap transfer services offered from Hong Kong that I am aware of. What’s noteworthy however, is that transfers sent before cut-off time from a number of banks (including HSBC) are usually processed in less than 5 minutes, making for the closest thing possible to an instant bank transfer.
When sending a payment from Israel Post, you only pay USD 8 (as sender) and THB 70 on the receiving end (if the receiver has a Bangkok Bank account). What’s unique about Israel Post is that you can also specify bank accounts other than Bangkok Bank, though there’ll be an extra charge of THB 100.
Bangkok Bank has offices in Tokyo and Osaka through which you can route payments as domestic transfers from Japan. They also offer a service in cooperation with Japan Post Bank.
In cooperation with Korea Post, Bangkok Bank has a service where they charge you KRW 8,000 in Korea and THB 200 in Thailand (plus an exchange rate spread of about 0.5%), making it cheaper than most international payment options.
From the UK
Through their London branch, Bangkok Bank supports ‘domestic’ UK bank transfers. Detailed instructions can be found on their website.
From the US
For payments in US Dollars and especially from a US-based sender, you can use the routing code of the Bangkok Bank New York branch (‘026008691’) together with the account number of your Thailand-based Bangkok Bank account. US-based senders can send payments as a domestic transfer using that routing number, and it’ll get credited to your Thai bank account at Bangkok Bank’s internal and very favorable exchange rate.
This is also really useful to receive funds from internet payment providers who only allow US-based accounts. It used to be a good way to circumvent PayPal’s exchange fee surcharge. Unfortunately, PayPal has since discovered this loophole and no longer allows accounts with the routing code of Bangkok Bank’s New York branch to be added.
When sending a payment via Swiss Post, fees are as low as CHF 2 per outgoing transfer. The recipient pays THB 200 or THB 250, depending if they have a Bangkok Bank account or one from any other Thai Bank.
From Anywhere Else
You can do your own research, but in most cases, you’ll find that you’re best off sending transfers to a Bangkok Bank account: their transaction fees are roughly half of what you pay with Kasikorn Bank or Siam Commercial Bank. In addition, if you transfer a larger amount (more than THB 1M), you can ask them to give you a quote for a better exchange rate. The actual transfer charges (e.g. THB 1,150 for a transfer from Thailand to the US with Bangkok Bank) are only relevant for amounts of less than USD 2,000.
Foreign Currency Checks
If you are with a bank that has very unfavorable exchange rates, you can still use them to funnel funds to Thailand at favorable conditions. If you send a foreign currency check (e.g. in USD), the Thai bank will request your foreign bank to settle that check in USD. This way, the Thai bank does the currency conversion rather than the sending bank – often at much better exchange rates.
There is no shortage of companies claiming to transfer money for you at exchange rates lower than those offered by banks. Usually they describe their services as ‘fx international payments’. I’ve avoided them so far: a small amount is just not worth the trouble, and a large amount is too risky considering the limited legal recourse available.
In general there are two types of forex companies: ones that sell you currency directly (traditional fx international payments) and ones that connect you with a third party who you then trade with (peer-to-peer forex transfers). Below are reviews of one company in each category to give you an idea of costs and benefits.
Smart Currency Exchange
A reader was kind enough to share his experience with an fx international payments provider: SmartCurrencyExchange. Here’s the process he went through:
- Create an account: You’ll first have to sign up on their website.
- Contact them by phone: You call their hotline, authenticate yourself and tell them how much you’d like to exchange.
- Negotiate and agree to a rate: A trader gives you an exchange rate quote that you can negotiate to a certain degree (e.g. 0.25%). If it’s an amount less than EUR 2,000, you have to pay an additional fee of EUR 5. You confirm the transaction on the phone and receive a confirmation by e-mail to pay the amount.
- Transfer the money: Once you transfer the amount to a EUR account in the UK, they’ll send you an e-mail confirmation and transfer the converted amount to your Thai account within a few days. Sometimes the receiving bank will charge you an additional fee (e.g. THB 250 with Bangkok Bank).
Based on the above sample transaction, the exchange fee is 0.93%. If you add the THB 250 that Bangkok Bank charges for receiving the transaction, you’ll end up paying 1.21% – not a very competitive rate compared to most Thai banks. While this provider doesn’t seem to offer such a great deal, there might be others offering more competitive rates. If you found a provider offering significantly better rates, please feel free to let me know in the comments section of this article.
