Thailand, “The Land of Smiles”, is known for its warm welcome of tourists from all over the globe. Between stunning scenery, exotic culture and rich historical ruins - it’s no wonder people flock there for time off. Many more settle in Thailand in search of a better life, a change of pace or to retire permanently as expats.
Whether you're here for a quick beach break or to live and work in Thailand longer term, the currency can be pretty baffling at first.
This article is a quick guide to what you can expect. You’ll find an overview of Thailand’s currency, banks and exchange services so you’ll get a head start for when you land on Thailand’s sunny shores.
The official currency of Thailand is the Baht and both coins and bills are used.
|Baht Symbols & Names||THB, ฿, บาท|
|1 THB||Each Baht is subdivided into 100 satang (สตางค์)|
|THB coins||Though coins issued in satang values do exist, they are rarely used. Most tourist businesses round to the nearest baht. More commonly, you will see coins in 1, 2, 5 and 10 Baht denominations.|
|THB banknotes||Notes of 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 Baht denominations are used.|
There are two different editions of banknotes currently in circulation in Thailand which look slightly different but are both legal. In both series, the Thai King is on the back of the bill, but one depicts him in military uniform and another in a traditional gown. Thai currency should be treated with respect because it bears the King’s image - who is held in very high regard.
If you have any doubts about the validity of the bills you have, you can check them against the images provided on the Bank of Thailand website.
Thai Baht is the only legal currency in Thailand, and it’s not usually possible to spend other currencies. If you see it offered, be wary. A tourist site that accepts payments in U.S. dollars, for example, will likely have extremely poor exchange rates and you’ll end up paying much more that you would have if purchased with THB.
Exchange your cash when you get to Thailand - but be wary of ‘No Fees’ or ‘Zero Commission’ offers
In general, the exchange rates available for THB will be better in Thailand than at home. Exchange services in Thailand tend to claim ‘zero commission’ - but make sure you can see the exchange rate being offered. Usually, when services advertise a service without commission or fees, their profit is wrapped up in the poor exchange rate they offer.
Use the mid-market exchange rate to compare and find out if you’re being offered a fair deal
Deciding which exchange service to use is easy enough as long as you understand the mid market rate. This is the only real exchange rate and should be used to compare the exchange rates offered to tourists. Find out what the current mid-market rate is by using a currency converter online - that will help you determine whether a deal is fair or not.
There are currency exchange desks in international airports and hotels which makes changing cash on arrival seem easy. However, exchange rates in these places are notoriously poor, so make sure you’re comfortable with the offer before you commit. If necessary, exchange only a small amount and seek a better deal in town.
Alternatively, there will be ATMs available which allow you to withdraw some Baht to tide you over.
A note of warning - currency exchange desks may refuse to change banknotes which are in any way damaged or defaced. Make sure that whatever cash you bring is crisp and clean.
American Express Traveller’s Cheques can be exchanged in banks and currency exchange offices in Thailand, but you might struggle with any other type of Traveller’s Cheques. You can’t usually pay directly with the cheques, and exchanging them comes with a fixed fee per cheque. Because of this, it's usually best to get the cheques in relatively large denominations to minimise fees.
Even doing this, you might find that exchange rates aren’t very competitive - plus, you’ll only have a limited choice of places willing to make the exchange.
For greater ease, many travellers now prefer to use ATMs and credit or debit cards to finance their trip.
All major credit and debit cards are accepted in large businesses, hotels and restaurants in Thailand. However, you might find that smaller stores and cafes don’t take cards, so carry some cash on you at all times.
Because some financial institutions will be suspicious of sudden card use in Thailand, you need to tell your bank you're going there before your trip. Otherwise, you might find your card is blocked by anti fraud software - causing great inconvenience.
One thing to watch out for if you're spending on card abroad, is something called DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion). What is does is that DCC allows you to see the cost of the transaction in your home currency rather than in THB.
Though it sounds much simpler, it’s not a great idea. DCC leaves you exposed to the foreign bank’s hidden fees. Because the Thai bank has no incentive to make you happy - with DCC they give you a poor exchange rate and an additional fee. It’s best to decline this ‘service’ and opt for your home bank’s more favourable rate by being charged in THB.
ATMs are plentiful in Thailand. Cash is the preferred method of payment for most Thai people, so using an ATM to make withdrawals can be a convenient option for travellers.
To find an ATM near you, use one of these locator tools.
If you use an ATM abroad you can assume that you'll be charged by both your home bank and the ATM operator. Ask your local bank before you leave what their fees are and if they have any arrangements with Thai banks to allow you to get access to services more cheaply. If they don’t, you can expect that an ATM in Thailand will add a fee of 150-180 Baht for each withdrawal (around 4 British Pounds or 5 U.S. dollars).
Due to DCC (described in the previous section), you might be asked if you’d like to be charged for the ATM withdrawal in your home currency. The answer should always be no. In order to get the best deal, always select to be charged in local currency.
Thailand has a good banking network, with their largest banking groups also operating beyond Thailand’s borders. The largest bank is Bangkok bank, which covers the whole Southeast Asia region and has offices in London and New York. After that you’ll find the Krung Thai Bank (which is more than half state-owned) and Thailand’s oldest bank, the Siam Commercial Bank.
You may also ask your home bank if they work in partnership with any Thai banks. If they do, you might be able to use ATMs in their network for free (or at least reduced fees).
For simple access to your money abroad - and an even better deal - another great option is to use TransferWise.
If you have a bank account in Thailand, or know someone who does, you can transfer money between bank accounts using the real mid-market exchange rate. It's a fair and convenient way to get your cash with no hidden fees, leaving you with the best deal possible.