Are you planning a trip to Thailand?
Some countries are just fabulous for needing a card and little else. Thailand is not, unfortunately.
Should I use cash or card in Thailand?
You should always carry plenty of cash in Thailand. Many places do not accept card payments. Those that do often have 300-500฿ minimums and cards do not work reliably, particularly foreign ones.
Outside of larger payments like hotels or car rentals, don’t rely on your card working.
On the issue of contactless, it doesn’t exist here yet. Even entering your PIN number is only used in a minority of places. Get used to signing receipts to pay with your card.
If you want to eat at street food places or get off the beaten track, many places insist on cash. Particularly the further away you get from urban areas like the islands or in the touristy Northern areas.
How To Get Cash From ATMs
ATMs are abundant in Thailand. There are upwards of 10 major banks and their ATMs are littered around Bangkok and other major cities. Any given subway station is likely to have 5-6 next to each other!
[pic coming soon :)]
Any airport you fly into will be well-stocked with ATMs as well. They work reliably if not perfectly. It’s always smart to bring a backup card and a little cash to get you started is always a smart idea, too.
Your biggest problem? If you are using a foreign card then there is a 180฿ charge to pay on each withdrawal. No way around this, it is mandated by the government. I assume as some form of tourist tax.
This makes withdrawing your cash in person from ATMs a relatively expensive affair as you pay your own bank a cut of the exchange rate and sometimes a fee as well.
There are other, cheaper ways of getting cash which I’ll get onto in the next section.
The maximum withdrawal is 25000฿ per transaction so getting the full amount lessens the impact of the fee. Of course, then you have to carry large amounts of cash around which is not advisable either.
Where Can I Get Cash From In Thailand?
ATMs. As mentioned above, ATMs are plentiful. They are the most convenient way of getting cash but in Thailand you do pay over the odds because of the flat 180฿ charge for foreign cards.
Currency Exchange Booths. It’s simple to find places to exchange currency. Thailand’s tourism makes up a huge amount of its economy (9-17%) so it’s well set up for tourists. Unfortunately, like most places, exchanging currency is expensive. You’re looking at the exchange skimming 5-10% off the money you convert. Should only be used as a last resort.
SuperRich. The best place to exchange (or buy) money is a store called Superrich. This company has made its name in Thailand by offering extremely competitive exchange rates, less than 1% from the actual exchange rate, in many cases. The profit is made simply in the massive volume of currencies it shifts.
The downside? You need to find one. The main ones in Bangkok are easy to get to, but less so if you don’t know the city. It’s also an hour or two you might prefer to do something else.
In conclusion, the best thing to do is to sort your currency out before you come. If you can find somewhere in your own country that offers fair rates that would work best. Otherwise, you may just want to eat the 180฿ charge for using ATMs.
Does Thailand Use Contactless?
The wave of contactless card payments has swept the world in recent years. Unfortunately, Thailand remains a dry spot. I’m typing these words in August 2019 and this might change by the time you read this. I’m not holding my breath, though. This is a developing country and the infrastructure is simply not there yet.
Part of the problem is that Thailand is still very much a cash-based society. Walk along the bustling Soi Convent in Bangkok and watch as cash passes between hands to pay for a bowl of noodles or packet of guava. It would be quite a leap for the local street food vendors to start accepting contactless (although apparently this is what happens in China nowadays?!)
Even shophouses with electricity and internet often won’t accept cards. Sometimes it’s a case of it being a ‘cash-only’ operation. Sometimes cards are not reliable enough. And don’t underestimate the number of places who might want to keep records of transactions off the books for certain… benefits.
Many Thais don’t have bank cards or bank accounts. Being paid in cash is normal here and there is also a certain distrust among some people of banks and other large or governmental organisations.
Lastly, when you do use your card in Thailand you don’t even enter a PIN number. It’s done with a signature.
Contactless is, sadly, some way off in this part of the world.
Where Will Accept Card In Thailand?
While I strongly recommend you take cash when you visit Thailand, it’s not a requirement everywhere. The more upmarket the place, the more likely it is they will accept your credit card.
So the old lady who ekes out a living streetside in front of the hotel by selling fruit to tourists will want to see some baht. Your $200 a night hotel on the other hand will welcome your VISA with open arms.
The more rural you go and the further from tourist and expat areas, the less likely it is that card will be an accepted form of payment.
For most visitors to Thailand, the major stop-offs will be the cities of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and the other big towns. These urban areas will have hotels, bars and restaurants that will usually be fine with card payment. You will want to watch out for cheaper restaurants or Thai-style bars which are touch and go. And of course, anything street food or night market related you can assume will be cash only.
Other popular destinations are the islands and beach resorts. This is a mixed bag when it comes to paying with card. The more urbanised islands like Phuket or Koh Samui have a feel that is similar to the cities where card is accepted. The smaller the destination, the more you will need cash. Take a ferry to a less visited island, Koh Kood in the Southeast for instance, and you’ll be paying with paper money the whole time.
Supermarkets like Villa Market, Tops and Tesco Express will always take card, but remember to watch out for your card being rejected. This is a common occurrence even with the most popular debit cards.
Smaller places like 7/11 and MaxValue will take card but there is a minimum transaction amount which currently stands at 300฿. That might not sound like much, but it’s pretty rare for a 7/11 trip to cost as much as that. A cheese and ham toastie and a soda to kickstart your day is not going to even break 100฿.
What Card Payment Systems Can You Use In Thailand?
Taking a foreign card and using it in another country is a risky venture. Not only are there problems you may not foresee, but being stranded without money in a country you don’t know leaves you without a paddle and up a certain type of creek.
Whatever you do, take a backup card or two and at least take some cash to avoid worst-case scenarios.
Visa. This is the gold standard worldwide and it is happily very well accepted in Thailand. The majority of Thai banks use Visa for their own debit cards which makes it the best option to use.
Mastercard. This is another one that is widely accepted and you can rely on as much as Visa.
American Express. I’ve never owned one of these myself but this is apparently a riskier option that the above two. Don’t expect that this will be able to be used or you may fall into some bad times on your holiday.
Union Pay. This is a payment operator that is more popular in Asian countries, with China and Thailand both having banks that like to use this. Despite this, you cannot rely on it at all. I had a bank card from Bangkok Bank which I was unable to use to make any card payments anywhere in Thailand, I could only withdraw money from ATMs. Steer well clear.
Any others that are not listed here then I can’t speak from experience, but I would recommend you don’t rely on them. Really, Visa and Mastercard are the two go-to’s here in Thailand.