South East Asia is one of the more cheaper places to travel around the world. But, if you are not careful with your money, you might end up losing this value proposition. Below is a list of all the things every traveler should keep in mind to ensure they get maximum value for their money in South East Asia. These are based on my recent backpacking experience across South East Asia, but can be extended across most of the countries in the world.
Banking: ATM Withdrawals
1) Try a carry a travel card that does not charge you a fee every time you swipe it at an ATM. Check with your bank for options and details.
2) Ensure that the bank who provides your ATM card has a good global coverage
3) Visa or Master card is the more accepted card type. I would recommend visa especially in the developing countries as they have a stronger reach.
4) Do some online research to find out the charges of cash withdrawals and limits for the various banks in a country before landing in that country. For e.g. Aeon Bank in Thailand, Canadia Bank in Cambodia and Techcom Bank in Vietnam do not charge ATM or withdrawal fees for international transactions.
5) Carry two (2) international debit/ATM cards. One should be visa and the other should be master card.
6) Since most of the banks charge withdrawal fees for each transaction, it might be sensible to take the maximum permissible amount at one go. However, this would mean carrying thick wad of bills on your person. Can affect safety for some travelers.
Banking: Credit Cards
1) Do not use your credit card to withdraw money from ATMs unless you have no other option. Credit card companies charge a huge interest for cash withdrawals
2) Most of South East Asian establishments charge a fee of 2-15% of the total amount for a credit card transaction. However, this fee is not charged in many larger establishments.
3) Use credit cards as an emergency mechanism for raising cash.
4) Again, like an ATM card, carry 2 credit cards (one visa and the other master card) to take care of your online transactions while you are traveling (hotel booking, ticket booking, etc.)
5) Use credit cards for online transactions. This helps in reducing online fraud and gives you more security.
1) It is always a good practice to keep some US Dollars with you. The greenback is one of the more accepted currencies around the world and in South East Asia. You will always get good value for it. $100 and $50 will provide you more value than $20, $10 and smaller denominations.
2) In Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia especially, the US Dollar will take you a long way. Plus, the US Dollar comes in handy to pay visa fees for Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia.
3) These days, most countries have fully functional ATMs to dispense local currency. Hence, there is no need to exchange currencies at the airport or bring it in from an earlier country.
4) Airports and border areas give some of the worst foreign exchange rates. If you need local money, use ATMs or exchange your dollars/Euros inside the city to get a much better exchange rate.
5) Use a foreign exchange converter app (like the XE converter) for your tablet/phone to stay on top of the latest foreign exchange rates. It is always good to know the current rates. Thereby, you know how bad or good is the exchange rate you are getting.
1) Do some research and keep track of promotions offered by the different low cost airlines of South East Asia. A little bit of planning can help you save serious amounts of money as South East Asia is one of the top low cost flying hubs of the world.
2) If you are going through a travel agent, ask for a special price.
1) South East Asian countries have a culture of bargaining. Hence, you will not be frowned upon if you ask for a discount or a best price. In fact, the locals want you to haggle and it is quite an interesting cultural exchange during such bargain sessions.
2) If you are a person from the western world, who is more used to fixed prices, get out of your comfort zone and learn the trick of bargaining. It is a useful skill to have in this part of the world and will help you save lots of money if you are the shopping type.
Stop Converting Currencies in your head
1) Nearly every traveler converts a local price into his home currency (say Euro) or international currency (say US Dollar). They do this to get a benchmark price, but in most of the South East Asian countries, this technique backfires as these countries are significantly cheaper than the rest of the developed world. What is a cheap price for a Westerner might actually be a hiked up local price. It is good practice to try and understand the local cost structure, like how much it costs for a 10 km taxi ride, a can of coke, a bottle of beer, a bottle of water, a McDonald’s burger, etc. This will help your money go much longer than your initial expectations. In my experience, your money should last ~30% more.
I hope these travel tips help your dollar last longer in South East Asia. If you have any tips based on your experiences, do write them in the comments below and I will be happy to add them in this post with a link back to your page/blog/website.