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How to manage your money while travelling in Asia

  • somtam2000

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    We've just added a new feature story with some pointers (2,400 words of pointers unfortunately!) titled How to manage your money while travelling in Asia.

    If you've got any tips of advice about this, please post them here.

    Thanks!

    #1 Posted: 3/11/2007 - 23:26

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  • exacto

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    Greetings,

    I have a few tips to add too. Since I usually travel to southeast Asia from the states, many of these tips will be most useful for others with US bank accounts.

    I typically try to manage my money by putting 80 percent of my travel budget into my checking account here in the states. Then I use that money as my primary source of cash while I'm on the road, withdrawing the cash from ATMs wherever I happen to be.

    The rest of the money I divide up as 10 percent in travelers checks and 10 percent in US cash. If I'm going to Laos, however, I tend to take a higher percentage in travelers checks and cash, since the ATM network isn't as developed as other places.

    On our last trip, we noticed that when we used our credit card in Laos, the charges cleared via a bank in Vietnam. Best of all, they cleared in US dollars rather than in kip or baht or dong or anything else, which meant that we didn't have to pay that little extra due to a foreign exchange transaction fee.

    When we were in Cambodia, we withdrew US dollars from the ANZ Royal Bank mentioned in the feature story. We didn't have to pay the $2 fee mentioned in the article however, and I wonder if that is because the funds were drawn from a US dollar-denominated account. It could also be that the fee is new, so I'd be interested to hear if anyone else from the states (or with a US bank account) had to pay this fee recently or not.

    For Cambodia, we also took a bunch of crisp new bills to spend, since the US cash in Cambodia can be pretty ratty. Our bank sold us what they called padded $1s, which was 100 US $1 bills in a pad like a pad of paper. It was convenient to carry with us until we arrived in Siem Reap and nice to have all those $1s on hand to spend.

    One last tip that has always worked for me wherever I travel is to carry a few $10 and $20 bills in case I need to get just a little more local cash wherever I am. That way I don't have to make an ATM withdrawal or cash one of my large-denomination travelers checks but can still get that last little bit of local cash I need for whatever.

    This was particularly useful when we were transiting Narita airport on the trip to Bangkok and then on the way back home. We cashed a $10 bill at the exchange booth, which was enough yen for the internet kiosk and massage chairs in the terminal and for a quick snack too while waiting for our flights.

    I hope that helps. Cheers.

    #2 Posted: 4/11/2007 - 06:48

  • somtam2000

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    Thanks for the post exacto.

    Something else that should be taken into consideration is the length of your trip -- this should have gone into the main feature, but given it was already 2,400 words, we had to stop somewhere!

    If I'm travelling on a short trip, say under two weeks, then I take just cash and keep a credit card in case of emergency. If the trip is longer, especially once it stretches into months, I get travellers cheques to supplement my cash and credit cards.

    There's two reasons for the TCs -- a) in many parts of Cambodia and Laos you won't find an ATM and b) I tend to lose money occasionally so the added security of TCs makes it worthwhile.

    It's also worth mentioning that some of the Travelfish researchers open local bank accounts and manage their money that way. While you'd need to be in the country for at least a few months for this to be worthhile, it is straightforward to open a Vietnamese Bank account, and not too difficult in Thailand either (depending on the bank and where you try).

    The advantage of having a local account is that then it's just one charge to shift your money over and then you've got a local ATM card to access the money when you need it -- often with no fees at all. A downside of local bank accounts is that they often pay no interest.

    #3 Posted: 4/11/2007 - 10:01

  • AX1

    Joined Travelfish
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    Currency fluctuations

    With the plummeting US dollar, a strong Euro and a daily strengthening Canadian dollar, I would appreciate advice/comments for my upcoming winter trip to Thailand and Laos.

    I've travelled for decades in Latin America and SEAsia (usually for several months at a time) and fully subscribe to the multi-medium approach, i.e., cash, travellers cheques (TCs), bank ATM card and credit cards (ATM ready).

    In the past, many currency exchangers didn't seem to know the current value of the Canadian dollar, so before setting off I usually buy some large denomination TCs in US$ (minimizing bulk as well as 'per cheque' transaction fees), and carry a variety of cash (i.e., a variety of denominations of US$ bills, a variety of denominations of strong regional currency (i.e., Thai baht in SE Asia) and the national currency (for example, Lao kip) -- the last two bought in their respective countries.

