Banking and Money in Thailand

November 1, 2010

Money

The unit of currency of Thailand is the “baht”. The baht is divided into 100 satang. 1 salung = 25 satang. Thai coins come in 1 baht, 2 baht, 5 baht, and 10 baht. The colorful Thai paper money comes in 20 baht, 50 baht, 100 baht, 500 baht, and 1,000 baht notes. All notes and coins are adorned with a picture of the current king.

 

Thai Bank Notes

 

You’ll also see smaller, copper colored coins of 50 and 25 satang but they are not easy to spend. I just seem to get them as change at the supermarket and never know what to do with them. They remain in a jar on my dresser.

BTW, the idiom “3 salung” (the equivalent of 75 satang or ¾ of a baht) means “crazy” or “intellectually slow” since 3 salung is not a complete baht, as in the English idioms “not all there”, or “not playing with a full deck”.

Originally a baht was a unit of weight and for certain things, namely gold; it still is. Nowadays a baht is the equivalent of about 15 grams. The price of gold in Thailand is not given in ounces as it is elsewhere but in how much per baht weight. As an example, as of today the price of gold is 19,100 baht per baht, where the first baht is a unit of currency and the second a unit of weight.

Bank Cards

ATM, debit, and credit cards are all available from most banks. You can also use your ATM from your bank from back home at many local ATM machines. What fees you will be charged depend on which ATM machine you use, which bank you have your home account with, and what the current exchange rate is.

I use a local bank’s ATM card to withdraw money that I use to pay everyday bills. I use a local bank card to pay for more expensive items. The card I have is sort of a combo credit/debit card. It is officially a credit card so the payment isn’t immediately taken out of my account but at the end of each month the bank will automatically pay off the outstanding balance. So I never have to pay a late fee or interest on the card.

Note on the use of checks: These are not very popular in Thailand and in fact have never seen them used except at a bank.  Yesterday I received Check payment for a column I write for a local magazine. It was made out to “cash” and I had no problem cashing it at the bank (had to have my ID though).  You might want to bring your checkbook from back home with you but it will be hit or miss whether a bank will accept them or not.

 

ATM machines are everywhere

 

Bank accounts

With Bt500 and a passport you should be able to open a bank account in Thailand.

The idea for this post came from a comment/question from a reader about whether I use a bank account here or one from back home. Here is the question and my answer.

Q: Do you use a Thai bank or do you use an overseas bank? I am wondering where and how to bank when we are in Thailand. When I’ve been there before I just used ATM’s and paid fees back home. Is there an option to eliminate or reduce fees while living in country? Thanks

A: I have both a US and a Thai bank account. My Social Security payment is directly deposited into my US bank. (Note: Bangkok Bank will allow automatic SS deposits but the fees are too high for me.) A few times a year I write a check on my U.S. account and deposit into my Thai bank account for daily expenses here. The cost is about $20. I use Bangkok Bank and they have accepted checks over $100,000, so the amount is no problem as long as they know and trust you. It takes about 6 weeks for a check to clear. A wire transfer would be much quicker, within 2 or 3 days, but the cost is much more; $40 or more each time. There is a limit of $5,000 for each wire transfer if you are not physically present at the bank in the US, but some people get around that limit by working something out with their US bank. I believe that Citibank will allow much larger transfers but there is a specific set up that you will have to go through to get that service.  To learn more about Citibank’s wire transfers go here www.citibank.com.

Automatic Bill Pay

Some banks in Thailand offer bill paying services. I get my water, electricity, and phone bills all paid for automatically by my bank. I can check online how much they were and whether they were paid on time or not. I have never had a problem with this service and have never had to pay a utility bill either.

BTW, if you don’t have this automatic bank service, most bills can be paid for at a local 7-eleven store, of which there are thousands all over the country. Thailand has the 4th most 7-Eleven stores in the world.

SWIFT Codes

In order to get wire transfers into your local account you will have to know your bank’s SWIFT code (Society for Wire Intercommunications of Funds Transfer).  All banks in the world have one. Check with your bank to see what yours is (My website’s banking page has a list of some international banks’ SWIFT codes (retire2thailand.com/retire2-banks.php).

Also, if you are going to get a retirement or a spousal support visa you will be required to have money in a Thai savings account (Bt800K and Bt400K respectively).

When you choose a Thai bank be sure to choose one that understands international transaction. And then make good friends with the bank manager. The better known you are in the bank the better service you will get. That works the same everywhere in the world.

Exchange Rates

Big problem nowadays is the Baht/Dollar exchange rate. It seems to get worse every day. Not great for one living off of dollar denominated Social Security. I am getting at least 10% less per month than when I first started collecting. We are waiting for a little improvement before writing the next check.

I really don’t know where the best place to exchange money is.  You’ll probably have to ask around depending on where you will be living. As I said earlier I just write a check and let the bank take care of the rest. The differences are quite small and most fees are okay. I don’t usually use money changers on the street though. But check them out and compare rates. To see what today’s bank exchange rate is click here.

Loans

Officially, foreigners cannot obtain bank loans. That makes buying a condo or car a cash only transaction; that is unless you are buying it in the name of a Thai citizen. Then it is they who have to obtain the loan – which is not that easy.

From my webpage

Things to consider when looking for a bank

  • Does someone there speak your language?
  • What is their customer service like?
  • Do they have online banking?
  • Do they have online bill pay?
  • How long do foreign checks take to clear?
  • Do they have ATMs and where are they located?
  • Do they offer debit and credit cards?

Weight Loss Update

8.5 kilos (19 lbs) and counting (in 2 months). I’m now wearing pants I had put away years ago because they didn’t fit anymore. Had to buy a new belt. Feeling great. Even had a scoop of ice cream yesterday. Look here to see Dr. Hugh’s Miracle Weight Loss Program.

