Thailand offers visitors a chance to experience the country’s fascinating culture, get a taste for authentic Thai food, and witness a range of stunning landscapes and temples. Whether you’re heading to Thailand for a back-packing adventure in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, or a laid-back luxury experience in Phuket, it’s definitely possible to live large for less in the “land of smiles”.
If you’re planning on using a credit card to help fund your Thailand travels, then read on to find out which cards are the best, and learn about the different payment methods you might want to consider.
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Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Thailand
Cash machines in Thailand
If you’re heading to one of Thailand’s major hot-spots, such as Bangkok or Chiang Mai, then you won’t have to worry about finding an ATM – they’re extremely common within most major towns and cities. ATMs are often located at bank branches or outside convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven or Tesco Lotus. While you can also find ATMs in airports, this option is usually best avoided since you are likely to receive a worse exchange rate.
Most ATMs in Thailand impose a daily withdrawal limit of ฿20,000 (around £476), and for others it is ฿10,000 (around £238). Since ATMs usually charge a withdrawal fee of around ฿200 (around £5), it can work out cheaper to make one large withdrawal rather than a number of smaller ones. If you plan on doing this, you should contact your bank before departing to find out whether you will be allowed to withdraw this amount all at once.
If you’re heading to rural Thailand, it may be more difficult to find any ATMs dotted about, so it’s advisable to be prepared and withdraw larger sums of cash beforehand.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if you use your credit card to get a cash advance, you’re likely to start paying interest immediately.
Cash in Thailand
Since Thailand is mostly a cash-driven society, cash remains the easiest way to make payments in Thailand. Plus, as most amenities are cheap (by Western standards), it is quicker and more convenient to pay with your cash rather than card. Even though chain stores and supermarkets are likely to have card-payment facilities, markets and stalls are not.
Chip and PIN
Both chip-enabled credit cards and cards that simply have a magstripe will work perfectly fine in Thailand. However, it’s a good idea to use your chip card with a PIN when possible, since this is more secure than magstripe counterparts.
Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards in Thailand, so you should double-check that your credit card is with one of these networks before departing.
Is it safe to use my card in Thailand?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Thailand, you’ll have a trouble-free experience.
- Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
- Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
- Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
While Thailand is generally safe for tourists, you should always remain alert to street crime, such as pickpocketing, particularly in crowded places and busy tourist areas. Make sure you always know where your belongings are, and keep an eye on your credit card in places where it could be skimmed while out of view, such as at restaurants.
Potential credit card fees
Some shops discourage credit and debit card payments because they have to pay transaction fees to their banks for the convenience. Others tend to charge their customers 1% or 2% extra to cover for the fee. However, this practice is considered illegal by the Reserve Bank of Thailand.
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s smallprint to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to get one.
Currency conversion fees
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in local currency.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Thailand.
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”.
How to prepare before travelling to Thailand
- Go with Visa or Mastercard. Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards in Thailand, and it is not advisable to bring an American Express card as they are rarely accepted.
- Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
- Keep your bank posted. Banks are likely to block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
- Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
- Know where you’ll get cash from. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates. Plan on getting cash soon after your arrival, since it’s likely you’ll need it early on. ATMs in Thailand typically come with a maximum withdrawal limit of ฿20,000.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Thailand does not hit any roadblocks.
- Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the favourites. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
- Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
- What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
- How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveler’s cheques with you.
When you’re in Thailand, remember to always keep cash handy on you, or be aware of where the nearest ATM machine is.
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