just a little advice needed if possible.
I am going backpacking around SE Asia starting March.
What is the best way to withdraw cash with minimal bank charges?
Have any of you used pre paid cash cards like the post office ones?
any advice welcome.
Halloo, i'm going to SE Asia in 6 days and had these very same questions about a week ago!
Most people have said travellers cheques can be hard to cash in (depending on where you go of course). I've applied for the Halifax clarity credit card as that worked out cheapest for cash withdrawals and purchases
Apparently there is a standard 150 BHT charge for ATM withdrawals in Thailand so it's better to take out larger amounts of cash, less often
I have a couple ordinary debit cards through my hometown credit unions. One Visa and one MasterCard. No problems using them in Thai ATM's. Also I had no problem in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. No annual fee too! These credit unions pay for some of my ATM withdrawal charges too. They also provide travelers checks without any fees too! Check for a credit union in your own city. Some smaller savings banks may be worth checking out too.
When you use most ATMs in Thailand there is an automatic 150 baht fee. This is on top of any fees your card holder adds on. This fee is applied if you take out a small amount of take out the maximum you can! Don't waste these big fees on small withdrawal amounts. Before you leave home you must notify your bank that you will be in Asia or your withdrawal maybe denied because they suspect fraud.
For Thailand I have no problems with travelers checks. They even get a little bit more than ordinary cash. Other Asian countries not as easy but some hotels may cash them. Stick to the larger denominations.
If you bring cash make sure your currency is clean, not old or torn. Some places may not want old crappy money. Stick with the larger denomination bills so you don't need a shopping bag to carry them. But for Laos and Cambodia US dollars, especially 1's and 5's come in handy. Different countries different rules. Don't rely only on one source of cash. if you do bring cash use hotels that have security boxes or safes. Record the serial numbers of large denomination currency and your travelers checks. You can save that info in an email you send to yourself and save. If cash is stolen from your hotel room (usually by guests you allow in more often than hotel staff) you can identify the bills.
I've travelled to many countries throughout the world (inclu SE Asia) and have only ever used my Visa Debit. ATMs are the norm now just about everywhere in the world. Even in some fairly far flung places I've been able to find an ATM. I've always carried a few Traveller's Cheques as back up and always brought them back home with me so I think from now on I'm just not going to bother carrying them!!
Be wary of those 'Traveller's Cash Cards'. They are a bit too good to be true! Every time you reload them with cash you need to pay a fee and you get whatever the current exchange rate is. The big pitfall is they only work in certain currencies (Euro, USD, GBP, JPY etc). If you're going to SE Asia I doubt these will be much good for you because you'll have to exchange your currency into one of these currencies, and then when you withdraw from an ATM you then have to exchange your nominated currency into the local. IE you buy the currency using AUD, buy USD and then exchange for Thai Baht (or whatever).
I'm an Aussie, and we have bank accounts in Australia that you can pay a nominal fee for (I pay $10 a month) and this allows me to have as many cash withdrawls at overseas ATMs as I want, no international transaction fees, actually no fees at all (just the $10 a month). All you have is the actual exchange rate loss or gain.. No sweat at all and absolutely no issues! (It was particularly good last year as the AUD rose sharply against other currencies so I got the daily rate... if I had've bought a Traveller's card, I would have only got the exchange rate on the day that I loaded the card not the exchange rate each time I used the card.. Obviously, some times you lose, sometimes you gain!)
This is probably the best option to look for if you are travelling to multiple countries and are not travelling to one of the 'Big 5' that those Traveller's Cash Cards work for.. I would be surprised if most banks in the western world don't offer something similar.
Hope this helps