Best ways to spend travel money in Thailand: Debit and prepaid cards

Learn more about the best card to use, if you should use a UK debit card and other ways to take spending money to Thailand.

Bustling cities, electric nightlife and stunning scenery…all on a budget. It’s not hard to see why Thailand has become such a popular destination for backpackers, holidaymakers and those who want to see their money stretch a bit further.

But even at such affordable prices, picking the right travel money options before you land is crucial. While Thailand is increasingly accepting major brands such as Mastercard and Visa in many middle to upper market shops, restaurants and hotels, cash is still key and is likely to dominate your spending. Find out the cheapest way to use your money and make withdrawals below.

You won’t have to worry about withdrawal fees if you opt for a digital banking app such as Revolut or Starling. These work in much the same way as conventional bank accounts do, coming with a debit card authorised by Visa or Mastercard which can be “topped up” from your mobile phone, but the key advantage is that they don’t charge withdrawal of transaction fees.

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Taking and exchanging cash

Cash is vital in Thailand. You’ll be using it for the majority of your transactions. As usual, avoid exchanging cash at airports and hotels as these usually offer bad rates. Baht notes are significantly more fragile and susceptible to tearing than British bank notes. Make sure yours are not damaged as some shop/restaurant owners won’t accept them and ripped bank notes can be seen as disrespectful to the king.

Taking a debit card or credit card

First things first – always notify your home bank before you head to Thailand to stop your card being blocked by anti-fraud software. When using your card always choose to be charged in Thai baht to save yourself money. Why? Because the dynamic currency conversion (DCC) which allows you to see the cost of the transaction in your home currency leaves you exposed to foreign banks poor exchange rates and additional hidden fees.

Most debit cards will charge a currency conversion fee of around 2–3% when you make a purchase or withdraw cash, but it may be worth checking with your bank to double-check if this is the case. Both debit and credit cards can now be used in many mid to high-end hotels, shops and restaurants in big cities but credit cards should not be used to withdraw cash due to interest rates and cash advance charges. Instead use a debit card or prepaid travel card. Visa, Mastercard, JBC and American Express

Using prepaid travel cards

Travel cards offer a safer way to withdraw cash and can be useful at helping with budgeting as you can only spend what is on the card. Using prepaid travel cards also means you can pre-load your exchange rate beforehand, offering you the chance to do so at times when rates are looking more promising rather than relying on live exchange rates which could be unfavourable at the time. Not all cards charge for for currency conversion, but these will certainly charge you at ATMs.

However, using a prepaid travel card is typically more expensive than using the cards you already have in your wallet. They often carry hidden fees such as inactivity costs, reload fees and issue fees. Not all travel cards support Thai baht – for those that don’t you’ll pay a currency conversion fee when you withdraw cash or purchase a good or service. For help deciding on which travel card to go for, check out our comparison.

  • Tip: Financial institutions which provide a travel card also make money by applying a higher margin to the exchange rate. You can get a better rate using a debit card or credit card.

Using traveller’s cheques

Traveller’s cheques provide important security advantages over other forms of travel money. Each cheque has a unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification. However, using travellers cheques can be expensive with institutions charging a commission of around 150THB to cash cheques. Because of this it’s usually best to get cheques in relatively large denominations to minimise fees. Alternatively, you’re often better off using a debit card or travel card which lets you make cheap or free ATM withdrawals.

Using an ATM

It’s always best to check with your individual bank to check its withdrawal fees and to see if it has any arrangements with Thai banks which will offer more favourable charges. In most cases its likely you’ll be charged by both your bank and the ATM to withdraw money with the ATM alone likely to add on a fee of around £2–£4. ATMs are available in any of Thailand’s cities and an increasing number of smaller towns.

Mastercard and Visa cards can be used to make cash withdrawals from the majority of ATMs in Thailand. The maximum withdrawal limit varies depending on the machine. Machines from banks with a presence in Britain such as HSBC have a higher daily withdrawal limit compared to ATMs from Thai banks.

  • Tip: However, if you’re heading to a smaller town or village it is strongly recommended to take enough cash with you to live as there is no guarantee one will be available.

Currency: Thai baht

The official currency of Thailand is the baht. The currency is available in both coins and notes and comes in the following denominations – coins of 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht and notes of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 baht. There are currently 2 legally accepted editions of bank notes in Thailand, both with an image of the king on the back. Make sure you treat your money with care as bad treatment could be seen as disrespect to the king. See the different bank note denominations below to familiarise yourself with the currency, save confusion when spending and ensure you’re not being overcharged.

