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Finance and money forum

What's the best Canadian bank to use to manage money in SE asia?

Posted by Handsome_Boy on 10/9/2009 at 11:10

I'd been planning on doing a budget backpacking trip across SE Asia for a while, but some job-related opportunities came up which had me considering delaying the trip, but these opportunities didn't pan out and now I'd like to leave from Toronto landing into Bangkok within a couple weeks. I'm looking to do the standard, Thailand - Cambodia - Vietnam. I have no itinerary, and am pretty open to going/staying wherever I find I'm enjoying myself the most. I would be a first time traveler/backpacker so I have no experience in this kind of thing (Exciting!).

I have roughly $7.5k canadian which I'd like to last me from 3-5 months (basically until my money runs out), and I'm wondering which financial institution and method for managing my money is best. I haven't bought anything yet, and I'm budgeting roughtly 1.5k for flight in and out of Asia, so realistically I'm only working with around 5.5-6k.

My question is kind of loaded. Firstly, which Canadian bank would be best to use out there? Right now I bank with Royal Bank, which charges $5 per (international) debit transaction, I'm unsure of what sort of exchange rates they offer (not mentioned on their website). I know PC Financial has $3 debit transactions on top of a 2.5% charge on the quantity you withdraw. Are there better banks or is there some sort of bank account that I can apply for that will provide me with a good number of plus withdrawals at a decent cost?

Secondly, how much money should I keep on me? I'd like to minimize my debit costs, but also don't want to open myself up to great loss in case of theft. I'm planning on getting one of those discreet money belts where you can store cash in the lining of the belt. I read that withdrawing 1-weeks worth of cash is a good way to handle your money. Would 2-weeks be risky?

Thanks in advance.

#1 Handsome_Boy has been a member since 14/8/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by cdnexplorer on 10/9/2009 at 15:00


I'm a fellow Canadian (hence the name), and travelled to Thailand and Malaysia back in the summer of '08. In 1 month I spent nearly $100 from debit transactions, mainly because I did little researched and assumed that I would be charged the standard $1.5 from each bank for withdrawls. Was I ever wrong. I bank with TD and was charged $5 from TD and additional from the local bank.

I'm going back in Feb '10 and will be conducting the same sort of homework, but from what I can tell your best bet is to withdrawl using a credit card (apparently there are a few that offer no-charge international withdrawls), and then pay off your card every month through online banking.

As for how much to keep on your person, I think the best answer is as little as possible. Many people have stories of theft, myself included. I had roughly $200CDN on me after realizing the absurd amount I spent on past withdrawls, and for for the first time in 3 weeks took my moneybelt off on an overnight bus...and that was the last time I saw my wad of cash. Stupidity on my part, but it wouldn't have been so bad if I had only kept 2-3 days worth of money on my person rather than 1 weeks worth.

Do some planning before heading from spot to spot, because I think there are certain places in Cambodia that may not offer ATM access (I think you'll be fine pretty much anywhere in Thailand or Vietnam, but wait for other responses from people who have been to Vietnam). If you do some rough budget planning and research on ATM access, you should have no problem keeping your cash stocked appropriately. But I'd disagree with keeping even 1 weeks worth of travel budget on you at any time.

Best of luck with your travels - you'll love it in SE Asia :)

#2 cdnexplorer has been a member since 19/8/2009. Posts: 28

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Posted by BruceMoon on 10/9/2009 at 17:01

I'm not Canadian, nor have I any understanding of the Canadian banking system (or, should I say banking rort - as the banking rip-offs appear to be global).

I have posted an overview of some of the transaction costs associated with using cash in SE Asia. It may help. Go here .


#3 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by idreamofdurian on 10/9/2009 at 23:18 TF writer

Hey. I'm a Canadian who's been living in Asia for 3 years now. As far as I've found, PC Financial is the best way to manage your money. They have the lowest transaction fee and easy, full-range online banking.

#4 idreamofdurian has been a member since 5/9/2008. Location: Singapore. Posts: 576
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Posted by Handsome_Boy on 11/9/2009 at 00:12

Thanks for the tips guys. I just spent two hours scouring different sites for a Canadian credit card with free currency conversion and low ABM transaction rates (including the few pre-paid credit cards in Canada). I couldn't find anything that had better rates than what is offered by PC Financial. I'm going to open an account with them today.

