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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-in to your hotel first and sort this 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. However, how do you find someone who will give you that exchange rate (or at least something close to it)?
Before You Leave
You might be tempted to exchange 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.
If you absolutely have to bring cash, exchange it into USD first and then exchange the USD into Baht once you’re in Thailand; it’ll still be cheaper than exchanging it directly (even when done at the airport).
Keep in mind that if you bring more than USD 15,000 (this used to be USD 20,000) into the country (or the equivalent in any other foreign currency), you’ll have to declare it at the border. Personally, I prefer not to have that much cash on me – even if it’s just to carry it to the bank.
And if you must bring that much money into Thailand, think about using a comparison website like Moneytis. It’s not only free to use, but they give you a list of the fastest, cheapest, and most popular money transfer providers in their network. They also reveal transfer fees and charges and show you how much money you’ll save by using one of their providers. With a $1000 transfer, for example, you can potentially save $45. This beats the transfer fees and charges you’ll pay when transferring money through a bank.
My usual procedure to get cash exchanged at decent rates when traveling is to just withdraw a larger amount at an ATM. However, most banks in Thailand now charge a THB 200 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 THB. 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, consider opening a checking account with Charles Schwab. They offer a debit card that will reimburse 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 (TCs)
TCs used to be a way to save some money on fees and exchange rates. Since fees for traveler’s checks were increased from THB 33 to THB 153 per check a few years back, this is mostly a thing of the past. The TC exchange rates tend to be worse than cash, with Siam Commercial Bank being the only exception: the bank offers slightly better rates for TCs than cash, but still nothing better than what you get at Bangkok Bank for cash (0.87%). If you take the 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 fee; it’s an acceptable option if you only exchange a small amount.
If you exchange cash at one of the commercial bank branches that are located throughout the city, you’ll pay roughly the rates listed below. Their rates at exchange counters in tourist areas and at the airport are higher.
|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, it may be cheaper than other options (e.g. ATMs). However, don’t do that with a credit card, as you’ll be hit with withdrawal and cash advance fees on top, which will end up being even more expensive.
Money Exchange Offices
A better alternative to bank-owned exchange counters are major, locally-owned, money exchange offices. 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 exchange bureaus usually require your passport, but sometimes settle for a (Thai) driving license. The best rates are to be had at their main branches, often located in downtown Bangkok, somewhat removed from main roads. Unless you plan to exchange more than USD 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 and while their rates there aren’t as good as at their main locations, they’re still far more competitive than what you would get at a bank.
If you are buying Thai Baht, you get the best rate with USD 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 developing countries: bills don’t necessarily have to be in crisp condition to get the best rate, but they should be fairly recent (e.g. US Dollar notes issued before 2009 might not get accepted at some places).
Below, you’ll find a comparison of the exchange office rates. Most banks and exchange offices don’t have a separate exchange fee; it’s already included in the exchange rate in the form of a small surcharge over the ‘official’ interbank forex rate. The ‘fee’ listed below was 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 December 14th, 2015 for the buying and selling of a USD 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%|
Bank and Electronic Transfers
In case you are staying longer, or are worried about carrying a lot of cash on you, consider opening a local bank account and depositing the Thai Baht right after the exchange. While it’s a little bit more expensive than a cash exchange at SuperRich or one of its competitors, it comes with a lot more convenience and peace of mind. You can find our more in this guide to transferring money to Thailand.
If you prefer not to carry too much cash on you, but still want to get the best exchange rate, you can use a comparison service like Moneytis.com: It’s a comparison platform for exchange service providers that will list out the fastest and cheapest transfer options. Depending on which country you are transferring the funds from, it can be as cheap (sometimes even cheaper) than SuperRich. You can also compare different options directly here:
Other Ways to Save Money
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: You can actually save up to 30% on flights from and to Thailand, get private rooms for as little as 10 USD per night in Bangkok and take advantage of half-price taxis. Read this guide to Thailand discounts, deals and coupons to find out how.