    So.....my question is

    Given that I almost always change TCs and large bills at either banks or Currency Exchange kiosks, should I forego the US currency and TCs? And, if so, should I replace them with Euro TCs and bills? Or take a chance that the Cdn dollar will be both recognized and continue to appreciate?

    I know there's no guarantees when it comes to this stuff but I'd appreciate opinions -- esp those of residents or those currently on a prolonged tour in SE Asia...

    Phop gan mai

    #4 Posted: 7/11/2007 - 10:53

  • exacto

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    Hey AX1,

    When I was living in Turkey I had a similar issue with the then wildly swinging value of the Turkish Lira from day to day. In the end, I just decided not to worry about it too much and just buy lira as I needed it.

    Since you'll be travelling only in Thailand and Laos, you could just pull a bunch of Thai baht out of an ATM when you arrive and use that as your cash reserve, since the baht is accepted in both countries (plus you can buy kip with baht in Laos). If you are worried about the Canadian dollar being recognized, particularly in more remote areas, then I might carry a small emergency stash of a different currency with me too, like the US dollar or the Euro. I guess I'd plan on getting 80 percent of my cash from an ATM, which is what I usually do, and just be sure to get a bunch of baht before I crossed into Laos. I'd probably still keep most of my reserve in Canadian, since that's an appreciating currency right now, and then a small portion (maybe 5% of my total budget?) in US dollars or Euro. You'll probably loose a little in the exchange that way, but it is a small price to pay for the insurance.

    Does that help? I'm glad that someone's currency is appreciating right now, because we're dying down here.
    Regards.

    Phuud Thai dai ruu? Chook dii duay khrab!

    #5 Posted: 7/11/2007 - 13:06

  • joderin

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    Hi everyone,

    I am flying into Malaysia on Jan 17th and flying out of Bangkok on Feb 12th. With that being said i will spend a few days in Kuala Lumpur and work my way up the west coast as it seems that the east is fairly off limits during that time period due to weather conditions. I have been to thailand before, but the furthest south i got was Koh Phi Phi which i plan on attending again but was curious if there are any islands south of there that are worth checking out as i will be coming from north west malaysia.

    Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks.

    #6 Posted: 22/11/2007 - 05:10

  • carolyns

    Joined Travelfish
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    Do Canadian ATM cards work in Vietnam?

    We have Scotiabank and TD (with all the symbols on the back)... but found that we had trouble at some ATMs in Europe.

    Thanks!

    #7 Posted: 29/11/2007 - 04:15

  • exacto

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    hey c,

    check with your bank to see which networks they are on and in which countries and with which banks their cards are valid. they might need to look up the info, but they should be able to find out for you.

    also, make sure you have a 4-digit pin code for your atm card, as other length pin codes (6-digit, etc.) won't work with most atms in asia.

    finally, give the how to manage your money while traveling in asia article in the features section a good read. it has solid tips that will help make your trip easier. regards.

    #8 Posted: 29/11/2007 - 11:47

  • ade7

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    Hi,
    Just thought Id let UK travellers know about a new credit card to rival, if not better the nationwide cards. Its the Abbey Zero Credit Card, and, like the nationwide credit card, it offers free foreign exchange, but, unlike the nationwide card, it doesnt charge a cash advance fee either. This means that it is effectively free to use abroad, which is also the case of the Nationwide DEBIT card. However, since credit cards offer more security than debit, and since, in order to get a debit card with nationwide you have to set up a bank account with them first, I would say that the Abbey card is now the best option for UK travellers abroad.

    The only other factor to weigh in is that the Abbey card is a mastercard, whilst the nationwide cards are visa cards. I have read on this forum that perhaps visas are accepted at slightly more places in asia than mastercards are. This was however only one person's opinion, so, not sure how much validity there is in that.

    #9 Posted: 9/5/2008 - 04:44

  • michmich11

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    Exacto--Can I ask where you got the padded $1 bills? All the banks I've tried in New York (Citibank, Commerce, Chase) have had no idea what I'm talking about. Thanks!

    #10 Posted: 30/5/2008 - 03:24

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  • sputnik0

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    Exacto,
    I am also in the U.S., Los Angeles to be exact. What bank did you use when you traveled to SEAsia? And yes, where did you get those "padded $1 bills"? Wells Fargo charges a fee for converting when withdrawing from international ATMs.

