I'm spending roughly 5-6 months going through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma. I'm Australian and I'm wondering if it's worth converting my savings into US dollars to put on to my travel bank card before I leave? or if it's just as feasible to keep it in Australian dollars and simply convert it over there if need be?
#1 Donman1990 has been a member since 7/4/2012. Posts: 34
If you are making ATM withdrawals, then it shouldn't matter if your funds are in AUD or USD. In fact, by changing from AUD to USD just to change again to local currency, all you'd be doing is losing a bit of money, which you do each time you change from one currency to another of course.
When I'm on the road I typically get 80% or more of my cash from ATMs. As long as your bank card is on a major network and you have a 4-digit pin, you should be fine, but you might want to let your bank know you'll be on the road before you leave too. In addition to the ATM card (and lots of people recommend having a spare or better yet a card from a different account as well), I like to have a little bit in cash and a little bit in traveller's checks - for those rare emergencies when the power is out or the ATM network is offline or you just need a little bit more local money before crossing the border, etc. I usually have that little extra bit in USD or EURO, so I don't know how easy it is to exchange AUD at border crossing as such. But since Australians aren't exactly rare in southeast Asia, I'b be surprised if AUD wasn't readily accepted most places.
Hopefully some of your Aussie buddies will share more specifics on how well AUD cash works in the places you'll be visiting. Have fun.
While exacto's answer is mostly correct there are a few things to consider.
It depends on the bank where you make your (ATM) withdrawal but most of them do a conversion first to USD (because all international bank settlements are in USD) and then to AUD so you'd loose also if you kept your AUD in your account. In general it would pay off to actually have a USD account. That does depend, however, on the amounts, how long and often you travel (which seems long) and the hassle/cost to do this in australia.
If you do get a good exchange rate AUD to USD and the cost/hassle is minimal then I would change to USD account. At least for an amount that you will certainly spend. Would be silly to have USD left in the account once you get home and then having to change back to AUD.
So, my advice would be if you have a budget of 10,000 AUD change 7,500 to a USD account and get an ATM card for that and use that as your main source of money. Keep the remaining 2,500 in AUD account and use that ATM card as your backup card. Having two ATM cards is always handy to have anyway.
Also keep in mind that most banks require you to keep some money in the account and some cost are attached to closing the account. Even if it's just 50 dollars or so that might just be the amount of money you're saving. If you plan to travel more often it would be useful to keep that (USD) account and use that for future travels.
But in all honesty it might not be worth the trouble and you won't save yourself a fortune by doing this. Certainly not if this is a one-off thing
For the rest I completely agree with exacto
Awesome, thank you both for the advice. It's very helpful!
#4 Donman1990 has been a member since 7/4/2012. Posts: 34
since i'm from the states, my accounts are all USD denominated. i didn't realize there would be that conversion to USD for the international settlements no matter what. thanks eastwest for the clarification, particulary given your background in banking. nice to see you back on the board, by the way! cheers.
Just one thing that I noticed reading the original post: don't expect AUD or USD to come out of the ATM or being able to get cash AUD or USD at the bank counter. The latter would be possible but at very high costs. Bar Cambodia (USD will be dispensed) local currency will come out of the ATM.
As long as your card gets accepted local money will come out of the ATM regardless of which currency your account is in (but then my information applies)
My information was only related to ATM withdrawals and not cash.
I don't know the latest situation in Myanmar but that would most likely be the only country where ATM withdrawals are less reliable and bringing substantial cash or other forms of money would be handy.