If you are starting to plan your trip to S.E. Asia then we want to congratulate you. No matter what countries or places you decide to visit this should be an awesome trip. We want to share with you some of the things we wish we would have known on our first trip. Hopefully it will save you some frustration and money.
One of the easiest things to overlook when planning your trip is money. In our home country we can get it almost anywhere within five minutes. But accesssing money while traveling in Asia is a bit more complicated than meets the eye. Here are 9 things we wish we would have known about getting money in South East Asia to help you out on your trip. We hope this information can help you save some money while on the road.
When you are getting ready to travel to S.E. Asia you may not realize it but the U.S. Dollar is the de facto currency in most countries. Most countries exchange it at a better rate and you can avoid annoying ATM fees. Most banks will charge you $5 for a transfer fee, and then the local bank you are withdrawing money will also charge you $3-$5 as well. Foreign ATM’s also have a limit for you to withdrawal $100 at a time, this can add up quickly!
This will be extremely important in countries like Laos and Vietnam where you can only pull out around $100 per transaction! Which brings us to the next point…
Know The Countries ATM Limits before you go. If you are doing some long term travel than you may not want to carry that much cash on you at all times. So it’s best to know what the maximum amount of money you can pull out at ATMs to minimize fees and plan how much you carry. We’ve put together the max amount you can pull out in different countries. Laos and Vietnam have the worst rates, so you may want to save your cash for those two countries.
We use this information to figure out how much money we should pull out on the road. If we know we are about to be in Laos or Vietnam for the next month. May want to consider stocking up on some cash in a different country.
Bring Cards without ATM Fee’s We definitely wish we would have known this before we visited Laos! Before you go on your trip, do some research on what cards you can use to avoid ATM fees. Fees change from country to country and at different ATMs, but there are plenty of options out there to help you avoid those fees if you don’t want to carry cash.
There are several options to choose from but here are a few for starters: Schwab Bank Investor Checking account, Chase Sapphire Preferred, The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card and The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.
Cambodia Uses the Dollar If you are planning on traveling to Cambodia it’s best to just spend the U.S. Dollar. They have a dual currency but give much better rates for the dollar. The Cambodian riel is super weak and you can save a lot of money by never even exchanging a penny.
Bring USD for Visas at Border Crossings
When you are travel overland to different countries most of the times you will have to pay a visa on arrival fee. You have two options, either pay in U.S. Dollar, or pay a ridiculous fee in the local currency. Depending on how many border crossings you are planning on doing this could save you quite a bit, plus a couple bonus tips below can really save you some cash!
Bonus TipCarry copies of your passport photos for those on arrival Visas. They will need them, if you do not have a photo don’t worry, you will most likely pay around a $2 fee.
Super Bonus:If you brought USD to the border crossing you can pay for the visa with the USD and get the change back at whatever currency you want! The border will give you a perfect exchange rate!
Exchange money in the country you are traveling to
It’s tempting to exchange all your money in your home country before your trip so that way you don’t run into any issues while abroad. But most countries will offer you a better exchange rate in the country. If you absolutely need to for a taxi, maybe just exchange enough money to cover the first couple of days.
Exchange Rates Closer to the Border and Airports are Always the Worst.
If possible try not to exchange your money at the border, airport, or anywhere close to the border. Most major cities have places that do exchanges at much better rates than you would find at an airport. This will help you from losing a few dollars everytime you do need to exchange money.
Save a photo/copy of your CC information in a safe place.
In S.E. Asia, especially Malaysia, credit card scams are quite common. In case you get your wallet, identity, or credit card stolen, you may want to have a copy of your personal information so that way you can cancel your accounts. Just make sure to save it somewhere safe and easily accessible like dropbox.
You don’t need to Bring Travelers Checks to most countries
Places like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar aren’t going to be accepting your travelers checks. They just aren’t built for it. Instead just bring cash, preferably the U.S Dollar. If you really are worried about money just bring a card and withdraw money as you need.
We hope this information helps you save some money and worries on your trip. Please feel free to get in contact and let us know what you think or if you have any questions about accessing money in S.E. Asia – we’d be happy to help.
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Scott & Megan