Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September of 2017 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Moments after you step off the plane, you’ll notice the first exchange booths in Thailand. Should you go find an ATM? Exchange money at the airport? Or maybe check into your hotel first and sort the exchange out later?
There are a number of ways you can get your hands on Thai Baht. The main issue will be the exchange rate, which can vary significantly between the different exchange options. Since the fee is usually not listed separately but included in the exchange rate, it’s easy to overpay without noticing.
If you want to check what the ‘official’ rate with no surcharge is, either today or on any given day in the past, you can do so with Oanda’s currency converter. Keep in mind that the Oanda rate is the ‘mid-market’ rate that banks use to deal with each other – as a tourist you’ll never get that rate. However, there are ways to get something close to it.
Prepare for Your Trip
You might be tempted to exchange your money into Thai Baht before you come to Thailand. Try to avoid this or at least limit it to the absolute minimum; it’s by far the most expensive way to exchange money. In virtually all countries, including neighboring ones, you tend to lose 5% to 10% at the very least if you exchange your local currency into baht.
There are a few other points you can consider in advance that’ll save you some extra cash, especially if you travel on a regular basis with large amounts of money or with currency other than US Dollars.
The money exchange tips and tricks I’m going to show you will save you a lot of money over time. You can do what you’d like with that extra cash. For me, I like to put it into travel insurance, which I recommend to anyone who travels to Thailand. It’ll only cost you around $8 a day, but travel insurance can save you over hundreds of thousands of baht if something unexpected happens. The travel insurance company I regularly use is World Nomads.
- A List of Useful Services When Traveling to Thailand
- The Best Travel Hacks to Find Cheap Flights to Bangkok
- A Guide to Prepare a Trip and Spend Your Vacation in Thailand
Change Your Currency to US Dollars
If you absolutely have to bring cash, exchange it into US Dollars first. Then exchange the US Dollar into Thai Baht once you’re in Thailand. This works because exchange rates for US Dollars are so much higher. Even exchanging your currency into US Dollars and then into Thai Baht will give you a higher exchange rate than exchanging your currency into Thai Baht (regardless of which country).
The same goes for when you leave Thailand. Exchange your leftover Thai Baht into your currency of choice while you’re still in the country.
If you don’t want to carry much cash, use an online money transfer service. Online money transfer services help you securely transfer funds from your home bank account into a Thai bank account. And they’ll give you cheaper rates than what you’d pay when using dated and slow wire transfer services. With a $1000 transfer, for example, you could save $45 and have your money within two business days.
Declare Cash at Customs
Keep in mind that if you bring more than $15,000 (or the equivalent in any other foreign currency) into the country, you’ll have to declare it at the border. It’s not illegal as some people may think, but you may be asked to provide some information as to where the money came from or what you plan to do with it.
Personally, I prefer not to have that much cash on me, even if it’s just to carry it to the bank. If you do plan on carrying a lot of cash, I recommend you don’t cut corners on safety. Do yourself a favor. Avoid taxi touts and use Taxi2Airport.com instead.
Other Ways to Save Money While Traveling
Making sure you don’t get a bad deal when exchanging cash is a good start to saving money. However, that’s just the start. There is a way to cut accommodation, food, and transportation expenses by half while traveling to Thailand. Check The Insider’s Guide to Traveling to Thailand to find out more.
Bringing cash into Thailand and exchanging it in the country is a surprisingly effective way to handle things, assuming you exchange it at the right place. A number of places provide reasonably competitive rates, but there are some that are out-of-this-world good.
My usual procedure to get cash exchanged at decent rates when traveling is to just withdraw large amounts from an ATM. However, most banks in Thailand now charge a 220 baht fee on top of any fees your own bank charges, including fees hidden in inflated exchange rates (usually in the range of 0.5% to 1% per transaction, depending on your bank). Charles Rahm has a lot more details on ATMs. In case you are using a credit card, the exchange fees tend to be significantly higher than with debit cards (typically 2% to 2.5%).
Over the last few years, local ATMs and even companies have started offering to charge you in your credit card’s currency instead of Thai Baht. In any single instance I’ve witnessed so far, this resulted in an exchange rate significantly worse (5% and more) than that of your credit card company (usually less than 2.5%).
If you’re set on using ATMs, travel frequently, and happen to be a US citizen, open a checking account with either Charles Schwab or TD Bank (good for Canadians, too). Both banks reimburse you on all foreign ATM fees. For residents of other countries, there’s at least one bank that has a similar offer, waiving foreign ATM withdrawal fees. It’s usually a good deal and worth looking up if you travel at least semi-frequently.
Traveler’s Checks used to be a way to save some money on fees and exchange rates. Since fees for traveler’s checks were increased from 33 baht to 153 baht per check a few years back, traveler’s checks are mostly a thing of the past.
Exchange rates tend to be worse than cash, with Siam Commercial Bank being the only exception. The bank offers slightly better rates for traveler’s checks than cash, but still nothing better than what you’d get at Bangkok Bank for cash, which is an exchange fee of 0.87%. If you take the traveler’s check-issuing fee into account, you’re better off bringing a debit card if you consider cash too risky.
