You’ll need money in Thailand. In Thailand, the currency is the baht, and 30 baht is roughly equivalent to US $1. If you want to check the current exchange rates, a good site is xe.com. Dollars are not very widely accepted here in Thailand, so you will have to get some baht when you’re here.
So what’s the best way to get it? Forget traveller’s checks; they are a total waste of time and money. You actually get WORSE exchange rates for traveller’s checks, and they aren’t honored everywhere. And don’t bring a lot of US dollars to Thailand, either. The best way to access your money is through the thousands of ATMs all over Thailand. This gives you several advantages:
- The best exchange rates – since the banks are negotiating the rates, you get much better exchange rates than if you go to a bank with US dollars and definitely better rates than the tourist exchange booths.
- Convenience – ATMs are literally everywhere in Thailand. Just make sure you know your pin number!
- Reasonable fees – the transaction fees are reasonable. It’s about $1.00 for the Thai bank and $1.50 by your US bank. To minimize fees, you’ll want to minimize the number of withdrawals. I usually withdrew about $150 at a time, and I never had to go to the ATM more than once a week.
- Security – Now you can withdrawl funds as you need them, and not have to carry large amounts of currency or traveller’s checks.
Of course, credit cards are also handy to have. But beware, not everyone accepts them. Most large stores, hotels and larger restaurants do accept them, but if you want to barter at a local market, don’t expect that the fruit vendor will accept American Express for a 20 baht purchase. Also, many Thai businesses will have an extra fee for using a credit card on top of the sale price. This isn’t an attempt to rip you off; it’s actually the fee that Visa or Mastercard will charge the business for paying through a credit card. In the US, this is considered in the final sale price. In Thailand, they just add the fee to the final price.
As for carrying cash, don’t carry thousands of dollars worth of currency. Use a hanging pocket or a money belt for large sums of cash. Carry your wallets in your front pocket, especially in crowded markets or train stations. Finally, don’t flash large sums of currency or other bling. In other words, use common sense.
Also, don’t bring your entire wallet to Thailand. Just a credit card, your ATM card, a driver’s licence, your travel insurance card, and a Westminster College student ID. You really won’t need your Smith’s Fresh Values or the Salt Lake City Library card in Bangkok.
So, when should you get Thai currency? You can get it here, before leaving, but Zions Bank needs several days to get the baht, and they will charge a fee. Just wait until you get to Bangkok to get money. When you first get there you really don’t need cash right away. When we get to the hotel you can go down the street to the bank or the 7-11 and withdraw money at the ATM there.
When you get currency, make sure you have small bills. Thai baht comes in 1, 2, 5, and 10 baht coins, and 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 baht bills. The most useful to have are the 10 and 20 baht coins, and 20, 50 and 100 baht bills. The 1 baht coins are almost useless. You typically get 1000 baht bills from the ATM. You should get change at the 7-11 or other stores, because cab drivers and street vendors will NOT have change for 1000 baht bills (or they say they don’t). If that happens, you end up giving them a significant “tip”.
So, how much will you need? Just about everything is included in the fee you paid: all meals, lodging, fees to parks and sites, transportation, some minutes on your phone that you will get, etc. So you could conceivably come and spend NO additional money. However, there are a few things you may want to get, such as snacks and beverages, souvenirs and gifts, additional minutes for your phone, any toiletries or personal items you may need, taxi rides in Bangkok for optional trips you may take, snorkeling at the island (which isn’t included in the fee, and is optional), and going out on the town in Bangkok or on the island. Depending on how much shopping you do (and some students spend a LOT shopping), you may spend anywhere between $100 to several thousand. But on average, I think most students spend $100-$300.
If you have leftover baht at the end of the trip, you can exchange it at the airport for dollars, keep them as a souvenir or save them for your next trip to Thailand (I guarantee all of you will want to go back).
As for buying things at the Hong Kong or San Francisco airports during our layover, they take credit cards and US dollars, so you don’t have to get Hong Kong currency. We spend a little time there, and some people get a bowl of noodles or other food while we’re there.
One place where food is not included in the trip fee is in airports during layovers, so please plan accordingly.
One other note: Please make copies of all your credit/ATM cards and identifications, both sides, so if you lose it, you have the card number and phone number to cancel cards and order new ones. Keep these copies someplace other than your wallet (for obvious reasons).