A destination for the expert traveller, Bangladesh requires quite a bit of planning, including when it comes to using your cards and cash.
A land of luxurious forests, fascinating historical buildings and huge rivers, Bangladesh isn’t exactly a well-known tourist destination, which makes it both a bit trickier to travel to and way more authentic.
Bangladesh is really not used to tourists, especially in the rural areas, so you shouldn’t expect the infrastructures you’d find, for example, in nearby India. The good news is, tourist scams are comparatively rare too.
Many hotel and restaurants will take card payments, especially in Dhaka, the capital city. However, cash is still the main payment method, and you should always carry some around.
The local currency is the taka. In theory, you shouldn’t be able to exchange it before arriving in the country, but if you travel from India you might find some shops that trade it. Alternatively, you can either exchange your cash or directly withdraw money from an ATM.
Cash machines in Bangladesh
There is a decent network of ATMs in Dhaka, but once you leave the capital city, it may become more difficult to find them. Also, some of them may not work and others don’t take foreign cards, so it’s probably best to plan in advance where you’ll get your cash from.
HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank both have a network of ATMs in Bangladesh. Standard Chartered Bank’s is way bigger, and you can check addresses and locations here.
ATMs will charge their own fees for cash withdrawals, which will be added to your own bank’s fees, so it’s even more important to get a debit card that allows fee-free ATM withdrawals abroad.
You may also be given the choice of who should do the currency conversion, whether the ATM’s bank or your own. As a rule of thumb, you should pick your own bank, that will usually grant you a better exchange rate.
Cash in Bangladesh
Shopping in Bangladesh can be very cheap for Brits, and while there are some big and well-equipped shopping malls that will take cards, you’ll definitely need cash if you want to explore local shops and markets. The same goes for local restaurants, especially out of Dhaka.
There are a number of currency exchange shops in the main cities, and it shouldn’t be too complicated to change your pounds, euros or US dollars. If you can, it’s best to avoid exchanging money in airports and main hotels because they’ll have worse exchange rates.
Is it safe to use my card in Bangladesh?
Credit card fraud isn’t unheard of in Bangladesh, so it’s best to be careful while using your card:
- Keep it physically safe. Petty theft can be an issue, even at the most unexpected times, for example, while travelling on a train or on a rickshaw. Keep your card in a safe pocket that cannot be easily reached and always be vigilant with your possessions, especially your phone.
- Choose your ATM carefully. If you can find an ATM that’s enclosed inside a bank, and not on the street, that’s much better.
- Keep your PIN safe. Don’t keep it in the same place as your card. Knowing it by heart is certainly your best bet, but if you can’t remember it, you can, for example, store it under a fake name in your address book.
- Watch out for “skimmers”. Some ATMs may have been tampered with to get your card and PIN. If the card slot is not as smooth as it should be, or if the keyboard sticks out from the machine more than it should, it’s safer to try another ATM. Always shield your PIN when you type it in, both from occasional bystanders and from potentially hidden cameras.
Credit card fees in Bangladesh
Aside from not being always accepted, credit cards may incur a series of fees when you use them for payments in Bangladesh:
- Foreign transaction fees. Surely a seasoned traveller like you, who has decided to head off for an adventurous vacation to distant Bangladesh, already has a card that comes with fee-free spending abroad… right? If you don’t, it’s probably time to browse for one. Most cards will otherwise charge between 1% and 3% for every non-sterling transaction.
- Currency conversion fees. If you’re asked if you want the transaction to be carried out directly in pounds, it’s best to politely refuse. You won’t have to deal with the foreign transaction fees charged by your bank, but they may be replaced by even more expensive ones and, what’s worse, by a terrible exchange rate.
- Cash advance fees. Withdrawing cash with a credit card is generally to be avoided, and more so while travelling. Fees may pile up quickly in the form of cash advance fees (most banks charge a fee for using your credit card to get cash), interest (interest-free billing cycles usually don’t apply to cash advances, so the amount you withdraw will probably start accruing interest from day one) and foreign transaction fees if your card charges them.
- Merchant fees. Some retailers may charge an extra fee for credit card payments. If in doubt, ask about it before choosing your payment method.
Here’s a fairly typical section from a credit card’s Terms and Conditions showing non-sterling usage fees that are pretty standard.
What is a cash advance fee?
A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Bangladesh
How to prepare before travelling to Bangladesh
As a country where there isn’t much tourism and things are done in a different way than what we’re used to, you should plan your trip to Bangladesh as carefully as possible before leaving. This includes giving some thought to where you’ll get your money from.
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Card acceptance isn’t great in Bangladesh, so you probably shouldn’t overcomplicate things by trying to find places that take Amex.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. Some debit and credit cards that come with no foreign transaction fees don’t charge an annual fee either, so getting one is doubly advantageous.
- Keep your bank informed. There are good chances that your bank will consider an unexpected transaction carried out in Bangladesh as fraud, and block it. Warning them beforehand will spare you the hassle.
- Keep your bank’s emergency number handy. You should know what to do in order to have your card quickly blocked if it’s lost or stolen.
- Know where you’ll get your cash from. Especially if you’re about to head for a rural area. Use online ATM locators, enlist trustworthy locals for help, and maybe carry some US dollars with you – they’re always a good bet in case of emergency.
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