    #11 Posted: 8/6/2008 - 04:57

  • exacto

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    mich, sorry and i just discovered your question. i got the padded $1s from Zions Bank in Utah. it was the bank teller who initially suggested it to me when i mentioned it was for a trip to Cambodia. i had assumed that they were a common thing but maybe not. sorry about that.

    sputnik, i typically use USAA when i travel overseas, although they have also just very recently added a conversion fee for withdrawls from international atms. even so, the rates are still competitive with what i get for traveller's checks and ATMs are much more convenient and flexible. hope that helps. cheers.

    #12 Posted: 8/6/2008 - 07:35

  • michmich11

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    Sputnik, Commerce bank (not sure if they have branches in LA) does not charge a conversion fee for international transactions.

    #13 Posted: 8/6/2008 - 08:28

  • gmarx

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    Posts: 3

    I posted this in the other thread, but am re-posting here. I am from the US with a Citibank ATM card. Will these definitely work in the AZM banks? I want to make sure i can use my ATM card and don't have to get a cash advance on my CC--while people here are discussing a 3% advance fee, my CCs all charge insane interest rates.

    #14 Posted: 7/8/2008 - 17:43

  • brucemoon

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    Hello, a post for Australians intending to travel...

    The 'cost' of cash O/S is not necessarily the exchange rate, though it is. Rather, it's the transaction costs charged by Banks (and/or other institutions).

    I noted on the 'Choice' website that:

    -------------
    Cash: here’s what getting $1000 of foreign notes could cost:

    Cheap credit card

    $0 (no conversion or cash advance fees). However, interest would apply from the date of the cash advance and watch for late payment fees; $1000 accruing interest for one month at 13% pa would give an interest bill of around $11. You may be able to avoid this by loading your card with sufficient funds before your trip (see note on 'cheap card' below).

    Australian bank

    $25 (assuming typical fee and exchange rate margin for foreign notes, adding up to 2.5%).

    Standard credit or debit card

    $45 (five $200 withdrawals, $4 cash advance fees and 2.5% currency conversion fees). As noted above, interest would also apply.

    ps. most banks are now charging A$5 / transaction.

    Prepaid card

    $49 to $88 (assuming five $200 withdrawals, 1% to load the card, $3.75 per withdrawal and conversion fees ranging from 2% to 5.95%).

    Airport exchange for cash or travellers’ cheques

    $80 (exchange rate margin and fees adding up to 8%). Additional fees to cash each travellers’ cheque overseas can range from nil to over $5.

    Refer:

    http://www.choice.com.au/viewArticle.aspx?id=105657&catId=100210&tid=100008

    -------------

    The Choice 'observation' doesn't include the ATM fees charged in some countries to get your money. For example, in Cambodia, the ATM fee is US$5.

    --------

    In Australia, banks (etc) that use Visa rely on the Visa exchange rate - which is pretty good.

    Go to:

    http://www.corporate.visa.com/pd/consumer_services/consumer_ex_rates.jsp?src=ex_rez

    Compare this with the 'international' mid market advisory service at:

    www.xe.com

    Clearly, if you could get money at just the Visa rate, you'd be laughing.

    * * *

    The absolutely worst exchange rate is offered by Travelex.

    For example, today, A$1 can buy:

    XE.com 23.26 baht
    Visa 23.10 baht
    Travelex 21.09 baht

    So, if you use Visa, and the bank charges 2.5%, then a 2310 baht withdrawal (= to A$100) would cost you an extra A$2.50 [which means A$1000 = A$25 to the bank).

    If you got a Travelex 'Cash Passport', look at the 'costs' noted in the Choice reprint above.

    So, the cheapest option seems like a 'pre-loaded' credit card. But, only one that doesn't charge for ATM withdrawals.

    Choice referred to the 'cheapest' O/S option being the Wizard 'Clear Advantage' Mastercard because there is no charges for annual fee, or for cash or transaction withdrawals as long as your account doesn't go into the red. Refer:

    http://www.wizard.com.au/credit_cards/wizard_clear_advantage_mastercard

    Sadly, Mastercard does not have a website that enables anyone to look up its exchange rates.

