Holiday in Asia, probably your flights are booked, guide books bought, and even the packing has started, you are almost ready for that well deserved few weeks, or even months holiday in Asia.
Staying at a one of those gorgeous Bali villas, or a beach side hut in Koh Samui, or even diving in Cebu?
What is probably outstanding is your Travel Money Strategy. No, I don’t mean how much money you expect to spend in Singapore versus Bangkok, but how are you going to have access to the right amount of money, in the right currency, at the right time and place. Of course, without having to carry it all on your person!
Here are some insider tips to money matters for those who will travel in Asia, beyond the metropolises like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Whilst these are the regular staple for travels to Europe, in Asia, they are somewhat less convenient. As a rule of thumb, they are not as widely accepted in Asia (outside of larger cities), as they would be elsewhere in the world.
If you are taking any travelers cheques with you, plan to change these at bigger cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
Of course, the rate you will get for changing travelers cheques will be less than hard cash.
Also, once you are off the beaten track, expect people to look at you as if your are offering them Monopoly Money, when you put your travelers cheques forward.
These are increasingly available across Asia, and now a days have penetrated well beyond the big cities, into second/third tier cities, as well as most of the main Asian holiday resort destinations, such as the Bali Island, Phuket, and Langkawi.
Whilst in bigger cities, you will spot ATMs with ease, at many other destinations you will have to actually go looking for them. In Bali, for example, many cash machines are located at Circle K outlets (convenience store chain), or petrol/gas stations. In other more remote places, you will need to try your luck at the local mini-market and even the chemists!
However, ATMs are by far one of the most convenient ways of accessing cash easily in Asia, without having to carry huge amounts in person.
However, again, similar to travelers cheques, you will have to pay for the convenience/service in an incremental way. Banks and credit card companies will make money from you in two ways.
Firstly, because you are withdrawing at a foreign currency, there are exchange rates involved. For ATM withdrawals you will almost certainly end up getting a poorer exchange rate than if you were changing cash.
The second area of payment, is in the form of foreign currency withdrawal charge that will be imposed on your transaction. Given that this charge is often a flat fee, you are better off making fewer withdrawals of bigger amounts of money, than many withdrawals, each of which resulting in a separate charge.
There is no two ways about it, keeping your cash and valuables in a money belt is a safer way than carrying a big wallet, or a handbag which may be snatched with ease.
However, keep in mind that, unless you are traveling to Beijing or Seoul in the winter, your Asian travels will inevitably take you to hot tropical destinations.
As those who have had to carry money belts in the tropics will attest, they can very quickly become very uncomfortable (and wet!). Also, when at more humid environments, a money belt easily becomes very visible when perspiration sticks your clothing onto your body, or you remove your top for a swim. All of a sudden, what once was a discrete security measure becomes a bill-board advertising that you are carrying valuables on you, in the process pinpointing the location too!
So, as they say, horses-for-courses. You will need to decide on the best method of carrying your valuables depending on the environment. Or even better, if you feel like you are in a high risk situation, it is probably best to leave most of your valuables under the protection of a reputable hotel safety box.
As a general rule of thumb, you will get a better exchange rate for your money at your Asian destination, than back home, regardless of where you change your money. Of course with the exception of larger international hotels, where the exchange rates on offer match the nightly room rates! So, it is well worth doing your homework before your leave home, and check the prevailing exchange rates for your currency, at some of the bigger banks’ internet sites for your destination(s).
Once you are in Asia, the best and safest way of changing money is to visit one of the local banks. It is worth noting that, in Asia banking office hours will vary substantially from country to country. For example, in Bali, most banks will open at around 9 am, where as in Singapore, some bank branches will not open their doors till 11 am. If your need is time sensitive, it will pay to plan ahead the day before. The good news is, most banks in Asia will accept many different currencies, and often offer fair rates, and provide official receipts. (Of course, some currencies such as the US Dollar, the Euro, and the Japanese Yen, are more readily accepted by more banks than currencies from some other countries.)
If however, you wanted to squeeze a little more from your money, or you have no other choice, you may be tempted to use an Exchange Services/Kiosks, found throughout Asia. Typically, these should offer slightly better rates than banks.
If you are going to use this option, here are a few tips and tricks.
You will probably get a fair rate, and be treated fairly in cities like Singapore, where local laws and enforcement will help protect you.
However, in some other cities/resorts you do need to take care, and be on the guard.
In many countries, most of these exchange kiosks are no more authorised than the handwritten (or nowadays printed) authorization sign they carry!
Some are blatantly unscrupulous, and will successfully short change even the most worldly-wise of travelers.
If you decide to use an exchange kiosk, here are some best practice tips:
Never change money on your own – don’t be alarmed, in most places there is usually no risk involved to the individual, but you are better off with 2-3 pairs of eyes than just your own
Change small amounts at a time – reduces your exposure and their greed!
Agree on the rate, and the amount you are going to change before taking out your money – unless of course you want to see your real $ 100 bill change into a recently printed fake in front of your very eyes!
Count the money given to you, and then when you are finished – hand it over to your partner to count again. (You should never count at the same time together, as you need that 2nd pair of eyes to observe the transaction
If at any point you are in doubt – just smile and walk-away
In a Nut Shell
1 – Make a Travel Money Strategy before you leave home
2 – Ensure that you have sufficient funds/credit on your cards
3 – Do take some travelers cheques with you, just in case
4 – Take some cash with you, even if a small amount
5 – Decide where and how you want to use you money belt
6 – Do use reputable hotel safes
7 – When exchanging money, try to stick to official banks
8 – If changing money elsewhere, try to make sure there is more than just you overseeing the transaction
9 – Make sure you never loose sight of your money at exchange kiosks
10 – If you feel uncomfortable during a transaction, just smile and walk away
As they say, prevention is better than the cure. If you decide to use these tips, please also observe your environment, and apply common sense. Just don’t forget, in many of the Asian destinations you will be traveling to, what you pay for a hamburger or a Skinny-Late is probably almost equal to someone’s local wage. Always carry the minimum amount of money with you, and apply caution when at remote parts of the developing world.
Having said all this. Asia has been my second home for more than 20 years now, and I have taken many holidays in Asia. May be I have been lucky, but in these 20 years I have had the most wonderful time of my life, and never really been cheated changing money. Well, almost never, there was that time when I was a backpacker when…
Enjoy your Asian holiday.
Many happy returns…
By Maklay62 from Pixabay