There are several ways to exchange money by tourists visiting Thailand. I have examined their merits and demerits in this page:
1. Withdrawing cash from ATMs in Thailand by using international debit card / ATM card is perhaps the most convenient money exchange in Thailand. Most ATMs dispense 10,000 THB in one lot and some will dispense even 20,000 THB at one go. This method saves the hassle of first converting home currency into USD and then changing USD in to Thai Baht after arriving in Thailand. However, there are downsides to this method. First, the exchange rate offered by banks on cash withdrawals is not very good. On top of the poor exchange rate, your bank will levy about 3.5% cross-currency charge and and an ATM withdrawal fee. Thai bank whose ATM you use will charge at least 200 THB transaction fee for each withdrawal. In all, if you are withdrawing 10,000 THB from a Thai ATM, you have to pay about 7% transaction fee on top of a very unfavorable exchange rate. And this even before we talk about Thailand’s official and legal ATM Scam called DCC…
Dynamic Currency Conversion Scam
This scam is being run by many of Thailand’s banks and is squarely designed to take more money out of the bank accounts of tourists coming to Thailand. When you are making a withdrawal at a bank ATM in Thailand, you are charged in your home currency instead of Thai Baht. Effectively, the Thai bank is selling you Thai Baht at a most horrible exchange rate. You may read more about Dynamic Currency Conversion scam here.
Other Problems with ATM Withdrawals in Thailand
High transaction fees are not the only probelm with ATM withdrawals in Thailand. Several of ATMs in Thailand are tagged as “High Risk” by banks all over the world. The risk is of your ATM card getting cloned by a hidden cloning device and your ATM PIN getting captured by a hidden camera. After you leave the ATM, the fraudsters will use the cloned card to withdraw cash from your account. Even if your card does not get cloned, out of mere suspicion, some banks cancel the ATM cards used by customers in high-risk locations and re-issue them. This process is generally carried out after taking a confirmation from the customer but the customer has to wait for a few days to get the new card while the old card gets cancelled immediately. I have experienced this after I used my ATM card in Indra Square in Bangkok. Hence, use your ATM card in Thailand, if you must, but be very very careful.
2. Buying Thai Baht in home country is another possible strategy. It is excellent if one is able to get Thai Baht at a price comparable to the USD-THB exchange rate prevalent in Thailand. I will suggest checking the USD-THB exchange rate on the website of Super Rich (Thailand) Money Exchange. Paying 1-2% on top of that rate will be OK. If your money changer back home is asking for anything more than 2%, better buy USD in the home country and do the exchange after coming to Thailand.
3. Bringing home currency other than USD to Thailand is a strategy used by many tourists. This can be a good strategy if your currency gets easily exchanged in Thailand. Remember that the more popular a currency is in Thailand, the better price you will get for it. USD is without question the most popular but one can easily exchange other major world currencies in most places in Thailand. Exchange rate part is tricky for currencies other than USD. For example, if I use Indian Rupee to buy Thai Baht in India, I nearly get robbed because of the horrible exchange rate. But if I carry Indian Rupee to Super Rich (Thailand) in Bangkok, I get more Thai Baht in exchange than what I would have got in India. Surprisingly, Indian Rupee gets better value in exchange for Hong Kong Dollars too if I do the exchange in Hong Kong’s Chung King Mansions. The only hitch is that usually there is a limit on the amount of home currency one can carry out of the country. For India, the limit is 25000 Indian Rupees per person. Thus, subject to the limits in place, one may carry home currency to Thailand and as far as possible, do the exchange at a tourist friendly place like Super Rich (Thailand) in Bangkok or T.T. Currency Exchange in Pattaya, or Super Rich Money Exchange Chiang Mai or this currency exchange counter in Phuket.
See all my articles on Thailand Money Exchange here.
4. Bringing USD to Thailand is, in my opinion, the best way to go. But only if you are buying USD at a cost of not more than 1% over the inter-bank exchange rate between your currency and USD. That will immediately rule out buying USD from your bank or even the friendly neighborhood Thomas Cook outlet. These people charge anything between 3-5% for selling US Dollars. Try to locate a popular local money changer who is popular not only because of the best rates but also due to their reliability. You don’t want to buy fake Dollars. Every city in the world has at least one such money changer where one can do a worry-free exchange transaction. If you haven’t found one in your city yet, now is the time to do it. If you can’t, use one of the other strategies discussed above. See all my articles on Thailand Money Exchange here.