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Finance and money forum

How much USD to bring ? And what about travellers cheques?

Posted by nickolt on 25/10/2010 at 10:57

Hello !

I've been reading through the different threads to try and understand the whole money situation in SE Asia. From what I've read, its good to use a combination of local currency, with american dollars as a backup.

For a 5 month trip, how much american money would you reccomend I bring to start with? My bf and I will be travelling through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Phillipines. We will be starting off in Manila. Is it possible to withdraw more American money as we are travelling ?

I am a Canadian citizen, so will have to withdraw in American from my bank account. Not a huge deal though because our dollar is almost on par with the American dollar.

Also, what is the common concensus on travellers cheques. When we backpacked through Europe, we never used or brought travellers cheques. I was hoping to rely on ATMs in SE asia as well, with the occasional credit card purchase for flight purchases or anything emergency. There seem to be a lot of people that advise bringing some travellers cheques though. Are they really necessary?

If any Canadians on this forum have any advice on preferable banks/credit card companies to deal with for lower foreign transaction fees/exchange rates etc, please let me know.

Thanks !

#1 nickolt has been a member since 25/10/2010. Posts: 21

Posted by eastwest on 25/10/2010 at 16:03

All major and medium cities in the countries you mention have ATM's but dispense local currency bar Cambodia that dispenses US dollars from all their machines.

I would advise to travel with your ATM card and a separate Credit card and keep them separate. No need to walk around with huge numbers of cash.

Vietnam: ATMs give Dong and your wallet will fill up quickly with the notes. Also some bigger items/things (hotels/tours) are quoted in USD and sometimes it's worth to pay in USD but I wouldn't say it's necessary to have dollars in Vietnam.

Cambodia: the de facto currency is USD. Only small items are quoted/paid in Riel. ATM's give USD
Withdraw extra USD if needed for other countries before you leave Cambodia.

Laos: Kip. But if I remember corectly bigger things (hotels etc.) can be paid in USD/credit card

Thailand: Bath. ATM gives Bath and everything else is quoted and paid for in Bath.

Perhaps a few travellers cheques ($300 or so) to keep in a third place in case you might loose both cards and you'd have to wait for replacement or any other emergency that might arise (long electrical failures or so). But they are certainly not necessary.

#2 eastwest has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 778

Posted by Indoluso on 25/10/2010 at 17:07

I used travellers cheques throughout my trip and it was useful in some minor towns where their weren't atms. Once we were going to Si Phan Don and there was an austrian couple who had to go back to Pakse because there were no atms in Don Khong, however you could exchange travelllers cheques. They are also good as the bank can give part of the amount in local currency and another part in USD, which is very practical outside Cambodia where you can't get USD from atms. As eastwest said USD are very useful for paying larger bills, otherwise, paying with local currency might make you need to go back to an atm to get more cash. As a start I brought 300usd from home.

#3 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

Posted by smkuchta on 25/10/2010 at 23:31

I wouldn't bring that much cash. I think we had about $500 but that was mostly because we had heard there were no ATM's in Laos . Laos did in fact have ATM's in Pakse, VTE, & LP so we never really needed to worry about it.

In thailand and vietnam ATM's are everywhere. In Cambodia as someone mentioned you can get USD from the ATM's so its a good place to stock up on dollars if you need to.

I'd only bring a few hundred dollars at most. We didn't find travelers cheques were of much use at all with ATM's in most places.

#4 smkuchta has been a member since 10/8/2007. Posts: 72

Posted by exacto on 26/10/2010 at 02:57

great suggestions from the others above.

i typically count on ATM withdrawals for about 80% of my money on trips. i also keep about 10% in cash, including a few small bills in case i need just a few more baht or kip or such before switching countries, and about 10% in TCs. i usually only use the TCs in Laos, where the Lao Development Bank changes them into kip with no commission and at competitive rates (at least as of Jan 2010). if i don't use them, all the better, since i can save them for next trip or use them as a splurge at the end of the current one. i definitely like having a few TCs as emergency back up, since, as mentioned above, power can be out for days or ATM networks crash. plus, not everywhere has an ATM just yet - like Champassak, for example.

there is a feature story on TF about money strategies in southeast Asia at:

#5 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,660
 Where has exacto been? 

Posted by eastwest on 26/10/2010 at 09:52

excellent link and TF-story on money strategy.