#5 Handsome_Boy has been a member since 14/8/2009. Posts: 3

Posted by go0103 on 23/9/2009 at 02:58

I talked to TD customer service and had them switch my account from the Infinity Account which charges $5 per transaction to another one(sorry, I forget what it's called)that charges a flat $24.95 a month. It has no foreign transaction fees with the exception of whatever the local bank is charging- may be worth looking into if you expect to be doing regular withdrawals. I'm not leaving for another week still, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that what I've been told comes to pass.

#6 go0103 has been a member since 11/9/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by idreamofdurian on 23/9/2009 at 14:04 TF writer

$24.95/month?! You expect to be doing more than 5 transactions per month? Wow...

#7 idreamofdurian has been a member since 5/9/2008. Location: Singapore. Posts: 576
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Posted by go0103 on 23/9/2009 at 22:40

no, but if you've got $2000 to leave as a balance in your account, the fees get waived. You can also get a travel Visa and not pay the $120 annual fee. It works for me, so maybe for others as well. For someone like cdnexplorer who spent $100 in transaction fees, the $24.95 sounds like a bargain.

#8 go0103 has been a member since 11/9/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by go0103 on 23/9/2009 at 22:42

oh, and you can also have them switch the account back to something cheaper when you get home.

#9 go0103 has been a member since 11/9/2009. Posts: 4

Posted by idreamofdurian on 23/9/2009 at 22:46 TF writer

Oh, the fee waiver with min. balance makes a huge difference.

Thanks for posting about TD. I had a friend visiting last month and he refused to use ATMs here cuz he said his international withdrawal fee with TD was $8!!

#10 idreamofdurian has been a member since 5/9/2008. Location: Singapore. Posts: 576
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Posted by lyndenc on 27/9/2009 at 15:12

For that TD $24.95 account, you need keep a minimum $5k balance for the entire month, not $2k. Compared to the current ING saving rates, that $25 for $5k a month is a pretty good deal!

#11 lyndenc has been a member since 27/9/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by akare on 8/10/2009 at 08:41


I’m new here but I just wanted to give you a word of advice concerning Credit card “no charge ATM withdrawals”. I worked in banks before and those are considered Cash Advances. Many have used them and gotten bad surprises, I was usually the one who had to tell them the awful truth, that they should ALWAYS read the fine print.

Cash advances should be used in cases of extreme need, and I’ll explain why.

Any money gained through a cash advance will be added to the balance owed to the bank, which includes interest payments and other finance charges, like a transaction fee (Royal bank Visa has those)

The interest on the cash advances is 23% at times. People think a cash advance will get cleared at the end of the month if they pay the amount due on the Credit card in full. But here is the trap.

The interest rate on a Cash Advance, if you read the fine print, is 23% DALY (with ZERO grace period)not 23% annually ( with and X grace period) like any purchase you make with your credit card.

Also, the credit card companies have a “resource allocation” system that says.
Purchases get paid first.
Cash advances get paid second.
Which means that if you have past purchases adding to 100$ then a Cash Advance of 50$ you go to the bank and pay 50$ the same day you did the cash advance. Your payment will not be applied to the Advance unless you have completely paid the 100$ of purchases and any other purchases you process after.
Complicated eh?
The objective of this is keeping your most expensive debt (23% Daly) alive for as long as possible.

I would suggest you read the conditions of your cards before you venture. It’s tedious but I’ve had to break bad news to lots of people who thought this was a practical way of getting money overseas. If you decide to use your Credit Card this way, at least you would be informed.

Here is a good link I found about it.

#12 akare has been a member since 8/10/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by cacruden on 10/11/2009 at 20:28

Not sure about the local Canadian Banks, but there is an embedded fee from the Thai side - which is 150 baht per foreign ATM transaction - which equates to around $5 CAD per transaction. It applies to all ATMs in Thailand.

#13 cacruden has been a member since 10/11/2009. Posts: 1

Posted by marzou on 18/1/2010 at 06:31


Finally I find a post about Canadian banks for a trip in Asia!!! I am leaving in one month to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Beside TD, you also have RBC that have a VIP account for 30$ a month. It gives you free unlimited withdrawals and free access to their credit cards
PC Financial is not in QC, I need to check if QC resident can open an account. They do offer the credit cards.

What about HSBC? the problem for me is that there are not in Laos and Cambodia and that have only one bank in Thailand. Do you know if they have any bank partners, as they have in Canada with BMO and National Bank?

What would be the best bet in terms of fees... paying the account monthly fee (hsbc) and some local bank charges? or paying the full price to be "at least" cover for ou bank fees.??

Thanks a lot !!!

#14 marzou has been a member since 18/1/2010. Posts: 1

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