When you are travelling in Thailand, you’ll rapidly find that getting baht at a currency exchange is an obnoxiously slow process. You need to have your passport with you, need to wait while the clerk fills in a bizarrely long and detailed form and then you need to figure out how exactly you’re getting short-changed. Using an ATM in Thailand is so much quicker and simpler, though it does come with its own challenges and disadvantages.
Chief among those disadvantages is the likelihood that your bank or credit card company will charge a hefty fee for using your card overseas. Fortunately, there are some ways to reduce those fees. You may also find that your bank considers a transaction taking place thousands of miles from your home country to be a sign that your card has been stolen, so it’s always wise to tell them where you’re going to prevent your card being automatically blocked.
Will my debit or credit card from home work in ATMs in Thailand?
The short answer is ‘almost certainly, yes’. The overwhelming majority of cards now use Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus or Maestro as their service provider, all of which are accepted by Thai ATMs. Not sure which yours is? The logo will usually be shown very clearly on the card itself, or you can ask your card company or bank.
It doesn’t matter if your card uses chip-and-pin or just the old magnetic strip on the back - both work in ATMs in Thailand. Likewise, you can have either a four-digit or six-digit PIN. However, unlike machines in some other countries, the number keys do not have letters on them in Thailand. So, if you’ve memorised your PIN as a word instead of a number, you might need to change that before arriving in Thailand.
Why is using ATMs in Thailand a good choice?
It’s a sad reality of travel, but it doesn’t matter what method you use to get hold of foreign currency - one way or another, you’re going to lose a little bit of the value of your money. If you use a bureau de change, you’ll often get an unfavourable exchange rate - one below the actual rate - or you might have to pay a service fee. Or both.
If you’re really unlucky and go to a particularly unscrupulous exchanger, you might even fall victim to a scam, like the clerk “miscounting” when they give you your baht. One advantage of the Thai currency is that, as each note has a very distinctive colour (one disconcertingly close to the same colours used for Monopoly money), it’s a lot harder for the crooked clerk to hand you a 20 baht note and try to convince you that it’s really a 50. Even so, one of the big advantages of using ATMs in Thailand is the lack of a human element, making this already slim risk non-existent.
But back to how you’re going to lose value on your money - using an ATM will at least mean that the exchange rate is as good as it’s going to get. It might not be exactly the rate you’ll find on Google, but it’s the least bad rate available.
Where can I find ATMs in Thailand?
Another massive advantage to getting your baht from ATMs is that they can be found all over Thailand. Currency exchangers tend to be only available around the major tourism hubs, particularly in places like Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai. Head out into the countryside and your chances of finding one are close to zero.
Even if you do find a convenient exchanger when you find yourself short of funds, you’d better hope that your money emergency came up during regular office hours. If you happen to have an unexpectedly large bar bill to pay after final orders are called, you’re going to have a problem. If you’re using ATMs, though, they’re almost always nearby and they’re almost always open (the only time they’re not open being when they’re broken or out of funds, which isn’t that often).
So, where should you look when you need an ATM? Bank branches are an obvious place to start, and there are plenty of those. Look out for their bright-coloured liveries and you’ll generally find a bank of machines by their entrance. Some of the main banks even have ATM locator maps on their websites, such as Bangkok Bank and Bank of Ayudhya.
No bank nearby? There will almost certainly be a convenience store of some sort. It might be a 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Mini Big C or possibly a Tesco Lotus Express. In some cases, you might find two or more stores along the same length of street - they might even be separate branches of the same store! Whatever company they belong to, almost all convenience stores have at least one ATM and the larger ones have a selection from different banks. Since petrol stations almost always have a convenience store, most also generally have an ATM or two.
Finally, you will find ATMs in major airports, BTS and MRT stations in Bangkok and shopping malls. It’s worth noting that there are a few places where you won’t find ATMs in Thailand - the really, really remote parts of the countryside or the tiny islands in the south of the country, for example. If you’re planning a protracted trip off the beaten track, it’s best to draw out more cash than you think you’ll need, just to be safe.
How do I use an ATM in Thailand?
You might be thinking that one ATM is very much like any other and, if you’ve managed to figure out how to use one in your home country, dealing with a Thai one can’t be too challenging. For the most part, you’re absolutely right. You might have to select a language you can understand in order to complete the transaction, but the process is usually self-evident. It is subtly different for each bank, but it’s not difficult to figure out.
