Baht, riels, dollars and kip: a travel money guide to take the confusion out of taking and spending your money on a Southeast Asian adventures
Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore are among the most popular holiday destinations for Australians. But there’s more to Southeast Asia than these tourist meccas: hands up if you’ve ever visited Brunei? Different travel money rules apply depending on where you’re going, so use this guide to take some of the confusion out of organising your Southeast Asian holiday.
While US dollars are widely accepted in Southeast Asia, each country in the region has its own currency. Card payments are common in the capital cities, especially in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, but you will need cash if you’re going off the beaten track. We give you the skinny on how to take and use money in Southeast Asia, a region of tropical beaches, delicious food at affordable prices.
Compare travel cards for Southeast Asia
How much do I need to bring to Southeast Asia?
Southeast Asia is a budget holiday destination compared to many other parts of the world. You’ll find that developed economies such as Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and especially Singapore are more expensive than emerging destinations such as Cambodia, Burma and Laos. You will be able to spend as much money as you can afford in Southeast Asia, you can get an idea about budget prices in the table below.
|Bangkok (Thailand)||Singapore||Vientiane (Laos)||Hanoi (Vietnam)|
Hostel dorm bed
£7 – £15 per night
Hostel dorm bed
£10 – $20 per night
Hostel dorm bed
£5 – £10 per night
Hostel dorm bed
£4 – £10 per night
Khao Gang (curried rice / street food)
£1 – £2
Chicken and fish dumpling noodles (street stall)
Lao Sausage / Sai Oua (street food)
Budget meals at a cafeteria
|Marketing shopping on Koh Sahn Road£0.30 – £5||Visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens TripFree||
Visit the Lao People’s Army Museum
£0.50 admission fee
Sightseeing at Hoan Kiem Lake and Turtle tower
*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.
Exchange rate history
|Year||Average annual exchange British Pound (GBP) to US Dollar (USD)|
Some of the major Southeast Asian currencies include:
Which travel card, debit card or credit card?
Visa and Mastercard branded credit cards, debit cards and travel cards have wide acceptance in Southeast Asia. If you have an American Express, you’ll need to take a Visa or Mastercard card too. In the cities, you’ll find ATMs are easy to find, but in smaller towns and off the beaten track there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get cash from an ATM (ATMs can be scarce and frequently run out of cash). Card acceptance in these areas is also sketchy at best, so make sure you have enough cash to cover you for the times you’re venturing outside of urban centres.
Travel money options for Southeast Asia at a glance
|Travel Money Option||Pros||Considerations|
|Debit Cards for Travel||
|Prepaid Travel Money Cards||
|Credit Cards for Travel||
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How each travel money option works in given country
Using travel money cards
A travel card allows you to hold a number of different foreign currencies at the same time. Spend in the currency of your destination and you can avoid the fee for currency conversion. Thai baht and Singapore dollars are supported currencies on a number of products, but Brunei dollars, Cambodian riels, Indonesian rupiah, East Timor dollars, Laos kip, Malaysian ringgits, Philippine pesos and Burmese kyats are not supported currencies.
If you’re travelling to the aforementioned countries, a travel card with no currency conversion fee is suited. However, travel cards are fee-heavy products, so you’re going to pay for international transactions one way or another. For example, cards which don’t charge for currency conversion might charge for international ATM use. You’ll also have to pay front end fees when you purchase, load or reload the card.
- Tip: If you purchase a travel card at a branch, there’s a chance it won’t have your name embossed on the front. This may cause issues with acceptance in Southeast Asia.
Using debit cards
You can use any Mastercard or Visa branded debit card, though you should be weary of using it abroad as there may be fees attached. Barclays will charge a 2.75% non-sterling transaction fee, Lloyd’s will charge a 2.99% non-sterling fee on cash withdrawals and purchases, and NatWest/RBS will charge a fee of 3% (minimum £3). Regardless, a debit card can be a good back-up option.
