It’s understandable that some visitors to Thailand want the convenience of having Thai Baht in their possession when they first arrive in the country, but if you want to get the best exchange rate you should wait until you arrive in Thailand. Changing money in Thailand is a straight-forward process, but there are a few things you need to be aware of if you want to get the best available rate.
Changing money at Bangkok airport
It’s easy and convenient to change money at Bangkok airport. There are numerous exchange booths, but these are mainly operated by TMB (Thai Military Bank) and SCB (Siam Commercial Bank) and rates here aren’t usually as good as you will get at their branches elsewhere in Bangkok. It’s not a big deal if you are just changing over relatively small amounts of money that you require immediately for taxis, food or accommodation, but if you are changing a large amount you will save money by waiting until you get into downtown Bangkok where you can compare rates at different branches. If you do change money at Bangkok airport and want to get the best rate, you will need to head down to the basement level and find the Kasikorn Bank booth which is located opposite the food court by the entrance to the airport train link. Unlike the TMB and SCB exchange booths which are open 24-hours a day, the Kasikorn counter is open 07.00 to 23.00.
Which bank in Thailand provides the best exchange rate?
Exchange rates can vary so you will have to do your own comparisons when in Thailand, but generally speaking branches of Kasikorn Bank and Bangkok Bank tend to offer competitive rates. Independent money-changers such as Super Rich (cash only no traveller’s cheques) usually provide better rates than those offered by any bank, but there are fewer of these outlets around and you will need to factor in convenience and the cost of getting to the Super Rich outlet. If you have large transactions or are close to one of their outlets, then Super Rich or other similar Forex exchanges are a good option.
Super Rich website
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs)
ATMs are common in Thailand particularly in the main towns, cities and resorts. There are some exceptions on small islands (no ATMs on Ko Lipe for instance), but for most destinations you should have no trouble in finding one. Most (but not all) ATMs in Thailand will accept foreign cards. Just look for the VISA/Mastercard/Cirrus signs on the machines. Instructions are available in English when you insert your card. Just as you would in your home country, be sensible when you are withdrawing money and be aware of who is around you. To be extra cautious, use ATMs in shopping malls or within banks rather than those on the streets. Since April 2009 Thai banks impose a 150 Baht ATM withdrawal fee for foreign cards. One exception at the time of writing is AEON Bank ATMs(see below). Please note the 150 Baht fee is separate to any fees your own card issuer will charge to use your card abroad. Check in advance with your bank or card issuer the fees you will be charged for using your card abroad. Maximum withdrawal may depend on agreements you have with your bank in your home country otherwise Thai ATMs are usually restricted to a maximum withdrawal of 20,000 Baht in any one transaction (i.e. 20 x 1,000 Baht notes).
Update May 2013:
From May 17, 2013 some banks in Thailand now charge a 180 Baht fee per ATM withdrawal on MasterCard. The fee for Visa card remains at 150 Baht.
To avoid the 150 Baht ATM fee you can make withdrawals against a debit card over the counter at most Thai banks or exchange bureaus. You will need your passport to do this. Some bank staff are reluctant to change money against debit cards because it can take a few minutes to sort out, so try and pick a time when the bank is quiet and not heaving with customers. This method avoids the 150 Baht ATM fee, but you will still be liable for any fees your bank or card issuer imposes for using the card abroad. Credit cards may also be used, but the cash advance fees imposed by some card issuers means it can work out to be quite expensive. Check with your card issuer or bank before you travel.
AEON Bank ATMs
At the moment, AEON Bank ATMs seem to be the only ones in Thailand* that do not attract the 150 Baht withdrawal fee for foreign cards**.
(*Citibank ATM machines offer fee free withdrawals in some circumstances, but it appears you must use a Citibank card. More details from Citibank Thailand)
Update January 2014:
**Aeon now say on their website:
“. . . cash withdrawal transaction on electronic cards issued by foreign banks at AEON’s ATM will be imposed 150 THB of access fee per transaction.”
