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How to Carry Money in Asia

Using ATMs, Credit Cards, Travelers Checks, and Cash in Asia

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US dollars

US dollars still work well in Asia.

Photo by Greg Rodgers

With a handful of options, many travelers are not sure about how to carry money in Asia. In a connected world, there are many ways to access funds for your trip, however, some may cost you more than others.

As the old investing mantra goes: diversify. Your safest bet for always having the correct money on hand in Asia is to have a little money available in several forms -- particularly if you intend to roam between countries where requirements change.

While ATMs are the best way to get money in Asia, the networks on islands or in remote places can go down for days at a time -- you need backup forms of currency.

First read these 10 budget travel tips to help you save money while traveling, then read on to discover how to manage your travel funds.

Use the ATMs for Local Currency

ATMs connected on all the major Western networks are now available in most tourist places in Asia. Using the ATM means that you can carry less cash as a safety measure; you can just get money out as needed. The ATMs dispense local currency, eliminating the need to exchange money.

Before taking your ATM card to Asia, check with your bank; many charge a small foreign transaction fee (around 3% or less) each time that you take out money.

Tips for Using Your ATM Card in Asia

  • Let your bank know that you will be using the card abroad so that they do not flag the account and deactivate the card when charges pop up from Asia!
  • The ATM fees in Asia vary widely so always check first; the fee in Thailand is around US $5 per transaction!
  • Smart thieves have found a way to attach card readers over the real slot on ATMs. The reader steals your card number as your card goes inside of the machine. Pay attention to the card slot, and stick to using ATMs in banks or busy places.
  • When choosing an amount to withdraw, pick a number that will make the machine dispense smaller bills rather than large denomination notes which may be hard to break later.

Exchanging Money in Asia

Second to ATMs, many people still exchange money after they arrive in Asia. While reliable, the exchange rates are usually not always favorable.

  • Have an idea of the international exchange rate before you land. (www.xe.com)
  • Airport kiosks are safe, yet often have the poorest exchange rates.
  • Once on the street, stick to exchanging money in banks; random street kiosks may or may not be legal. Counterfeiting is common; never exchange money with an individual on the street.
  • Count your money before walking away from the exchange window; you should also receive a receipt.
  • Do not accept torn or faded notes. Many are pawned off on foreigners and may be impossible to spend later.

See current exchange rates and more tips for how to exchange money in Asia.

Using Credit Cards in Asia

Although carrying a credit card on your trip is obviously a good idea for emergencies, don't expect to use a credit card as your primary source of funds for eating and shopping.

A majority of shops and vendors in Asia will not accept credit cards, and the ones that do will often tack on a surcharge or commission possibly 10% or higher. Credit cards are best used in upscale hotels, to pay for activities such as scuba diving, and to book cheap flights in Asia.

Credit cards may be used in ATMs to get emergency cash advances, although you will pay a foreign transaction fee and interest rates on cash advances are higher.

Visa and Mastercard are more widely accepted throughout Asia than other cards.

Using Traveler's Checks in Asia

American Express traveler's checks can be exchanged in banks throughout Asia. Carrying traveler's checks is a convenient safeguard against carrying too much cash at one time.

  • A commission is often added per check exchanged, so carrying larger denomination checks will result is fewer fees.
  • Travelers checks should just be used as a method to exchange for local currency; hotels and merchants will rarely accept them.
  • Before leaving home, record your traveler's check numbers in a hidden email along with the international number to report lost or stolen checks.

Carry US Dollars in Asia

Despite the recent tumble, the US dollar still speaks loudly in most parts of the world. Push come to shove, the dollar can be exchanged or used in a pinch more readily than any other currency. Some countries such as Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam prefer to accept US dollars in transactions instead of their own currency!

Carrying a large amount of cash is a bad idea, but having US dollars on hand in a variety of denominations will definitely come in handy. Make sure to carry crisp, new notes as money changers will refuse old bills.

  • If a price is given in dollars rather than the local currency, you are trusting the exchange rate of the merchant -- ask the cost in both currencies.
  • A common scam in Vietnam is to quote a price in dong, then claim that the price was actually in dollars when you are asked to pay!
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  5. Asia Money: Tips for Using Currency and Carrying Money

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