Thai Currency and Exchange Rates
The unit of Thai currency is the "baht" (though some documents typed with automatic spell checkers will incorrectly rename it the "bath"), and it's pronounced just like the English word "bought".
The current exchange rates can be gotten by just going to Google and typing, for example:
Paper money comes in the 20 to 1000 baht range, and coins in the 0.25 to 10 baht denominations. All currency now has both western numbers (0-9) and Thai numbers on them (with the exception of some old coins which you will rarely if ever see in circulation now, which have no international 0-9 numbers). No money has any Roman A-Z, it's all Thai script, but this no problem thanks to the romanization of the number.
Fortunately, Thailand is one of those countries which makes the size of coins and bank notes in the same order as their value, and each value has a unique size.
(Compare this to the US where one coin is called a "dime" with no "10" value written on it, only "ONE DIME" on it, and it's much smaller than the 1 and 5 cent coins...)
Coins are in baht and "satang" whereby 100 satang = 1 baht. The smallest denomination, 25 satang = 0.25 baht, is approximately equivalent to an American penny in value, just a little bit less at the time of this writing, but the 50 satang coin being a bit over 1.5 cents. Those two are brass or copper (depending on year made). The 25 and 50 written on these particular coins is not baht but is satang, and less than 1 baht. They are NOT 25 and 50 baht! The main coins used are the grey metal 1 baht, 5 baht and 10 baht coins, the 10 baht coin having a pretty copper center. There is also a brass 2 baht coin, which came into use many years after I arrived. here. They were originally grey metal, but so similar to the grey 1 baht coin that it often caused confusion, so later they made the 2 baht coins to be brass. The 2 baht coins are not popular, but still used.
(I tend to just drop all brass coins into cups at home when I empty my pockets (and sometimes anything under 5 baht), or put those coins into a donation box somewhere. It's good to be aware of donation locations and try to vet them for legitimacy, so when you plan to go past such a place again, you can bring and unload your donation money. Some temples are good at managing their money for good causes. I typically add in some bank notes, too.)
Exchanging Money and Restrictions
There is no black market exchange rate, so you should only exchange money at a bank or similar foreign exchange facility, which give the best rates. (Of course, hotels give bad rates.)
ATMs accept foreign ATM cards on the Plus, Cirrus, and other networks, and of course accept VISA and MasterCard (see discussion below), which is the quickest and easiest way to "convert" your money into the local currency.
The international airport in Bangkok has currency exchange facilities which give fair rates, and are always open, 24/7.
Practically all banks located around Thailand give very nearly the same, standard, fair rates (though in remote locations the staff may be clueless, with you as their first ever currency conversion customer).
After banking hours, there are also Currency Exchange outlets in tourist nightlife centers.
Most of the major European and Asian currencies are accepted in Bangkok, though many are not. For example, it seems nobody will exchange Chinese Yuan/RMB or Indian rupees. If you're not sure, then bring U.S. dollars.
There's no limit to the amount of money you can bring into Thailand. However, there are limits to how much money you can leave with per person, unless you have special authorization (this exact amount seems to change from time to time). You can carry out any amount of foreign currency, but there are restrictions at banks on how much Thai baht you can convert into foreign currency at one time, and for large amounts you will need to show your airplane ticket and passport, and maybe provide an explanation for very large amounts. (These restrictions are mainly the result of currency speculation surrounding the 1997 currency crisis, and again in 2007 due to "capital controls" which were discontinued in 2008. From early 2008 onwards, no problem.)
(About neighboring countries: Certain regional currencies including China, Malaysia, Burma and Vietnam have an official exchange rate which is set by their governments, not set by the free market, so that the in-country and out-of-country (on/offshore) exchange rates differ significantly. This means that you need to make a decision on whether to exchange your money in Thailand before you visit those countries, or whether to exchange money after you arrive in the destination country. In some cases, it's better to exchange inside the country, not in Thailand, because the currency is seen as less worthy/less useful outside the country. However, in other cases, the government or banks rip off the tourists, whereby to get the best exchange rates, if it's worth your time / effort / transit, then you may want to find vendors in Thailand who will sell you these currencies in exchange for dollars, at rates similar to the black market rates in the destination country, but I can't attest to the safety or legitimacy of the currency of these vendors. You can find these vendors along Silom Rd. and Charoen Krung Rd. However, you should change back to dollars before you leave the destination country.)