(Thank you to reader Bernard Ritter for the heads-up on this)
There are a limited number of AEON ATMs in Thailand. Some of the more convenient locations for travellers are:
Bangkok – Terminal 21 shopping mall (ground floor), MBK shopping mall (second floor)
Chiang Mai – Central airport shopping mall
Pattaya – Tesco Lotus (North Pattaya), Big C (Pattaya Klang)
Phuket- Central shopping Mall and Big C
Full list of AEON ATM locations
Traveller’s cheques (traveler’s checks)
These can be changed at dedicated foreign exchange desks or banks and it’s quite easy to do. When changing travellers cheques you will need to take your passport and the bank teller may also ask for the address of your accommodation in Thailand. You will get a slightly better rate for changing traveller’s cheques compared to cash, but this is offset by the fact that there is a fee (currently totalling 33 Baht) for each cheque changed. Obtaining higher denomination cheques at the time of issue will save you some money in fees once you are in Thailand. When you obtain the traveller’s cheques in your home country you should get them in your local currency (e.g. if you are in the UK get them in pound sterling and if you are in the US get them in US dollars). There may be a fee for issuing the cheques, but they do come with a safeguard that they can be replaced if they get lost or stolen.
Credit cards and debit Cards
Major credit cards such as Visa, American Express and Mastercard will be accepted by the bigger hotels, airlines and major stores. Smaller hotels, guest-houses and shops may insist on payment in cash. It’s a good idea to advise your bank or card issuer in advance that you are travelling to Thailand. With fraud measures in place, using your card in Thailand or elsewhere in Asia without pre-advising your card issuer may cause your card to be flagged as a security measure.
Unlike traveller’s cheques, there are no commission fees for changing cash in Thailand. However, the rate is slightly lower than for traveller’s cheques. When changing cash, make sure the notes are in good condition because if they are ripped or dog-eared they can be refused.
Exchanging money at your hotel
A number of hotels and guest-houses will provide a money-changing service, but the rates are usually very poor compared to the official bank rate.
What exchange rate will I get?
Rates vary on a daily basis. Changing cash or travellers cheques, you will get the rate on display at the window of the exchange bureau or bank. Rates vary between different banks, but not between branches of the same bank. The only exception to this is the SCB and TMB bureaus at Bangkok airport where the rates aren’t as good as you will get at the respective non-airport branches.
Using your card at an ATM machine or over-the-counter normally means your home bank will process the transaction at the preferential international market rate (sometimes called the ‘offshore rate’).
Bank of Thailand (in English)
Check rates at Bangkok Bank
Changing money into Thai Baht in your home country
As outlined above there is no need to change money into Baht before you arrive in Thailand, but I also appreciate that some visitors just feel more comfortable having some local currency already in their wallet or purse when they first arrive (e.g. to cover taxis/transport, accommodation and food and drink). You will have to shop around for who offers the best exchange rate in your home country, but avoid the temptation to change large amounts of money at your departure airport where exchange bureaus have a captive market and rates will always be worse than if you shopped around beforehand.
Prepaid cash cards
With so many different cards available depending on where you are resident, you will need to do your homework and decide whether they are going to be a viable option for you or not. Although they may appear convenient, you need to consider the fees charged by your issuing bank as well as the fees incurred when you use that card in Thailand.
Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)
If you use your credit card in Thailand you should be billed in Thai Baht. Some stores and hotels may offer the choice of billing your credit card in your home currency, but don’t accept it. The extra surcharges and poor exchange rates means you will lose out. Always pay the local Thai Baht amount.
Which is best?
There are pros and cons to all methods. For that reason, I personally advise people travelling to Thailand to take a combination of cash, traveller’s cheques and credit/debit cards. I think it’s best to wait until you arrive in Thailand before changing money, but ultimately it is up to you. Whichever method you use to change money, make sure you are aware of the charges and fees imposed by your bank or card issuer in your home country.
Thai currency (notes and coins) display the image of His Majesty the King of Thailand and should be treated respectfully. Don’t step on a coin or note to stop it from rolling away. Don’t throw money at somebody in anger. To do either would be deemed to be insulting to the monarchy and is likely to offend any Thai person that witnesses it and could land in you trouble.