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Best form of money to take backpacking in SE Asia and India?

Travel Forums Asia Best form of money to take backpacking in SE Asia and India?

Last Post This thread is marked as being about Money Matters
1. Posted by tamara1kt (Budding Member 20 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Hello, I am going to be travelling in India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and was wondering if anyone can advise the best way of bringing money if that makes sense?
I will be taking some US dollars in cash as I've heard this is necessary, particularly in Cambodia, but obviously I don't want to have much cash on me at any one time in case it's stolen or I lose it or whatever. (My Dad is also making me take a credit card in case of emergency, so if I run out of money or something bad happens or whatever I won't be stranded!) But beyond that I'm not sure if I should go for just a debit card with my current bank, or change to a different one, or apparently there is a card you can get from the post office (I live in the UK) that means you won't be charged using your card abroad, or then there are travellers cheques, or maybe there's a whole other option I'm not aware of?

I'm just not sure what would be best in terms of safety from theft/loss, exchange rates, and ease of use in these countries. Please help!

2. Posted by Andyf (Moderator 821 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Myself I'd use a couple of stored value / prepaid debit cards. That's probably what the post office one is, though there are lots and you may want to shop around for the best charges and rates. You can top these up online from your bank account, and for me this has the advantage of not needing to take your main debit card with you.

I use one from FairFX though I've not priced them up recently.

If you get a debit card like these with low fees, drawing cash from ATMs is as cheap as any other method, and probably the most secure. Draw out as much as possible at a time to reduce the number of transaction charges.

In terms of security, I split my money and cards three ways so I have a chance of not losing everything if pickpocketed or mugged. Two debit cards and a credit card for emergencies, each with some cash.

Absolutely forget travellers cheques - high fees, rarely accepted. Obsolete since cards came along.

[ Edit: Edited on 03-Jul-2015, at 10:00 by Andyf ]

3. Posted by karazyal (Travel Guru 1829 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

For Thailand American Express travelers checks still work okay and good for backup. They are safer than cash but only take the highest denominations you can get. There is a fee to cash a travelers check in Thailand but the 153 baht fee is the same for a $200 check or for a $10 check. (I can get my travelers checks without any cost through my credit union accounts.) Same for ATM withdrawals, when they charge a flat ATM fee you pay the same fee for the equivalent of a $50 withdrawal or the equivalent of $500. Don't make small withdrawals from ATMs and pay big fees. (I never use credit or debit cards overseas for cheap purchases in bars, restaurants, shops. I prefer to pay cash and expose my debit card numbers less often. Too easy for fraudulent charges to come up on your statements.)

If you want, in Thailand you can change left over Thai baht to US dollars at the airport when you fly out. (Bangkok has 2 airports, by the way so when arranging flights know which one you are flying in or out of.) There are many banks and bank money changer kiosks all over major cities in Thailand. Often open 7 days a week and sometimes up to 9 pm. But if you do go into smaller, remote villages maybe don't expect ATMs or bank money changers to be as abundant as in larger cities. So have Thai money with you.

If you go with a debit card DO NOT have just one single card! If you only have one card and you lose or damage that card or a guest in your room steals it - all the same - you are out your spending money! When you use a debit (or credit card) expect that there will be ATM fees and the bank may also impose charges too. Cards that claim to have no fees just get the money from you in other ways. Maybe with annual charges, who knows!

For Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia do not leave those countries with their currency. Not an easy task to convert this money to another currency elsewhere.

(Different countries means different visa requirements! It doesn't hurt to look a second time to see what you must do. Some visas may require photos or proof of onward travel.)

If you do a forum search you will come across other posts that discuss how to handle currency. Many hotels and guest houses have safes or safety boxes in the lobby. Sometimes other tourists you meet on your holiday may not be any more trustworthy than hotel staff. So be careful.

Always notify friends and families where you are going and with who. Don't drink so much alcohol that you do something stupid. Usually when I read about female travelers running into trouble alcohol is often involved.

Good luck.

4. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 840 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

In Cambodia, ATMs that accept foreign debit cards can dispense U.S. dollars. There is a fee for withdrawing money from an ATM, usually around $5. It's always good to estimate what your expenses will be; and withdraw close to that amount. Have an amount in mind, because if you dawdle, the ATM might "eat" your card. It's happened to me.

I check conversion rates at this Web site:

I often use an ATM when I arrive at an airport. However, some airports, such as the one in Darwin, Australia, have exclusive agreements with money changers and others, so the only ATMs at the airport are Travelex and Next ATMS. Since I prefer using bank ATMS (the exchange rates and fees usually are somewhat better), I took the airport shuttle bus to Darwin (paid the fare with a credit card) and later withdrew money from a bank ATM near my hotel.

I prefer using ATMs at airports and bank offices for safety. Plus, at bank offices I can check what the maximum withdrawal amounts are, or change large currency notes into smaller ones.

You don't need to bring large sums of cash if you use a debit card or two. I converted $500 in cash on my recent 80-day trip to Europe, Asia and Australia. I got the rest of the money I needed with my Visa debit card. Visa is accepted in more places around the world than MasterCard.

I have not used travelers checks in years. I always carry U.S. dollars and some euros (fresh bills, with no marks, tears or excessive folds). I have some stashed with my passport; and in one or two other places on me. The safest place is a money belt (silk ones are the best), or a concealed pouch under clothes. Estimate your cash expenditure for the day; and have it readily available in a pocket or two. Then put the rest safely away.

If the worst happens, friends and family can help. So make sure you keep in touch; and let them know your whereabouts.

P.S. My most important possession is my passport. No passport. No travel. I had mine stolen once; and now I carefully protect it from loss and damage.

5. Posted by karazyal (Travel Guru 1829 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

Yeah, keeping your passport safe is important. More than once over the years I have found passports dropped on planes or in airports.

I have "old fashioned" technology to help protect my passport. About 15 years ago I bought a little zipper pouch on a cord that my passport slips in. (This is not one of the big wide, fat, clunky ones! Just wide and long enough for the passport. Also it has a smaller zipper pouch section sewn flat on front.) When the top zipper failed I had a velcro flap sewn on in the Philippines for next to nothing.

I also put the passport into a plastic baggie to keep it dry. This cord attaches to a loop sewn in my side (cargo type) pockets. Old, goofy looking at times - but it works! I also slip a few travelers checks in the small pocket section along with a spare $100 bill. Also a (reduced) copy of the current flight I am on at the time.

Make a copy of the ID information in your passport and and the visa pages. Keep that copy separate from your passport in a different part of your luggage. You can save copies of your itinerary (even your passport ID page) in email form too. There are almost always internet shops you can print a copy of that info if necessary. At least If you lose your passport you will have something to show at your embassy.

Good luck.

[ Edit: Edited on 04-Jul-2015, at 03:57 by karazyal ]

6. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 840 posts) 2y Star this if you like it!

My passport, along with World Health Organization certificate of vaccination, backup credit and debit cards; and emergency contacts, are wrapped in a plastic bag to protect from moisture. They go into a concealed pouch that's always with me. In extraordinary circumstances, I use a money belt.

My cash stash also is wrapped in plastic to protect from moisture. Few will accept currency that is water damaged.

I no longer use a wallet while traveling. I use a money clip with a slot for one debit card, one credit card and a trimmed photocopy of the front page of my passport.