In recent years, one form of sending money abroad that has gained more popularity is peer-to-peer currency exchanges like TransferWise. For customers, the process isn’t that different from traditional Forex providers, but in this case, rather than buying the funds on the international market, the company matches you up with another individual or company.
The general idea is that they’ll find you a ‘partner’ who wants to send money in the opposite direction as you are and then matches you up. Instead of each of you doing an international transfer, you each do a domestic transfer. You send a payment from your UK account to their UK account (or whichever country you happen to have your funds in) and they send the same amount in THB from their Thai account to your Thai account.
TransferWise charges 1% to 1.5% of the transfer amount. This makes it especially interesting for payments of less than USD 2,000. For these amounts, the fixed bank fees per transaction would be more expensive. If I were to remit funds on a monthly basis to cover my cost of living in Bangkok, this would probably be the cheapest option (and since it can be planned well in advance, the time it takes to clear the transfer wouldn’t matter as much).
However, for payments exceeding USD 3,000, you’re better off sticking with Bangkok Bank as their fixed fee + exchange rate difference is less than the 1% charged by TransferWise.
One of the most well-known instant transfer services is Western Union. In principle, they can make cash available to a recipient worldwide within a matter of two minutes, albeit at a price. Part of that price is easily visible on their website. Depending on where you’re sending instant transfers from, the fixed prices range from anywhere between USD 10 and 50. However, the real cost is in the exchange rate; for non-instant transfers (basically a bank transfer through Western Union), it starts at 4%. For actual real-time transfers, you’ll pay roughly 7.5% of the transfer amount.
If you absolutely need the money the same day, Western Union is a company that can make that happen in close to 5,000 locations throughout Thailand. Most of them are bank branches with limited opening hours. It’s a good idea to double-check that there’s a recipient point that’s open at the time and place you need it to be.
PayPal offers a convenient way to send international payments as long as the amounts aren’t that significant. Payments can be made for as little as USD 0.50 (and up to 1%) per transfer if it’s a ‘personal payment’. This doesn’t include exchange fees; PayPal adds 2.5% on the exchange rate if you ever want to withdraw your USD balance to a local Thai bank account. This gets expensive very quickly, but works out to be cheaper than a wire transfer for anything less than USD 1,000. It’s not as cheap as exchanging in cash or going through TransferWise, but it’s hard to beat the convenience.
In 2013, Thailand became the first country to effectively ban Bitcoins. Since then, the Bank of Thailand has reversed its stance, warning against their use, but also stating it doesn’t consider Bitcoins to be a currency. At the time of writing, there are several exchange places in operation, including bitcoin.co.th, bx.in.th and coins.co.th. In theory, Bitcoins are an option to transfer currency without any significant fees. In practice, the savings are minuscule to non-existent, due to fees charged by Bitcoin market places to buy and sell the coins. Considering that the Bank of Thailand actually stated it’s illegal to use Bitcoins for foreign exchange transactions, the risk and inconvenience isn’t worth putting up with.
One often forgotten option to transfer money into Thailand is good old cash: At the time of writing you don’t need to declare amounts of less than USD 20,000 to Thai customs. However, keep in mind that the amount you can take out of your home country without declaring it to local customs might be lower.
Exchanging cash offers the cheapest exchange rate: You can pay less than 0.1% when going to a professional money changer like SuperRich. For a full list of money exchange services offering competitive rates, please check out my post on Thailand Money Matters.
Compared to sending it by bank transfer, going the cash route saves you USD 80 for every USD 20,000 you bring in. Many people though, myself included, wouldn’t consider the stress of walking around with USD 20,000 in cash worth the USD 80 you would save.
My Personal Solution
In practice, I use bank transfers from and to Bangkok Bank for nearly all international transfers exceeding USD 1,000, with fees to be paid by the sender. For smaller payments, I usually go with PayPal – while it’s not as cheap as some other alternatives, it’s by far the most convenient and widely used solution, even if it costs an extra USD 10 for a transfer. If I had to deal with regular transactions below USD 2,000, I would also consider TransferWise.
If you’ve found any other alternatives you’d like to recommend, please let me know in the comments or send me a message!