Bank-owned exchange counters are widely available in tourist areas, from airports to night markets. Their exchange rates are in the same region as what most credit card companies will charge you for payments or withdrawals in a foreign currency. Not as good as what a debit card gets you, but at least there’s no additional fees. It’s an acceptable option if you only exchange a small amount of money.
If you exchange cash at one of the commercial bank branches that are located throughout the city, you’ll pay the rates listed below. Their rates at exchange counters in tourist areas and at airports are higher. (Click for locations.)
|Siam Commercial Bank||1.05%|
Another option would be to go directly into an official bank branch, give them your debit card, and ask for a cash advance or a cash withdrawal. You’ll have to bring your passport, but some banks won’t charge you an additional fee. So it’s just whatever your card charges.
Depending on your bank card, this option may be cheaper than ATMs. However, don’t do it with a credit card, as you’ll be hit with withdrawal and cash advance fees, which will end up costing you even more money.
Offices and Kiosks
A better alternative to bank-owned exchange counters are major, locally-owned, money exchange offices or kiosks. These tend to offer the best deal, bar none, and can save you more than 90% on your exchange fees, effectively costing you as little as 0.06% of the transaction amount.
These exchanges usually require your passport, but sometimes settle for a Thai driver’s license. The best rates are to be had at their main branches, often located downtown Bangkok, somewhat removed from main roads. But unless you plan to exchange more than $10,000, the difference might not be worth it. You can go to one of their more conveniently located satellite branches without losing much in the exchange.
Some exchange bureaus like Super Rich now operate branches at Skytrain stations. While rates at these locations aren’t as good as at their main locations, they’re still far more competitive than what you would get at a bank.
Not all Superrich offers the best rate. We include a list of branches that have the best rate in Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai, and a better alternative. We’ve created it as a thank you to our Patreon supporters. To access this content, head over to our Patreon and support our mission of creating content that helps expats live, work, retire, or start a business in Thailand.
If you are buying Thai Baht, you’ll get the best rate with $50 or $100 bills. Smaller denominations net slightly lower rates. Exchange offices in Thailand don’t tend to be as strict as those found in some other countries. For example, bills don’t necessarily have to be in crisp condition to get the best rate, but they should be fairly recent (US notes issued before 2009 might not be accepted at some places).
Below, you’ll find a comparison of popular exchange office rates. Most banks and exchange offices don’t have separate exchange fees. They’re already included in the exchange rate in the form of a small surcharge over the official interbank forex rate.
The fees listed below were calculated by splitting the spread between buying and selling rates into equal parts. Technically, the surcharge can be different for buying and selling, but to keep things simple, I’ve combined it into a single figure. The data is based on a survey completed on April 10th, 2018 for the buying and selling of a $100 bill.
In addition to the fees, I’ve also linked the exchange offices to their Google maps location. Given the small difference in fees, you might want to just go to whichever is located most conveniently for you.
|Twelve Victory Exchange Co.,Ltd.||0.07%|
Thailand is a relatively safe travel destination. During the day there tend to be few issues with pick-pocketers, bag snatchers, and other petty criminals. But when carrying a lot of cash on you, avoid crowded places like buses and trains, nightlife areas, including nearby sidewalks, and other places popular with tourists.
If you arrive with a lot of cash that you plan to exchange in Thailand, consider booking your airport transfer in advance with a reputable company. It reduces the odds of having issues with your driver and if you forget something in the car, there is a higher chance of getting it back. You can use Taxi2Airport.com to compare available options and book your transfer. It’ll cost more than hailing a taxi upon arrival, but depending on how much you’re carrying, it may be worth the peace of mind.
You have many choices for online money transfer services. But I recommend XendPay. They’ll give you the lowest rates and quickest transfer times when sending money to Thailand. Find out how you can save cash on your next online money transfer in our in-depth review of XendPay.
Open a Tourist Bank Account
If you travel to Thailand on a regular basis, consider opening a bank account, which you can do on a tourist visa. Once you have a bank account, you can use an online money transfer service like TransferWise to send money from your home country to Thailand. It’s not only cheap to use but also faster than a normal wire transfer.
This beats paying hefty transfer fees and charges when transferring money through a bank, and it’s a whole lot safer than carrying around a suitcase full of cash. Depending on which country you are transferring the funds from, transferring money can be as cheap (sometimes even cheaper) than Super Rich.
Send Money Online
There are comparison websites like Moneytis that allow you to compare the cheapest and fastest online money transfer services. Often, a big difference with the cheapest options is that it takes a longer time to transfer money. Up to two weeks, in fact. Depending on how much and where you’re sending money from, you’ll find plenty of solutions. Sometimes it’s an ordinary bank transfer, sometimes it’s TransferWise, and sometimes it’s a new company you haven’t heard of.
Pay Before You Travel
Some of the best deals, savings, and alternatives to hotels are available online only. If you pay for these deals in your home currency by credit card you’ll instantly save on the booking price, and it’ll be less money you have to exchange in Thailand and possibly lose money on. This is not only true for accommodations, but nowadays you can book a lot of things online or through your smartphone, including taxis when you use a ride sharing app like Grab.
Photo by Peter Hellberg.
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