    Word of mouth suggests that the exchange rate is OK, but with American firms, who knows.

    cheers

    #15 Posted: 23/2/2009 - 14:01

  • Skimonkey

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 40

    Hi Guys

    I'm off to SEA in a months time, and judging by this article Nationwide is now charging to get at your own money. Anyone found an alternative? so far I have not.

    take it easy.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/borrowing/creditcards/4937527/Nationwide-to-impose-charges-on-debit-and-credit-cards-used-abroad.html

    #16 Posted: 17/4/2009 - 03:44

  • brucemoon

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    Posted from within Vietnam.

    Skimonkey

    I talked about the Australian situation.

    Many UK residents traveling in SEA tell me that their bank doesn't charge a 'hidden' transaction fee for pre-loaded credit cards, nor a unit charge when withdrawing from an ATM.

    So, it appears you need to do some homework on what your various banks offer before you depart.

    cheers

    #17 Posted: 20/4/2009 - 17:37

  • brucemoon

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    #18 Posted: 20/4/2009 - 17:52

  • jareduk

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United Kingdom
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    Skimonkey

    I was in the same boat as you were, Nationwide were once the only UK bank to not impose charges on their customers to withdraw money worldwide. They are now charging around 1% I think, which is still far less than any other bank.

    However if you get their 'cashcard' which is run by maestro/ cirrus (rather than visa) they still offer free international withdrawls ONLY for use with ATM's not for 'in store' purchases.

    Im still going to get a card with nationwide as they're a darn sight cheaper than HSBC!

    Jared

    #19 Posted: 20/4/2009 - 19:40

  • brucemoon

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    Posted from within Vietnam.

    Skimonkey

    Adding to jareduk, according to some UK people I've talked to here in SEA, maestro/ cirrus apparently works OK in Thailand & Malaysia, but it doesn't work in Laos or Vietnam. I don't know about Indonesia or China.

    Cheers

    #20 Posted: 20/4/2009 - 20:53

  • Skimonkey

    Joined Travelfish
    16th April, 2009
    Posts: 40

    Hi Folks

    Thanks for the replys all usefull info, after doing more digging it still looks like the Nationwide cards are the best deal, I'm guessing the days of free access to your cash abroad is rapidly disapearing.

    Jareduk/ Brucemoon, I've had a Nationwide cash card for a while now and, its good to know it can be used in Thailand at ATM's as my trip through SEA will be just under 4 months, I am only planning on being in Thailand for 4-5 weeks any idea if the maestro/ cirrus card works in Cambodia? you've already mentioned Laos & Vietnam. I'm guessing it dosen't.

    Cheers.

    #21 Posted: 22/4/2009 - 00:54

  • brucemoon

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    Skimonkey

    I have to retract the comment about Maestro/cirrus in Vietnam.

    I used ANZ bank in HaNoi because the limit is 20mill versus others at 7-9mill dong. I do this as there is a 20,000VN dong transaction fee to withdraw cash.

    I'd heard that one could withdraw Donga Bank without the transaction fee (it didn't). I noticed that Donga Bank has the Maestro/cirrus logo on the ATM. I also noticed that Agricultural Bank also has the Maestro/cirrus logo's on their ATM's.

    Cheers

    #22 Posted: 2/5/2009 - 10:21

  • marjolijnc

    Joined Travelfish
    5th February, 2007
    Posts: 6

    What to choose? dolar or euro in Cambodia?

    #23 Posted: 5/11/2009 - 16:12

  • somtam2000

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    US cash is the common currency in Cambodia -- so I'd be backing a suitcase full of greenbacks, not euros.

    #24 Posted: 5/11/2009 - 18:59

  • AX1

    Joined Travelfish
    7th November, 2007
    Posts: 4

    I;ve read on an expat site that some Thai banks have recently increased their bank fees for using ATM to USD$5. This is on top of the bank fee that is likely charged on your home account.
    Can anybody verify this from personal experience?

    #25 Posted: 5/11/2009 - 19:11

  • somtam2000

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    AX1 - yes that is correct. See this thread for more on it.

    #26 Posted: 5/11/2009 - 19:28

  • furneburner

    Joined Travelfish
    5th September, 2009
    Posts: 180

    I've just inquired about travelers cheques to and bypass this fee because i'm a tight ass.

    Now, my bank in Australia (ANZ) says they charge 1.1% commission, so i go and try and order some online and the commission i get charged is a flat fee of $13...not really a saving...if i get say, $1000 in cheques...

    Stuff the banks!