As a former banker I would like to add 2 things and perhaps they could be included in the story:

Exchange rates
Buying cash in asia is a good idea but only partially. The Thai bath example is great but as a general rule of thumb you should look at the trade balance between the two countries you want to exchange (it's easy to google). A trade surplus (australia exports more to Thailand than vice versa) means that more australian dollars are needed in Thailand and you'll get a better exchange rate there.
Most western countries have trade surpluses with Thailand but people from some other countries might find it better to get their Bath (cash) at home because their country has a trade-deficit with Thailand. This method is not waterproof but a good indicator.

Withdrawal fees
TF states correctly that fees are charged per withdrawal at ATMs and this can add up over several months. Just beware that there are banks in this region that advertise with NO withdrawal fees. In general you are worse off at these ATMs (especially if it's from a smaller lesser well known bank) since they charge terrible exchange rates and you'll only find out once you're home. In general I would say do this only if you withdraw very small amounts. Don't fall for the salestrick. Checking inside the bank (on the exchange rate sheet) might help but not always and it's hard to do something about it once you're home.

#6 eastwest has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 778

Posted by nickolt on 26/10/2010 at 10:13

Thanks for all the great tips and advice everyone. This forum and website are seriously such a help.

So from what I've gathered, I will bring around $300 USD cash, and $300 in travellers cheques. Im assuming we should buy the travellers cheques in american dollars ?? Any difference between the different brands of travellers cheques ?

Do those sound like okay amounts or too little or too much ?

Thanks again.

#7 nickolt has been a member since 25/10/2010. Posts: 21

Posted by exacto on 26/10/2010 at 21:55

the article in the link is from 2007, so there are likely a few updates that could be added.

i'm impressed that eastwest has once again confessed in public about being a banker in a previous life. ;-) (wink)
also agree with eastwest's observation on the no-fee = bad exchange rate trade-off. i noticed exactly that with Bank of Ayutthaya in Thailand. they didn't charge the 150 baht fee up front at some of their ATMs, but the exchange rate they were offering was a full baht lower per USD than others were offering. given that i was looking to pull 10,000 baht out of the ATM, i would have actually paid over 300 baht for the service rather than just 150.
like we've mentioned before, banks are not charitable organizations. they are in business to make money. we all hate the new 150 baht ATM fee, but given the other options, it is still not a bad trade for the convenience.

#8 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,660
 Where has exacto been? 

Posted by eastwest on 27/10/2010 at 11:42

"i'm impressed that eastwest has once again confessed in public about being a banker in a previous life. wink.gif (wink)"

There goes my backpacker credibillity....No one will ever take me seriously now

#9 eastwest has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 778

Posted by eastwest on 27/10/2010 at 15:38

Forgot to reply to nickolt's last questions

- American dollars for travellers cheques would be best and most widely accepted.
- Not much difference as far as I know but go for a reputed company.
- It sounds alright to me but it's really about what you feel comfortable with

Itinerary plays a part in it though:
- If you fly from Phillipines to Cambodia for instance you probably don't need to bring any cash dollars. Just slowly stock up to $300 while you are there.
- If you start in Vietnam it's useful to start with $300 to give you the option of paying for some things in dollars if a hotel would give you a bad exchange rate or so and you would save a significant amount by paying in dollars.

Just remember it's only a means to an end. It's good you do reasearch but once on the road you shouldn't think too much about it anymore but have your strategy ready. Just do what you feel safe and comfortable with. It's about the travelling and enjoyment. Don't forget that when you try to save $1-2 with some complicated scheme/plan. As someone else put it: "budget to go over budget". It will result in much more relaxed travelling.

#10 eastwest has been a member since 17/12/2009. Posts: 778

Posted by nickolt on 28/10/2010 at 11:02

Thanks for your help everyone. Im feeling a lot more confident about the money situation now =)

#11 nickolt has been a member since 25/10/2010. Posts: 21

Posted by Indoluso on 28/10/2010 at 20:53

You should get traveller cheques by American Express and in american dollars, it's the most known as eastwest says. I found that 100$ travellers cheques were the best as I took some worth 50$ and always exchanged them in pairs, so 100$. Otherwise you must go too regularly to a bank and you might pay more comissions as some banks charge their comission on every cheque, while others just one time regardless the number of cheques changed. But I guess it's a personal option, it depends on how much money you're willing to carry with you. I never felt in danger and tried not to go more than once each +- 5 days to a bank.

#12 Indoluso has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 133

Posted by errik on 3/12/2010 at 18:15

Yeah commissions and service tax, traveler cheques are one of the best options to carry money.

#13 errik has been a member since 28/10/2010. Posts: 28

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