Currency issue in SE Asia

Old Apr 25th, 2005, 02:51 PM
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Currency issue in SE Asia

I am planning a 4 weeks tour of Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Any suggestion on how to handle the currecy issue while in those countries? Can I use my North American credit cards there (Visa or Master)? Can I use my bank cards to withdraw local cash from their ATMs? If not, do I just carry US dollars or is it better to have traveller's check?

Thanks in advance!
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Old Apr 25th, 2005, 03:26 PM
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All of those countries have ATMs that you can use. That's the easiest way to get local currency. I always carry a few US$100 bills as an emergency stash (non-working ATMS, etc). I haven't used travelers checks in many years, though one of the regular posters here says she still does, so it's a metter of preference. Typically, there is a fee for cashing travelers checks that you don't have for ATMs or cash exchanges, but it doesn't amount to much. Do note that some currencies are not exchangeable outside of the country (e.g., VN dong, Cambodian riel, Lao kip, etc) so spend them or exchange them before you leave the country.
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Old Apr 25th, 2005, 08:14 PM
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i have had very good luck with atms in all of those places....make sure you have mulitple cards however---lost, stolen, scratched, taken by machine....also check out the fees...many of my credit cards are now imposing a 3% conversion fee on all charges....almost all of them have made changes in the last 3 months...non-banks are the best at the moment....
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 06:51 AM
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Kathie and rhkkmk,

Thanks a lot for your advice. I feel much more comfortable now going into those countries.

Any special safety tips for these SE Asia countries?
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 07:12 AM
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A word of caution - I've had some problems exchanging US $100 bills circa 1996 in Indonesia and the Philippines. Visa and Masters are all welcome at most established places in S.E. Asia but cash is still king and you'll be able to bargain just a little bit more discount with good old cash.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 08:26 AM
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I don't use travelers checks or ATM's - I carry enough US currency in and then exchange for the local currency. This has worked for me for the last 5 Asian trips. I keep the money in a security wallet inside my shirt and at the safe at the hotel. ATM's charge too much and travelers checks are not accepted in many places- cash is king!
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 08:41 AM
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The points about ATM charges are well taken. My bank charges me US$2 per ATM transaction and no surcharge on the exchange rate, so it's a good deal for me. (I have a friend whose credit union does not charge her for use of foreign ATMs.) I have heard of some banks charging US$5 per transaction. I haven't heard of banks imposing surcharges on exchange rates for ATM withdrawals from your bank account, but almost all US credit cards now chrge 3% preminum on exhange for foreign credit card purchases.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 08:53 AM
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Yes Kathie is right- use your credit card to pay say for the hotel and many will sock you a 3% fee. Thats another reason why I use cash. I carry the credit cards for insurance, but find that for small cafes, markets etc. they only accept cash. I won't pay the 3% fee. Also I determine the best place for the exchange rate when I am in country.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 08:59 AM
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Capital One does not charge a fee. Be sure and call them whenever you leave the country though - as your card will decline if you don't. Learned that the hard way. Also, just read a story about money being stolen out of a hotel room safe. Guess we will re-think that one too.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 09:36 AM
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Personally...I'm "Old School" about what to carry and have for the past three decades been taking AmExp traveler's checks(which I get fee free)and U.S. dollars in a variety of denominations...from ones to one-hundreds and then lock them in the room safe. And if the hotel bill is high, then I use the AmExp card...for lower hotel bills I pay the bill in cash of the local currency. I personally won't use an ATM or debit card overseas.Happy Travels!
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 10:22 AM
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neither of our credit unions charge an exchange fee or an atm usage fee, although they do pass along the 1% conversion fee from mastercard and visa international---it is not seen however as it is included in the exchange rate....the credit cards i was referring to add a seperate 3% fee on which shows as another transaction....american express has been doing it for years as has us bank, the northwest a/l credit card company
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 11:42 AM
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Recently, credit card issuers have been sending out statements about the additon of fees to foreign transactions. After the (successful) lawsuit against American Express, they are now disclosing their fees. Ironically, Am Ex charges lower fees (2%) than most credit cards do (3%). On my Am Ex statement, it shows up as a separate fee, but on my Visa statement it doesn't show separately, though I can tell it's been added by figuring the exchange rate.

Do call your credit card issuers before you go and let them know where you will be. Also, let your bank know where you are so your ATM card doesn't get tirned off!

Guenmai's comment reminded me that I've been told never to use a debit card for a transaction outside your own country. The debit card does not have the same legal protections as a credit card does. If someone stole access to your debit card, they could clean out your bank accounts.