In Laos, the currency is pretty much set by the free market, and you'll have no problem getting currency converted at banks for approximately the same as you'll find in the best black market. Laos is very similar to Thailand in culture and language, unlike the other neighboring countries. (The Lao culture is peaceful and charming, albeit ultra relaxed.)
Credit Cards, Debit Cards and ATMs
It might or might not be best to carry much cash into Thailand (such as thousands of dollars), but that depends on how much your foreign bank charges you for an ATM withdrawal in Thailand.
In traveling around the world, there are many countries where I get local cash only thru a local ATM, and don't exchange bank notes at any teller because their exchange rates are terrible compared to ATMs. Fortunately, in Thailand, it's not so bad, and you can exchange notes at a teller at the airport, or at major banks in Bangkok and many other places, especially in tourist areas, but even many places upcountry.
From credit/debit cards instead of notes, you can get Thai baht from the ATM machines using your major debit or credit card from your own country, even in most small towns around Thailand. The bank exchange rate is automatic and roughly as good as you'll find. The main issue is usually withdrawal card fees. In Thailand, ATMs have been charging me between 150 to 220 baht per card withdrawal, but my bank overseas charges me a whopping US $ 12 in addition. Most ATMs have an upper limit of 20,000 baht per withdrawal, but some (such as Bangkok Bank) allow 25,000 baht. Therefore, if I add $12 and 220 baht, that means anytime I withdraw 20,000 baht, I pay around 3.3% in fees alone. Add in their margin for currency conversion, and it's close to 4% total.
Their buy/sell difference is typically 1% electronically, so they're making approximately 0.5% on those transactions (counting from the middle), which is reasonable. Therefore, I have no complaints about exchanging bank notes. However, be aware that some banks may have wider spreads, especially on the street. There is a small difference in the exchange rate for notes vs. cards.
Of course, at an ATM, it makes no sense to withdraw less that the maximum amount, 20,000 baht (or 25,000), due to the card fees.
You should always keep a good bit of cash on you at all times in Thailand. One reason is that the ATM machines often crash late at nite, and aren't reset until the morning. Another reason is in case your credit cards are stolen or lost. While Thailand is a relatively safe country, theft can happen anywhere in the world.
The vast majority of ATM machines offer both Thai and English, and many offer Chinese, Japanese, and some Asian languages from bordering countries.
You may be better off paying cash than using a credit card. While it's technically against the law for the Thai vendor to pass onto you the fee that the credit card company charges them (approximately 2.25% to 3.5%, depending upon card type), it's quite common for them to do so, and it's usually not negotiable -- you either pay the surcharge or don't use your credit card. They often want to charge 4 or 5% instead of the 2.25% to 3.5%. (Their profit margin may be just 10%, so if you use a credit card it takes a big bite out of the margin, plus they take other risks with a credit card, and the companies which sell credit card processing equipment and access charge them additional fees. This is why I don't take credit cards directly for services paid to me, though you can use your credit card with PayPal to pay me.)
You should also be aware that many vendors use a third party to bill your credit card. Thus, your credit card number may not be safe. Any time your credit card number goes down on paper, or somebody walks away with your card, you could possibly be at risk. I never let my card out of sight.
Setting up a bank account in Thailand for a foreigner without a work permit has become difficult. It was quick and easy when I first arrived, with just my passport required, but now people are typically rejected due to new rules and regulations. Exceptions can be made in some cases, but don't plan on just coming here with a stack of cash as a tourist and then opening a bank account to put your money.
Once you have a bank account, depositing or receiving wire transfers of money is easy, but getting it back out by wire transfer typically requires documentation, it isn't approved easily, and it may be rejected.