- Tip: Visa (Mastercard too) provide a money back guarantee if you’re the victim of card fraud overseas.
Using credit cards
Some credit cards don’t charge for currency conversion and international ATM withdrawals. It’s generally not a good idea to use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM — cash advance interest and the cash advance fees apply when these products are used for this purpose. These fees can be avoided by preloading these products with your own money. Note that a local ATM operator fee may still apply and some providers will charge a cash advance fee regardless. Using a credit card with a positive balance also voids the anti-fraud guarantees from Mastercard and Visa.
- Tip: Some credit cards provide complimentary international travel insurance when you charge the cost of your return overseas travel ticket to the account.
- Tip: Make sure you tell your bank about your travel plans if you don’t travel frequently, they may block your card if they see a ‘suspicious’ overseas transaction.
Using traveller’s cheques
An almost obsolete form of travel money, traveller’s cheques can be cashed in more places in Thailand and Cambodia compared to other parts of the world. In Thailand, traveller’s cheques may be cheaper to cash at a bank than when withdrawing baht from an ATM. A number of Thai banks will cash cheques for a fee of 33 baht (compared to 150 – 200 THB for ATM withdrawals). If you’re travelling to the Philippines, anecdotal evidence suggests cheques can not be cashed at any place.
Taking cash with you
Although each country in the region uses different currencies, US dollars can be used throughout Southeast Asia. In some places (Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos especially) you’ll see prices quoted in US dollars, and some businesses such as hotels may prefer payment in US dollars. If you do take US dollars to Southeast Asia, make sure you have an eye on the exchange rates so you know how much you should be paying. In the rural areas of Southeast Asia, debit, credit and travel cards will not be accepted. Make sure you have enough cash to cover your planned expenses (and then some).
Using an ATM
Cities in Southeast Asia are well serviced by ATMs. You won’t have a problem using Visa and Mastercard branded products. Be prepared to pay an ATM operator fee, the vast majority of ATMs in Southeast Asia charge a fee when you make a withdrawal.
- Tip: Pick an odd number when you withdraw cash from an ATM. This will give you smaller bills which are easier to use.
It’s best to get the currency of the destination you’re visiting. Pounds can be easily changed to the local currency in tourist centres and international airports throughout the region. In Cambodia and Burma, and to a lesser extent Laos, where US dollars are the currency of the street, you’ll get the local currency in change when you pay with US dollars.
- Tip: If you have the opportunity to withdraw US dollars from an ATM, get some extra cash to use throughout the region as you travel to different countries.
- Tip: Thai baht is accepted in areas of Laos.
A guide to Thai Baht
Thai banknotes all have the image of the king on them. It can be seen as disrespectful to put your wallet in your back pocket as you might end up sitting on the king!
Buying currency in the UK
If getting the best rate is your main concern, it’s better to wait to exchange your Pounds till you arrive at your destination — you’ll get more for your money exchanging at a bank or exchange office in Southeast Asia. Laos kip (LAK) and Burmese kyat (MMK) are difficult to find in the UK. The following financial institutions can sell you foreign cash.
Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options
Make sure you’ve spread your travel budget across a couple of cards. For example a travel card, debit card or credit card, and US dollars in cash. This will give you more options if you’re travelling between countries, conditions can change between countries and ATM availability is not guaranteed outside Southeast Asian cities.
If you have any questions about travel money for Southeast Asia, get in touch with us using the form at the bottom of the page.Back to top
Find travel insurance for Southeast Asia
Although Southeast Asia has become a major travel destination for UK travellers, it’s important to make sure you are protected. Travel insurance is the best way to make sure that both you and your family are financially protected against the unknown while you’re away. Travel insurance protects against situations such as:
- Emergency medical and dental
- Additional accommodation expenses
- Personal liability
- Lost travel documents
So, if you’re planning on heading to Southeast Asia, make sure you’re financially protected.Back to top