When in Bangkok, do as the Bangkokians do.
Except…when you can’t.
One of the most painful, or dare I say, excruciating problems while in Thailand, is the reliance on cash as a form of payment.
New Zealand is still very much behind when it comes to curating digital payment processes, and this is constantly clear when dealing with payments within Thailand.
Cash is the main form of payment in Thailand, especially in rural areas outside of city boundaries. In Thailand, notes come in ฿1000, ฿500, ฿100, ฿50, and ฿20 denominations. Each note contains His Majesty the King’s visage, and so one must be careful not to deface, or intentionally damage currency, as this is a serious offence potentially liable with fines or imprisonment.
Most establishments take cash as the primary form of payment; do not even think about approaching a market or street food stall without at least ฿50 in your pocket. Taxis, tuk-tuks, motorcycles or even trains usually only accept cash as the form of payment, with no Eftpos machine able to be found for at least a short hike. For larger chains, you can usually forgo this for a quick tap or swipe of a card.
Coins come in ฿10, ฿5, ฿2, ฿1 denominations. There are smaller values known as “satang” (1/100 baht) but these are rare in circulation, and you aren’t likely to encounter these while travelling in Thailand.
When at a market, and the haggling commences, don’t show how much you have in your wallet, but merely the amount you are willing to pay. Sometimes if something is ฿500 Baht and you show that you have ฿250, you are likely to barter merchants down. Don’t feel bad about this, as they are looking for the biggest profit as much as you are looking for a discount.
Another recommendation is not to carry more than ฿3000 baht cash at once, in case of the rare event of theft, loss, or misplacement on a party night out in Krabi, Phuket, or Khao San Rd.
Losing a large amount can make it all the more painful.
Here is where it starts to hurt. Where cash will burn and coins will be dug from the trenches of your wallet.
Every Thai city-slicker, student, merchant and shop owner, uses a QR code payment system known as Prompt Pay. This is where, using a banking app, consumers can receive and pay money via QR code scanning. There are no fees associated, nor the need for costly card machines. It is merely a digital form of cash, simple and easy, yet of course bringing concerns of privacy and surveillance.
This is not available for foreign nationals staying for short periods in Thailand.
Not having this option as a foreigner limits you greatly. In Thailand, a large number of businesses have a minimum card limit of ฿500 or even ฿1000! Of course, you don’t find out about this limit until you’re about to pay and have already eaten your meal. You better hope you have the cash, or your friend does, otherwise its gonna be a long night of dishwashing and taking orders.
Prompt pay requires a Thai bank account, which leaves short-term visitors, interns and tourists with two payment options: card or cash.
Visa, Mastercard, Credit, Debit…
In Thailand, these are secondary payment options.
As mentioned, many places have a minimum limit on card transactions (usually of ฿500, but this can vary).
With visa being the primary card system used in New Zealand, it is important to note that not everywhere accepts Visa, some places instead preferring cash or Mastercard. If going to a mall, a large chain store, or fast-food restaurant, you will likely be able to pay with card regardless of the amount, so save the cash for the small stuff.
If you are using the Metro within Bangkok, Visa is accepted there, but the same does not apply to the BTS Skytrain!
Most of all remember, when using card for even the smallest purchases (<฿10)…
7 Eleven is your best friend.
It will save your life at least once.
For a foreign card, the withdrawal fee is ฿220 per transaction (around $11.00 NZD), regardless of the amount you decide to withdraw.
Need only ฿500? PAY ฿720.
Need ฿20000? PAY ฿20220.
As you can see from above, it’s better to withdraw large amounts less often. However, with street food priced as little as ฿10-฿20, even ฿220 is 1 day of food extra, and a painful amount to lose.
*Tip: Have a Thai friend, family member, or person you trust? Send money to their Thai bank account for a small fee (around $3.00 NZD), and they can withdraw the funds for you from an ATM at no extra cost.
Money Matters While Abroad
When travelling abroad, money matters. Whether or not you want to scull a screwdriver or savour a sandwich, it’s important to keep an eye on expenses. Consider taking a large amount of foreign currency out in cash before or after departing New Zealand at currency exchange kiosks (check official websites for limits!!!).
Don’t go too crazy, unless you’re about that life. It’s better to spend all your money during Week 8 rather than Week 1 !