Articles on all the possibilities and procedures may be beyond the scope of this article. I'd just say that if you're going to put money into a Thai bank, I suggest you put only as much as you plan to withdraw with your ATM card. Of course, you can also withdraw using that ATM card overseas, which gets around the paperwork procedures, but you pay a fee for each transaction, though it may be a relatively insignificant fee.
If you're accustomed to personal cheques in your home country, then you'll need to change your habits because personal cheques are generally not used here. Cheques are seldom written here and are normally restricted to business transactions using long established company accounts. You can get a local ATM card immediately, as is standard practice, but not a chequebook. For large purchases, you can go to your bank to arrange a bank cheque to carry to the vendor.
Many bills and things are paid at the ATM machine using your ATM card, not by cheques. Your ATM card will work in nearly any ATM machine regardless of bank for cash withdrawals, but if you want to transfer money to another account, or pay bills, then you generally must go to one of your own bank's ATM machines.
You will be given a bank book. For a personal account, you generally will not be mailed detailed bank statements from the bank as in many western countries. You should carry this bank book with you whenever you do a transaction with a teller. They will put the bank book into their machine, and your transactions will be printed on the pages of the bank book in order. If you do a lot of transactions (ATM, deposits) without bringing in your bank book for a long time, then one line may include a combination of many transactions in value with no itemization (one line with code ACM for ACcuMulated).
You can use any branch of your bank for most transactions such as depositing local cheques, but you will find that a few services are available only at the branch in which you opened your bank account. The same goes for cashing (vs. depositing) a cheque -- you must go to the branch number on the cheque of the issuing party, as is written clearly on the cheque, if you wish to cash the cheque. You can call the bank (phone numbers below) and find out where the branch is. For depositing a cheque, if the issuing party uses the same bank as yourself, then the money will usually be available for withdrawal immediately upon deposit. However, if the cheque is from a different Thai bank, then it will clear in two days, e.g., if you put it in Tuesday afternoon then it will be available for ATM withdrawal after 6:30pm on Thursday. If you deposit it before 10:00am, then the funds will usually be available the next day after 6:30pm.
When you fill out a deposit or withdrawal form, be sure to use a duplicate form (carbon or chemical) so that you make two copies, or have the teller print a receipt. They keep one and they stamp the copy to give to you as a receipt and with a computer printout on it having your name and other information clearly typed even if the form is left blank. If your bank is poorly managed so you are stuck with no carbon, then just fill out two forms separately, as nothing will matter except what the computer prints onto the receipt. Make sure to bring your passport if you want to withdraw cash at the counter rather than at an ATM.
A list of local Thai banks and their main phone number:
Which bank is best is up for debate. Here are my opinions:
Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) was my favorite from when I first came here in 1994 up until recently, due to their good service effort (though remote banks sometimes have clueless staff). Siam Commercial Bank has the most ATMs in Thailand. (You can withdraw money at any bank's ATM, but if you want to transfer money to someone else then you need to use an ATM of your bank.) Siam Commercial Bank ATMs had the best English for a long time. The bank maintains a very good reputation. You can spot them by their purple brand color.
Kasikorn, also known as K-Bank, formerly "Thai Farmers Bank" (but they are not just for farmers; that's just their origin long ago) also provides exemplary quality of service, is very modern, and has a good reputation in the hi-so financial community. Kasikorn is definitely on the rise and I project Kasikorn to be the bank of the future. The quality of service in their branches has overtaken Siam Commercial Bank in many ways, as has their English ability in branches. The English in their ATMs and internet banking is also very good. Kasikorn has embarked on some ambitious e-banking projects. Very modern. Their branches are bright green. (The green reflects their farmers origin, but they are obviously way beyond farming now. "Kasikorn" is a farmer word.)
Bangkok Bank was one of the best known and biggest banks in Southeast Asia until the 1997 Asia Economic Crash, which nearly destroyed Bangkok Bank. In the old days, Bangkok Bank had the best service in some ways (though their ATMs had no English for a painfully long time, though now they have English). I and many of my associates have abandoned our accounts there due to poor and uncompetitive service.