    #27 Posted: 6/11/2009 - 04:37

  • Stancy

    Joined Travelfish
    20th November, 2009
    Posts: 4

    Hi, I have a bit of an unusual situation and am looking for some advice. I have a New Zealand Bank account, all my money is on my NZ mastercard. Currently I am in Europe so all the money I have access to is in Euros or Pounds I am planning on travelling Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for 1.5months so want to take some USD with me. Any idea what the best way to convert money from a NZ bank account into USD when in Europe or the UK without have to pay to convert to Euros/pounds then into USD??

    #28 Posted: 20/11/2009 - 04:39

  • scl

    Joined Travelfish
    10th February, 2010
    Posts: 10

    Hello, I'm planning to go all around SE asia for 4 months.
    I'm planning to use my regular australian debit card, my canadian visa card, and a travel australian bank card.
    Problem is, it costs so much money to take cash out in the ATM in asia, so I want to use the ATM as least as possible, but I dont want to take out a bunch of money because I dont trust myself with a bunch of cash on me.

    what is the best way to do it??

    and what is a good amount to take out at each time in SE asia???

    any help would be greatly appreaciated - im leaving on july 5th and im not quite sure what im doing.

    cheers

    Samantha

    #29 Posted: 22/6/2010 - 09:59

  • altmtl

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    ATM's in Thailand charge 150 baht per transaction + the fees you will pay from your bank at home. AEON ATM's are the only one's that don't, but there are none at the airport. You can save on ATM costs by bringing TC's in Thailand....(33 baht per cheque) but they are a lot harder to change outside TH. Border crossings will often request payment in $$$, or may charge a higher fee in baht. I Prefer getting my visa at the embassies if I have the time. Entry to Malaysia is a free 90 days, Cambodia $20-$25, Laos, it depends on your Nationality. I'd keep at least $100 in same bills available - sometimes ATM's are down or out of money. Cambodian ATM's dispense US $$. Taking out the MAX at an ATM will help you cut down on fees, make sure you arrange this from home first & advise your bank you are leaving the country so they don't put a freeze on your when they see it's being used in SEA.

    #30 Posted: 8/11/2011 - 21:22

  • letmeinplz

    Joined Travelfish
    6th August, 2012
    Posts: 15

    Hi everyone,

    I am flying into Malaysia on Jan 17th and flying out of Bangkok on Feb 12th. With that being said i will spend a few days in Kuala Lumpur and work my way up the west coast as it seems that the east is fairly off limits during that time period due to weather conditions. I have been to thailand before, but the furthest south i got was Koh Phi Phi which i plan on attending again but was curious if there are any islands south of there that are worth checking out as i will be coming from north west malaysia.

    Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks.

    #31 Posted: 8/8/2012 - 06:32

  • kaew

    Joined Travelfish
    5th March, 2013
    Posts: 1
    Total reviews: 3

    I got rip off in Bali , Be careful, when you do money exchange in small counter (in official office) along the road in tourist area at Bali. They put the sign board in front of the shop with very good rate to lure you to get inside and then have a tricky when counting the money, its look like correct as what you could get but when you count by yourself its not correct. So they keep counting for you again and again make you get confuse. At the end you boring and tired you will except that money and walk out from the shop with short fall of the money. They will not give you any receipt for any evidence.

    I have this bad experience at Legain beach, Kuta, Bali , I stay at Club Bali suites ,Hotel Jayakarta ,Bali, Indonesia, on March 1-8, 2013. After back to the hotel and count the money again i found that its not correct, then i went to ask someone at the front counter of the hotel tell them the story and ask them to help and go together with me to get the money back because its just 50 maters away in front of the hotel. When we arrived there its look like they know what happen and doing that on purpose, then we told them that will call the police so he just said that he get confuse and return the money back to me in US$, I also took his photos and said that I will come back with a police if that US$ are not real. Then i went back to the hotel with bad feeling with this bad people. I have talk with other tourist in the same hotel, she said that she also get this trick also, so bad then.

    Another advise is don't let them hold your money in there hand , they are professional in the trick of counting and hiding the money and never give you back in the same amount. I just found out that i lost some of US$ in the next day, I try to re-think again on that situation when he pull all US$ money on my hand to count.

    Good luck for the new comer to Bali.
    Kaew

    #32 Posted: 5/3/2013 - 22:43

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