How much money will I need?

On a budget? Food, drink, accommodation and tourist activities all come at a fraction of the price to those found in the UK making Thailand a popular destination for those who want to see the money stretch a bit further.

Those on a tight budget can easily live on less than £20 a day and still enjoy amazing food, comfortable accommodation and the chance to spend extra cash on activities. A mid-range budget of around £40–£60 a day will afford you good quality restaurant meals and accommodation, the chance to enjoy a range or tourist attractions and to hire taxis.

BangkokBudgetMid-rangeHigh-end
to-sleepHostel dorm room
£2–£10 per night
3-star hotel
£15–£35 per night
5-star hotel
£100+ per night
mealfortwoCheap street meal (pad Thai)
50p–£1 per person
Average restaurant meal
£2–£4 per person
Western style steak meal
£15+ per person
cameraShopping at Chatuchak Market
Free
Bangkok food tour
£20 per person
Private Thai cooking lesson

£50+ per person

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

When traveling to Thailand it’s always best to have a few ways to access your cash. Visa and Mastercard travel cards, debit cards and credit cards are becoming increasingly accepted for over-the-counter purchases in middle to high-end hotels, shops and restaurants but carrying cash is always recommended as this will make up the majority of your spending. ATMs are readily available throughout Thailand’s larger cities and towns but when traveling to more remote locations it’s always best to bring enough cash to cover your stay.

Digital banking apps work in much the same way as conventional bank accounts do, coming with a debit card authorised by Visa or Mastercard which can be “topped up” from your mobile phone, but the key advantage is that they don’t charge withdrawal of transaction fees.

A quick summary of travel money options for Thailand

Travel money optionProsConsiderations
Debit cards for travel
  • Avoid currency conversion fees on foreign transactions
  • Emergency cash facilities
  • Most places have ATMs
  • Charge a currency conversion fee when you use the card to make a purchase or withdrawal in Thai baht
  • Can’t be used over the counter in most scenarios
  • No emergency cash or backup cards
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Pre-load and secure your exchange rate in multiple foreign currencies
  • Locked-in exchange rates
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
  • There are issue fees, reload fees and inactivity fees to compare
  • ATM and currency conversion fees
  • No fee – Assuming cardholder is spending on a currency loaded onto the card
Credit cards for travel
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Access to funds up to your credit limit
  • Some credit cards offer complimentary international travel insurance when you charge the cost of your return travel ticket to your card
  • No currency conversion/ transaction fees
  • Benefits including rewards points on spending, 0% purchases, frequent flyer perks
  • Emergency card replacement
  • Overseas ATM fees and currency conversion fees
  • Higher spending limit (depends on your approved credit limit)
Traveller’s cheques
  • Security is the main advantage – cheques have unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification
  • Availability to cash at banks
  • Secure and can be easily replaced if lost or stolen
  • Card schemes such as Mastercard give you a money back guarantee if you’re a victim of card fraud
  • Institutions charge a commission to cash traveller’s cheques
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing traveller’s cheques may apply (around 150 baht)
  • Currency exchange rate varies over time
  • Not all merchants accept traveller’s cheques
Cash
  • Is necessary in most places
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft
  • Easily damaged

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

Exchange rate history (GBP to THB)

While the value of the Baht has been increasing as the country develops and tourism expands, the country still remains a budget destination for British travellers.

YearAverage annual exchange British pound (GBP) to Thai baht (THB)
202040.1312
202143.9954
202243.2128
202343.253
202445.3209

*2024 price is an average until 16 April.

Bottom line

Each of the travel money options discussed has its own benefits and drawbacks, but it’s worth remembering that in Thailand cash is king. When traveling around the country it’s always best to have a few ways to access your cash. Having more than one travel money options means you have a back up in case one card is lost, stolen or damaged.

Make sure you’re able to withdraw cash using a decent prepaid travel money card or no-fee debit or credit card you should be able to handle all eventualities. It also pays to keep an eye out for ATMs operated by Thai banks that charge minimal local ATM operator fees.

Finally, if you’re going to visit some of Thailand’s more remote beauty spots, we strongly recommend you take enough cash with you to live on while you’re there, as there is no guarantee that you’ll have access to banks or ATMs.

We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you. Most of the data in Finder's comparison tables has the source: Moneyfacts Group PLC. In other cases, Finder has sourced data directly from providers.

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