UOB (United Overseas Bank) and a few others are of interest in special situations, but are far behind the above three with foreigners.
English is often poor in the branches and at the ATMs of smaller banks.
Technically, foreigners are required a work permit to open a bank account. However, in practice, many branches will open an account for a foreigner without a work permit. If one branch turns you down, you'll probably find that the next branch will accept you. Most people get it on the first branch. Very few foreigners have had to try more than 3 branches. They may ask you for your work permit, but if/when you say you don't have one, they will say never mind and proceed. (This Is Thailand!) If you have a problem, then maybe you need to tidy up your appearance and change your demeanor. Also, bring a good amount of money to open the account.
The normal account is a "Savings" account tied to an ATM card for withdrawals. As noted above already, there are no personal checking accounts in Thailand. Only company checking accounts.
Foreign banks with a branch in Bangkok include those listed below ... but it's important to know that most of those don't offer counter service. The local favorite, which does offer counter service, and good service, is the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC). Foreign banks usually have just one branch in Thailand, in the city center.
Transferring Money To/From Abroad
Besides using a credit card as discussed above, there are other ways of transferring money from abroad. Some require setting up a bank account in Thailand, which is easy and quick as discussed in the previous section on Banking. There are also branches of several foreign banks in Bangkok, as also listed previously.
Western Union is the fastest way to send money, e.g., same day, but is the most expensive way. You have to go pick up the money at a Western Union office. Most branches of Central and Robinsons Department stores in Bangkok have a Western Union, and in many provinces you can pick up Western Union at the Thai Post government post office. To find out which ones, call 02-254-9121.
MoneyGram works just like Western Union except that their branches are linked to Siam Commercial Bank, which is located nationwide and has the most branches. You get a better exchange rate with MoneyGram and lower fees, compared to Western Union.
Western Union was the main option in years past but MoneyGram seemed to come roaring in after the year 2000.
There are some relative startups like iKobo which were interesting. iKobo sent me a card with some credit on it many years ago but then the card suddenly didn't work and after wasting a lot of time on the phone to the USA, it seemed that iKobo had been bought up by another company which wasn't honoring my card and there was some convoluted process to get my remaining credit, frankly not worth my time to hassle with it.
Wiring money from an overseas bank account to your Thai bank account (or vice versa) usually takes one to three days, though sometimes it can take more than a week, depending upon the banks and the system used. It can also be pretty expensive, with fees on both ends, e.g., 400 baht to receive.
If you plan to deposit a cheque written to you personally, try to make sure the cheque is written to your full name, for example Joseph Antonio Blow instead of Joseph Blow. This is because your Thai bank account will be in your full name, and branches and central offices have been known to reject deposits without the middle name in it. It depends on the bank and branch. I've had to argue with a few of them, and the time and effort to prevent this makes it worth avoiding this issue. Again, they will normally take out around 400 baht on the Thai end and take around 45 days to clear the cheque.
One of the cheapest ways is to send an international cashier's cheque or money order which you prepare at a bank. Such a cheque should be sent by a registered international courier, e.g., FedEx or DHL or UPS. These couriers are listed on our page on Postal and Courier.
Notably, do not use the post office Money Order service. You don't get a money order cheque. It's a farce. There is an alluring advertisement on the website of the Communications Authority of Thailand (who is in charge of the post offices), and you'll see a Money Order place in post offices. My experience with this government service has been unacceptable, to say the least. Fortunately, the staff and big boss at the post office were kind enough to agree with me, and disagree with the system imposed on them.
To send money or to receive cash, you will need your passport in hand.
There are generally no restrictions on receiving money, but sending money is another matter, as is walking out of the country with money. Many new regulations were put into place as a result of the 1997 economic collapse and currency speculation which caused the Thai baht to fluctuate and become more unstable.
Transferring money will require an invoice from the remote receiver, and you should bring as much documentation as you can.
Currently, it is said that you can walk out with up to 50,000 baht. (This may be out of date. Check for the latest.)