No matter what kind of credit card you have, I'd suggest you call them in advance and see what fees they charge for foreign exchange.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 12:10 PM
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Kathie...Yes, one can get wiped out and I wouldn't want to have to straighten the mess out.Been there done that before.My AmExp card number was once stolen in San Francisco and the thief ran up the bill. I knew exactly who had done it...the business has now been busted. So, temporarily it was like having my identiy stolen....a nightmare. The person had printed a fake card with my name on it or something and I think sold it to people to use at the gas pump back in the day when it was easy to do. It was a car- service place. But AmExp was great about the whole mess.Some people have debit cards that are combined with their ATM cards...all in one card. I just feel more stress free to use the traveler's checks. Plus I can set a budget and stay within it and easily know exactly what I'm spending.If I need extra money,in an emergency situation, I can take a personal check to an AmExp office and write a check for the amount I need.Three people came with me to Paris last month and had only ATM/debit cards and went to the ATM twice on arrival day alone. They kept having to look for ATMs and there was a limit as to how much they could withdraw. I went to the AmExp office twice during our nearly week stay and took out all the money I needed and locked it in my safe and was finished with the money situation.They were also freely using their visa/mc debit cards to make purchases and pay restaurant bills with which made me cringe. Happy Travels!
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 05:32 PM
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Guenmai, your cautions are well-taken. Once you've had a card number stolen, it makes you more cautious about everthing. I use an ATM card, but I had my bank issue me an ATM-only card (it is not a debit card). I have heard that some issuers won't allow ANY overseas transactions on a debit card.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 06:24 PM
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Always have at least 2 cards from different issurs, keep away from 'debit cards', I agree that keeping a few hundred in t/checks as a final back up is a good idea, I always have a few with me as a final back up. Another tip is 'do' write down those important card telephone numbers and make sure it isn't a domestic 'toll free' in your home country, if your card only shows a domestic toll free call them and get the 'full number', a lot of people forget to note those numbers just relying on them being printed on the card, which of course is pointless if you happen to 'loose it'!. When going around I think a good idea is keep 1 or 2 cards on you and always keep 1 in the hotel safe.
Also reminding this old tip, scan your passport( main pages ) and email a copy of that to yourself and keep it in a file on your email. Also do a good old fashioned copy and leave with family or close friends.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 06:42 PM
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we had a problem last year in samui...my card was taken by the machine...most of our travel money was in that account...i did some switching around on line with another card and thus had the money available again...i could use my wife's card from that a/c for debit transactions...it just would not work in atm's...the card was found sitting in a banker's top drawer two days later when i called for it...not safety prone....


some of my mastercards and visas do seperate out the 3% charge as a seperate fee....

kathie---i think my amex is 3%, i will have to check it again...

i always use amex when i think there may be a problem with a charge...like with car rentals which always seem to pose a problem for me...
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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 07:17 AM
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You've had great advice in these replies. If you want some of the harder to obtain currencies, go to a legitimate certified local money changer. In Malaysia and Singapore for example there are thousands, and that way you'll have local currency for tips on arrival. Also, more people are insisting on the newer US$ currency -- and good old $1 bills are handy to have as you'll often get change in local currency if you change a $100.
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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 07:51 AM
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For those of you who will bring cash instead of using the cards/traveler checks its best to bring $100 bills.
Make sure there are no tears, or marks on these bills- go to your bank and inszpect the bills carefully- some places will not exchnage bills that are old/torn/market up etc.
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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 09:49 AM
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I agree with Bill T. Another thing one has to be careful about with cash is that sometimes the machines that the bills are put through (to check that they are real)reject the bills which means that the establishment thinks that they are fake. This happened to me in Singapore. I went to pay my hotel bill at the "Y" and took out my U.S. dollars to have exchanged into Singapore dollars( it was late at night and I was too tired to go to the exchange place in the area) and the bills were put through the machine and were rejected.I had just gotten those bills from my local Wells Fargo bank in L.A. County before I left home.The same thing happened one year here at home. I went into Wells Fargo and got cash for a trip to Paris and then drove to the local Thomas Cook office about 20 minutes from my house to get $20. worth of French Francs(this was right before the Euro conversion). Well, different bills were put through the machine and were rejected and Thomas Cook would not exchange my $20. into French Francs. So, I had to get in the car and drive to a money exchanger in downtown L.A...another 20 minutes away...I tried the same bills at the next exchange place which turned out to be fine there and I was given my $20. worth of French Francs. What a headache! Happy Travels!
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Old Apr 27th, 2005, 12:43 PM
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Good point Guenmai!
So exchnage that cash at the beginning of your trip with a bank or money exchanger- whom ever gives you the best rate.
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