However, there are a couple of things to be aware of that routinely catch out the overconfident. The most significant is the order in which your card and cash are disgorged by the machine. An ATM in the UK, for example, will always give you your card first, followed by your cash a few seconds later. If you’re so used to using UK ATMs that your brain tends to switch into autopilot and you're in a hurry, you may find yourself grabbing your cash from a Thai ATM and then walking off before collecting your card. In Thailand, the card is always the last thing to come out, so be sure to stick around until you’ve got it back.
The other concern to be aware of is far from unique to Thailand and should be a part of your process for using ATMs in any country. It’s not unheard of for card cloning devices to be attached to machines in some of the less savoury parts of town which, when coupled with a camera watching the number pad to get your PIN, could lead to you card being compromised. There are other variations on this scam, but three basic precautions will generally combat all of them:
- Check the card slot for any loose components or unusual fixtures. If anything seems off, find a different machine.
- Always cover the number pad while entering your PIN.
- Avoid using ATMs in poorly lit or unwholesome areas - particularly areas noted for their nightlife.
How much money can I get from an ATM in Thailand?
The withdrawal limit for most Thai ATMs is set at 20,000 baht per day. Given the low cost of living in the country, that should be more than enough to last you for 24 hours, unless you’re really splashing out. In those cases, a couple of banks have a higher daily withdrawal limit. You can take up to 25,000 baht out from Bangkok Bank ATM or 30,000 baht from a Bank of Ayudhya machine.
Assuming that you have somewhere to safely store large sums of cash, it might be worth maxing out the withdrawal limit even if you’re travelling cheaply. It generally works out cheaper to get hit by one big fee than a lot of little ones.
What are the fees for using ATMs in Thailand?
Sadly, the first of the fees you have to contend with when using a Thai ATM is one imposed by the local bank whose machine you are using. Most will charge a 200 baht fee for using a foreign card, though Aeon Bank’s rate is a little lower at 150 baht. As this is a flat rate per transaction, it adds another reason for making a few big cash withdrawals instead of a lot of little ones.
Most bank and credit cards will also charge a fee for using the card overseas. These vary from card to card, though some cards particularly targeted at travellers have no fee.
A further fee that could be charged is levied when you choose to be charged in your home currency. While this makes your bank statement easier to read, it also means that the ATM will use Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) to change your home currency into baht. This gives you exactly the same problem that you suffer while using currency exchangers - a harmful exchange rate that means you lose a lot of value from your money and get significantly less baht for your buck. Fortunately, this fee can be mitigated or avoided altogether.
How do I avoid paying too much when using ATMs in Thailand?
The first and most important thing to do if you’re planning to use your cards in Thailand is to set the card’s currency to baht, meaning that all of your transactions are completed in the local currency. This removes the dependence on DCC and ensures that the currency is converted using the mid-market rate - the fairest and most favourable rate possible. The downside is that you won’t know exactly how much money you’re taking out of your home bank account since the rate in your home currency is not given. It’s best to keep a record of your starting balance and how much you’re spending each time to make sure you don’t end up overdoing it.
It may also be worth checking the terms and conditions of your card or other cards available from the same provider. Some are specially marketed to travellers and come with reduced or no fees. If you travel a lot, it could be worth any added annual fees such cards generally come with.
Another option is to use a bank that has an overseas connection. For example, Citibank has branches in Thailand and a good number of ATMs. If you are a Citibank customer in your home country, you can withdraw funds in Thailand without paying any fees. Other banks with arrangements with Citibank or other Thai banks may also be able to offer reduced fees.
Actually going into the branch to withdraw funds instead of using the ATM is perhaps the best way to avoid paying too much as this will naturally remove the ATM fee. There is also no withdrawal limit when you do this, so you can take out much more cash than you would ordinarily be able to. However, the obvious downside is that it completely defeats the point of using the card - you do not save time, can only withdraw funds during office hours from a limited number of locations and you add a human element back into the transaction, which can be particularly challenging since Thai bank staff rarely speak as fluent English as the currency exchange staff do.
This article is provided to you by DeeMoney. Thailand's money transfer solutions provider licensed by the Bank of Thailand. Interested in transferring money from Thailand to the world? Download the app from Google PlayStore or the Apple Appstore to get started.