Changing money is annoying, especially in a foreign country. There’s the hassle, the stress, and everyone wants to rip you off at each turn.
When it comes to Thailand, I’ve made all the mistakes there are to make in the last 5 years. But I’ve also figured out a few tricks too. So this article is my guide to getting your hands on some Thai baht (฿) for a fair price.
If you’ve not brought money with you, you’re gonna want to read this.
These three steps are the best approach.
1. Use an exchange service with money you’ve brought
2. Withdraw from an ATM
3. Paying on card
All seems standard, right? Well, the real magic is the tips and tricks which I’ll be sharing with you below. Keep reading!
1. Use An Exchange Service With Money You’ve Brought
The cheapest way to get Thai baht when you’re in Thailand is to exchange it from a foreign currency. The best place is Super Rich Thailand.
This company is famous for its excellent exchange rates. They are remarkably close to the actual rate. For example, right now $100 US will give you 3,272฿ when exchanged at Super Rich. The Forex exchange rate gives you 3,279฿ for the same amount of money. That means you are paying just 7฿ to change the money!
They make their money by exchanging massive volumes which makes their tiny cut worth it. It’s a very popular service and where most Thais go to change money.
The downside is you have to go to one of their stores. You can check locations here, just don’t go to the one at the airport. The rates aren’t as good. I go to the one on Rama 9. Easy enough if you live here and know the area, perhaps a bit annoying for the first afternoon of your holiday though.
Carrying foreign currency when coming into a new country is an excellent failsafe. You should always bring some. Unless you like to be stranded at an airport with crying children and a useless credit card.
If you don’t want to trek to one of their locations, move onto the next step. While exchange counters at airports can be useful to get a few baht for a taxi, they offer miserly rates and exorbitant fees. Avoid if possible.
2. Withdraw From An ATM
Thailand is more modern than people give it credit for. It’s easy to lump it in with places like Myanmar where ATMs didn’t exist until a few years ago. In Thailand however, ATMs (or cash machines) are everywhere.
The standard platforms for using cards are Visa and Mastercard. You can expect those to be accepted at any cash machine and you can also pay directly with card (as I’ll explain in the next section).
Thailand has a universal fee for withdrawing cash from ATMs, mandated by the government. What was once a 150฿ fee became a 180฿ fee and is now a 220฿ fee. That’s about £6 or $8 just for taking money out!
This amount you’re paying doesn’t even cover the cost of currency conversion either. So the bank will take another small percentage on top of that fee.
So while it’s easy to withdraw cash using a foreign card, you are paying for the privilege.
There is no way around this short of having a Thai bank account. Unfeasible for a holiday but a good idea if you plan to live here. I recommend withdrawing the maximum amount of 25000฿ which will minimise the costs. Even better, follow my advice in step one.
Note: The banks here used to charge you 20-35฿ for withdrawing cash with a Thai bank card, unless the ATM was your own bank. This made me constantly aware of where the Bangkok Bank ATMs were. Thankfully, this practice has ended and it’s now always free. Is this the sign of some much-needed regulation? Probably not. I don’t see them reducing or removing this cash cow of a 220฿ ATM charge on foreigners.
3. Pay Using a Debit/Credit Card
Can you fritter around Thailand putting everything on your trusty Amex Double Black? Well, you can and you can’t.
Shops, bars, restaurants and hotels in Bangkok and other urban areas will take cards. However, it’s not always simple.
Thailand has not implemented ‘Chip & Pin’ yet and is light years away from introducing contactless. When you pay, your card will return with a receipt for you to sign, reminding you that this awesome country is still stuck in the 90’s in some ways. As an added problem, sometimes it will be rejected and you will be told to pay in cash. Likely with no explanation either.
Thailand is a place where you need to carry cash. As well as the above issues, street food stalls and fruit sellers will never take card. Any markets you go to will deal in cash only as well. The less built up the place you go, the less likely they are to take card too. Something to bear in mind if you’re visiting one of the more secluded islands.
As usual, Visa and Mastercard are the gold standards. I wouldn’t rely on anything else. Even my Bangkok Bank UnionPay card gets rejected frequently.
Thailand Money Tips
1. Come with some backup money. Holidays abroad can be the best and worst experiences of your life. Getting stranded at the airport with no cash is one of the quickest ways to ruin your vacation. Bring some money with you. Ideally, Thai baht that you’ve changed in your home country, but common currencies like US Dollars, Euros or Pound Sterling will be easy enough to exchange even if you have to eat a 5% cut or so.
A reasonable amount is 5000฿ per person. This will cover a taxi into the city and at least 2-3 days of hotels and food.
2. Have a backup credit/debit card. It baffles me how some people go through life with just one card. Holidays can quickly turn sour if you can’t access money. I travel with three different debit cards, one of which is not in my wallet so I still have access to cash if I lose it or it gets stolen.
3. Big notes for big places, small notes for small ones. The biggest denomination of Thai baht is 1000฿ notes. This is big money for many Thais, so expect an argument if you use one to pay for your 30฿ Pad Thai or 20฿ motorbike taxi.
Make sure you have a healthy selection of big and small notes. If you’re struggling, any 7/11 will provide change no matter how obnoxious the transaction. Just prepare yourself for the cashier’s smile to turn into a scowl when you buy 7฿ paracetemol with a big 1000฿ note.