To convert Thai baht into cash during times of questionable government policies and currency speculation has required your show your plane ticket as a reason for converting Thai baht into foreign currency. However, most of the time there is no problem in central Bangkok if it's not a large amount of money to be converted.
Transferring Money Within Thailand by ATM Transfer
If you already have a bank account in Thailand, it's quick and easy to send money to someone else's bank account in Thailand, or to some company's bank account. This is a common method of payment.
The only trick is that you must go to an ATM machine owned by your bank. For example, if you have an SCB (Siam Commercial Bank) ATM card, and your girlfriend has a Kasikorn Bank (KBank) then you must go to an SCB bank ATM to transfer the money. You cannot use a Krung Thai Bank ATM or a Kasikorn Bank ATM or anything except an SCB Bank ATM. Likewise, if you girlfriend wants to send some money to you, then she must go to a Kasikorn Bank ATM, not an SCB ATM.
The ATM machines vary, but the process usually goes like this:
It's very easy and quick. The money is instantly available to the other person.
Keep the receipt. If you need it for tax records or any other potential reason for future reference, then you should photocopy or scan it, because most of the receipts fade very quickly (thermal paper). The receipt will have the sender's and receiver's account number, transaction number, amount, date and time. It won't have any names on it.
Notably, interbank transfer usually fails after 9pm, though transfers within different accounts of the same bank usually work 24 hours/day.
Credit Cards in Thailand
Many of the so-called "MasterCard" and "Visa" cards you get from Thai banks are basically ATM cards which will use the Visa and MasterCard domestic networks, too, but will not be accepted as a Visa or MasterCard overseas, e.g., if you try to use them for an internet transaction in another country or you present them at a hotel overseas. Rejected.
The bank staff will often swear up and down that you can use the cards overseas. However, the only place you can use them is in an ATM machine overseas.
As a general rule of thumb, if the card does not have raised lettering on it, then the probability is high that it will only work for domestic Thailand Visa and MasterCard transactions, not overseas.
Don't find this out after you're already overseas. Don't take the low level staff's word for it. Go on-line and try purchasing something with it, such as a subscription, software, a Kindle electronic book, etc., from a different country.
Income taxes must be paid for salaries, and consultants and companies must also pay VAT and taxes on profits. This is covered in a separate section entitled ... .
Sales tax, or VAT (Value Added Tax), is 7% on all purchases. (It was briefly raised to 10% after the 1997 crash but was lowered back to 7% after a few months.) VAT is supposed to be charged for both goods and services, though in practice this varies.
On many purchases, you will find that they don't add VAT. It's either included in the price or else they aren't paying their taxes.
Many hotels and restaurants, especially those which cater to foreigners, will add both VAT and a service charge. Look at the fine print at the bottom of the menu or price sheet. Other "taxes" such as "hotel tax" are just service charges by a different name.
Tipping for Good Service
Tipping for services is not required or customary, though it's fairly common, e.g., leaving the metal change and keeping the paper notes. If the service is good, you can feel free to tip more and it will usually be appreciated, though it's usually not clear to whom the tip will go, i.e., the employees or the establishment. (You're welcome to tip me!)
Petty theft is not common but nonetheless happens, especially in crowded markets and buses. (There are also many reports of pickpockets in areas of go-go bars, and even periodic reports of intoxicated men walking alone being robbed by gangs of groping transvestites on Sukhumvit Rd.)
Never keep your money or wallet in your back pocket. A money belt is not a bad idea.
Never keep all your money and all your credit cards on you. Keep some in your home. If you've just arrived in Bangkok, consider renting a safety deposit box at your hotel or at a bank. Keep your passport in a safe place. It's also advisable to photocopy all your vital documents and keep them in a separate, safe place.
Single travelling males should be careful about bringing prostitutes to their homes. While the rate of theft is remarkably low, it does occur. Women picked up off the street are far less accountable than those registered in a particular bar. Druggings, whereby the woman drops something into your drink to put you to sleep and assist with the theft, is not uncommon. Unfortunately, they sometimes put a little extra into the drink to make sure you are out, and sometimes inadvertantly kill the victim.
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