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14 Responses to “Banking and Money in Thailand”

  1. Snap said

    “You’ll also see smaller, copper colored coins of 50 and 25 satang but they are not easy to spend. I just seem to get them as change at the supermarket and never know what to do with them. They remain in a jar on my dresser”

    …I recieved a 50 satang coin this week, along with a larger gold 2 Baht coin? I’d never seen these before, so am keeping them as momentos! Your posting was timely, I didn’t know about santangs.

  2. Bob said

    Hugh,

    I have been doing some internet searching on wire transfer costs. I want to find a bank that has the lowest fee and allows for online transfers. I came across an outfit called XE.COM or XeTrade.com (same company). I was wondering if you had any experience with them or heard from anyone that has? It looks like a good service and they claim to have much lower fees to do wire transfers. Seems like it might be faster than writing / depositing a check and possibly cost the same.

  3. Richard said

    Hi Hugh,

    Nice site. You can see more banking information and SWIFT codes here: http://bangkoktimesonline.com/en/articles/banking-in-thailand. Also for UK expats who wish to avoid paying UK tax on their existing pensions, there is a guide here: http://bangkoktimesonline.com/en/articles/qrops-guide

    Thanks,

    Richard

  4. Chuck said

    Hi Hugh,

    I have been reading several of your posting and found them very interesting. I plan to retire to Thailand and I’m from Bremerton, WA (Close to Seattle). For Banking I was thinking of using HBSC. They have branches in Seattle and branches in Thailand. I checked with them and found that they have special service for people who can deposit $125,000 in there bank. There were no transfer fees to send money to Thailand, and if you were sending at least $20,000 they would give you a more comercial rate. I have a few more years to wait though so I will keep looking for the best way. Keep writing please.

    Chuck

    • Chuck,

      Great info and thanks. My only advice is once you get here to open an account with a bank that has an account close to where you live for everyday living expenses. I believe that HSBC would only have a branch in Bangkok.

      • Chuck said

        Hugh,

        Your right about HSBC and Bangkok. I do have two different bank accounts in Thailand already. I’m really jelous of you. You are living my dream. You have motivated me to start a new retirement account to bridge the time between when I stop working and when my pensions will start.

        Chuck

  5. Chuck said

    Hugh,

    I’m Skyeing here with my fianc’e and we are discussing Thai VISA requirements. It seems you have to check in every 90 days with imigration; is this true, is there a way around this?

    Thanks,

    Chuck

  6. First question: Yes, you must check in with immigration every 90 days. It is technically an address check to tell where you are living. In Chiang Mai it is a fairly quick procedue, maybe about 15 minutes. You must bring a photocopy of your passport fron page, a page of the visa you are currently on, and a copy of your arrival/departure card (It is stapled in your passport and don’t lose it).

    Second question: No, there is no way around this.

  7. don larson said

    How much USD can one bring into Thailand at any one time? Would it make any sense to convert Dollars to Thai Currency prior to leaving the U.S.?

    What large U.S. banks have branches or affiliates in Bangkok?

    Thank You

    Don

    • Citi Bank and Bank of America and HSBC (more an international bank) have branches in Bangkok but I don’t know of any upcountry. Check with the Thai immigration website to find out what currency regulations are. I have had no trouble transferring large sums here but I don’t know how much you can physically bring in. I would not convert dollars to Thai currency before arriving here but check and see what the current exchange rates are, who knows, you might find a bargain.

  8. moradave said

    I have only a Bangkok Bank debit card. I fund the debit card account by internet banking transfers from my regular Bangkok Bank savings account. I only fund the account immediately before using the debit card. For example, if I want to buy a 10,000 baht item, I will first transfer 10,050 baht into the debit card account and then immediately draw 10,000 baht out with the card. If I am away from my computer I will do the account transfer at Bangkok Bank via my mobile phone. This way I am not vulnerable to credit/debit card fraud since there is never much in the debit card account,

    I do the same when I want money from the ATM. I also do the same when buying from the internet. When you charge something on the internet they take the money right away. So I first put the needed amount into the debit card account and then let them take it. If I get a refund, I will get an SMS alert on my mobile phone, and IMMEDIATELY transfer the money out of my debit card account into my regular savings account where it is safe.

    I do not use checks, nor do I set up any kind of recurring monthly payments from either of my accounts. I pay utility bills at the 7-11 using this technique. I pay other in-country bills with direct account to account bank transfers. I send money orders for payments outside of Thailand. I have no other debit or credit cards anywhere. None.

    I feel that by using this technique I don’t need to carry a large amount of cash. I thus reign in my spending, and I am not subject to debit/credit card fraud. The debit card is like a pre-paid Visa card that I can fund myself with no expense. And I have complete control as to the balance available in the debit card account at all times, plus a quick, on-line accessible record of all activity in and out of both accounts.

    Works for me here in Thailand which is like the wild west when it comes to financial fraud. Let me know what you think of this technique.

  9. Moradave,

    Thanks for giving us this detailed info. I do things a little simpler. I have a credit card from Bangkok Bank which has a service where they pay off any balance at the end of the month. So I never have to pay a finance fee or move money around. I very rarely use the card though, only for big purchases. I use the bank’s services to pay electricity, water, and telephone, and use 7/11’s services (20 baht per) to pay any other bills.

    But here is what really works for me. I don’t carry any money around. I let my wife pay for everything.

  10. […] P.S. If you are interested in learning more about banking and money in Thailand you can check out my blog post: Banking and Money in Thailand. […]

  11. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after going through some of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

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