The baht used to be non-convertible. That means, to
non-bankers and non-financial analysts, that the currency
wasn't freely traded on international currency markets.
Travelers entered Thailand with any amount of dollars, yen,
or pounds they pleased, and the money was converted at banks
or money changing outlets into baht. At the end of
one's stay, the traveler could convert the baht back into
one of these international currencies. Sometimes, a
receipt was asked to prove that the baht had been bought
legally. Most of the time, a receipt was never asked
We have heard that the baht is now freely
convertible, but the realities on the ground don't support
this. You can still swap out any excess baht into
international currencies at moneychangers. You'd
likely have to visit several moneychangers to swap out
large amounts, as moneychangers don't seem to have loads of
foreign cash on them. We've also heard that there's a
50,000B limit on the amount of baht you can convert into
foreign currency. Since we've never needed to send
50,000B or more out of Thailand, this has never been put to
the test. What we can say, from firsthand knowledge,
is that when someone we know tried to wire out 30,000B to
another Asian nation through a bank, the bank asked why this
money needed to be sent. If the reason had been
"to squire money away in another currency abroad," we doubt
the bank would have approved the transaction. Official
documentation is required to trade the baht in spot and
forward markets. Thus, the baht is not truly 100%
We do not recommend taking baht out of the country in the
hopes that you can swap them back out in your native lands.
We've seen the baht being traded at decent rates in the
countries bordering Thailand plus Hong Kong and Korea (only
at the airport). As a general rule, the further you
get away from Thailand, the harder it is to change baht and
the worse the rates become. If you get more than
a few thousand kilometers from Thailand, no one will have
ever heard of the baht.
How To Bring Over Funds
During Doug's world jaunt in the 1990's, he received cash
like this: he showed an American Express card to
an American Express office and wrote a personal cheque for
$1,000 plus a 1% commission. The American Express
office or its representatives then sold Doug $1,000 in
American Express traveler's cheques. The American
Express card acted as both a membership card to earn this
privilege as well as collateral in case the personal cheque
didn't clear. The cheques were then exchanged at
banks in the countries entered.
We imagine you could still do this, but why?
Traveler's cheques were useful in an era when getting money
from Country A to Country B was costly and one didn't want
to travel abroad with a wallet stuffed with cash. The
traveler's cheques allowed the voyager to carry large sums of
cash effectively insured. Today, ATM machines are
found everywhere, even in poorer countries. Nearly all
Thai ATM machines feature menus in English and offer
competitive exchange rates. Your bank at home may
charge you a fee and in 2009, all Thai banks implemented a
150B charge per transaction involving foreign ATM cards.
All in all though, given the convenience, the ATM method is
still superior to the older traveler cheque method, even if
in the end, the traveler's cheque method saves you $10-15
for every $1,000 exchanged.
Banking in Thailand
You used to require a work permit to set up a bank account in Thailand.
Not anymore. Plenty of retired folk live here all or part of
the year, and many others buy property which requires them to funnel
money over. Now, all you need to show is your passport.
For the casual traveler, a Thai bank account is unnecessary. You'd
save 150B every time you withdrew money from an ATM (as long as you used
your own Thai bank's ATM), but then you'd spend money to wire over the
money in the first place, and once the money is in baht, it's harder to
get it out of the country. It only makes sense if you're living
here on an ongoing or permanent basis.
The biggest bank in terms of total assets is Bangkok Bank.
Krungthai Bank, more than half owned by the Thai government, comes in as
the second largest. Then you have Siam Commerical Bank,
Kasikorn Bank, TMB, and the Bank of Ayudhya. Sticking with
one of these common banks should prove convenient. You'd be able
to find branches of them all over Thailand. There are a number of
foreign banks which only have a branch or two in Bangkok. This is
probably not what you're looking for.
Cost Of Living
Usually, whenever you have a high standard of living, you have a high
cost of living. We can take that statement a step further.
In many countries where the standard of living is abysmal (i.e. various
African nations), the cost of living is quite high, as anything that
would provide upper class ease to someone must be imported.
Here is where Thailand delivers. It has both a decent standard of
living -- not Swiss or Swedish caliber, mind you -- while also providing
a low cost of living. Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be.
Depreciating values of Western currencies vis a vis the
baht plus rising baht prices have taken Thailand off the ultra cheap
destination list. It's still cheaper for what you get than South
America, Central America, and most of Africa.
Thailand seems to have two parallel economies. In one
economy, you have products and services that cater to Thais. These
could be one-room 'apartments' that rent for as little as USD 60 per
month. Or local restaurants where you can have a full meal for USD
1.50. The second economy caters to Westerns and wealthy
Thais. This economy sells USD 3.00 scoops of ice cream, brand name
jeans and shirts and shoes for USD 70 and up, and luxury condos for USD
500,000 if not more. A neighborhood bakery charges over USD
2 for a slice of delicious chocolate cake. That won't seem like a
lot of money to anyone dining at bakeries in New York City or London,
but it does seem expensive over here. The typical Thai won't be
Anything which goes beyond the basics will be relatively or absolutely
expensive. The basics would be things like a simple non-brand
shirt, serviceable shoes, basic meals, local beers and whiskeys, locally
manufactured food items and pastes, local meats, rice, buses, motorbike
rental and cheaper model car rental, and basic hotels.
Beyond means brand names, imported foods, 5-star hotels, premium car
rentals, and other creature comforts. A pair of Levi jeans will
cost more in Thailand than it does in the USA. Clearly, there is a brand
premium being charged, because all of these Western brands are typically
manufactured in China to begin with, and sometimes you'll see a bargain
stall setup temporarily in the middle of a shopping mall hawking
name-brand clothes overstocks without the name-brand labels for prices
between USD 3-10. Beyond would also include 'luxuries' like
DSL-internet with plans starting as low as USD 25, not insanely cheap,
or air conditioning. Household appliances like washing
machines, bedroom sets, desks, and plasma TV sets would cost the same or
quite a bit more than what you'd pay at home. Even if the price
is the same, it will seem higher in Thailand because the
relative cost will be higher. In fact, that's how you start
judging if something is reasonable or not, based on its relative cost.
A real life example: in the town where I live, it costs about USD
3 flat rate (no meter) to take a taxi 5 km from my house to the center
of town. While that may seem cheap, it's not relatively.
In Bangkok, the flagfall rate in a taxicab is slightly more than USD 1
and that same 5 km journey done through little traffic would cost half.
The same taxi driver charging USD 3 would charge USD 14 for a trip to my
girlfriend's son's school 12 km outside town. For almost the same
price, three could take an air-con minibus to Bangkok, a journey of
around 250 km. This makes it simpler to decide if something is
'fair' for you. USD 14 can buy three people a nice Indian meal, a
very good deal. Is the taxi ride of equal value to you as the
Indian meal? If not, then the taxi ride is overpriced and you're
better off spending a bit more time riding a motorbike out there.
For most coming to Thailand, the cost savings are not fully realized.
By coming over and staying solely at 5-star hotels (which don't get me
wrong, do offer some splendid bargains nowadays), eating in fancy
restaurants, and taking private cars, you'll still be saving money
compared to a trip to Europe, but not saving one helluva lot. And
if you book tours and accommodation from your home country, be prepared
to watch most of what you saved go into the travel agent's pockets.
Some sample costs below, in baht:
|Toyota car rental, per day
|Cheapest hotel room, with air-con
and bathroom attached
|Cheap flight ticket, Bangkok to
|Thai massage, two hours
|Meal out for two, Thai food,
|Meal out for two, European food,
|Taxi to Suvarnabhumi Airport from
center of Bangkok, including tolls
|Bowling (1 person)