Samui Wining & Dining
How to manage your finances while holidaying on Samui.

How to manage your finances while holidaying on Samui.No matter how savvy you are when it comes to finance, it’s easy to feel vulnerable when abroad. Nothing’s guaranteed to cause more concern than the thought of losing all your money. The worry’s logical after all: credit cards, travellers’ cheques, and cash – you name it; they can all be lost. That age old travel question persists into modern times: how can you keep your money secure while on the hoof?


This isn’t being paranoid; those fears are somewhat justified, especially if you’re far from home. You might know just what to do in the countries that neighbour your own, but if you’ve just flown half way across the world to a completely new destination, where you don’t speak a word of the language, you can expect to feel a little, well ... disorientated.


But it all depends where you are. Some countries are known to be risky, and visitors to them only feel relaxed when they step aboard the plane for their flight back home. Thailand’s not like that at all. It turns out to be a very easy country to travel around in – one of the easiest in South-East Asia. Partly that’s because of the friendliness of its people, who will go out of their way to make you feel at home. Also, because tourism is so much a part of the nation’s economy, everything’s set up to facilitate travel – including the banking system. Crime rates are relatively low, too, but that doesn’t mean to say you should let your guard down.


So, how to manage your money once you’re here? First off, the fairly obvious points. Just because you’re on holiday, the sun is shining and you feel relaxed, this doesn’t mean to say you’re immune to problems. Don’t for example carry your wallet in your back pocket, or place your handbag in the front basket of a moped – it’s surprising just how many people do this. If you’re travelling on an overnight bus, never put your money in that albeit locked suitcase that you stow in the hold. Make use of the hotel safe – if it really is secure – or better still the in-room safe, if there is one. When you’re on holiday and dazzled by what you see around you, and you’re digesting a thousand new sights every day, it’s remarkably easy just to forget even the most basic common sense.


Bringing money into Thailand is very easy and you can bring in as much as you wish. Only a couple of decades ago, cash and travellers’ cheques were the financial mainstays. Now there are credit cards and debit cards and Thailand is certainly used to them. On Samui you’ll also find hundreds of ATM machines – and they’re certainly international when it comes to cards.


I asked the advice of a frequent traveller, a US citizen Pamela Faulkner, who was visiting Thailand after a two-week stopover in Vietnam, before heading home to Hawaii. “Inform your bank at home that you’re going abroad,” she said. “Otherwise the bank may receive notification that someone’s using your card in Thailand and it may get blocked automatically.How to manage your finances while holidaying on Samui. ATM charges apply both here in Thailand at the Thai bank and also at home. Just be aware that those charges can really mount up if you’re using your card for bits and bobs. Better to take out larger amounts, if you want to keep the transaction charges down.”


This makes good sense and very soon in the game, you’ll need to become familiar with Thai baht. It’s a very easy currency to use as the highest denomination note is only 1,000 baht. If you’re counting out more than 30 notes, it can become a bit tedious, however, and hopefully you won’t be buying a car with cash while you are here. Coins play only a small part in transactions as there is a very handy 20 baht note. The notes are easily distinguishable, except for the 50 and 500 baht note that are sometimes confused.


A tip from Pamela again: “Keep big denomination bills separate from the smaller ones in your wallet or purse. If you’re exchanging money, you’ll be given large bills, but ask for some smaller ones, too.” This will put you in good stead in small stores and taxis, where they may have no change. If you need smaller notes, convenience stores such as Family Mart and 7-Eleven seem to have a bottomless well when it comes to small change, and are happy to change your 1,000 baht note even if you buy something ridiculously cheap. (They’ll also take your brass coins, when most banks won’t.)


Credit cards are accepted throughout Thailand, but be aware that some stores will charge an extra 3% to process them, or have a minimum spending limit. Needless to say, make sure your card is visible at all times; don’t let anyone go off with it, and should it get lost or be stolen, have the details ready so you can report it immediately.


Thai ATMs mostly work extremely well and never seem to run short of funds. They’re also multi-lingual. Put in your card and what usually happens is that a menu of options pops up in not just Thai, but also Chinese, Japanese and English. Just select the one you’d like and don’t be put off by the fact that you’ll probably have to make a good few choices before you get to exactly the right option. Transactions come with a print-out. The part where people go wrong is the very last part. They’ve received their money and the transaction’s over, right? Well, yes, but note that in Thailand the money comes out before the card does. Not vice versa. So if you’re used to taking your card then receiving the money, be careful. Why? Because it’s easy to take just the money, think everything’s finished ... and walk away, forgetting the card. Meanwhile the machine is beeping away and soon, all too soon, your card will disappear back into it for safety’s sake. Contact the nearest bank for retrieval, but of course, you may have to wait. This can leave you feeling very financially naked.


If you’re changing currencies, all banks offer this service. The procedure is very straightforward, just approach the counter and make the swap. The banks charge more or less the same rate, so there’s no need to shop around. If you’re looking for a bank in the evening or on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, then head for Big C supermarket on the ring-road in Chaweng where you’ll find a Siam Commercial Bank on the upper floor. Alternatively go to Central Festival, also in Chaweng, where you’ll find an even wider range of banks, again on the upper floor.


The bank staff on Samui generally speak some English, and are usually able to help you. Bank paperwork is usually in Thai and English. You’ll also find most bank staff very friendly and helpful. You can often open up a savings account and get an ATM card; it’s particularly useful as a way to keep track of your finances and keep your money secure.


For dire emergencies, you may have to have money sent to you. Many people rely on Western Union for this and the money arrives on the same day. But you have to make sure that all the details are correct: the exact names of both parties, for example. And if your passport carries your first name as ‘Jane’ and Western Union has you marked as ‘Jayne’ then despite your surname being correct and your middle name, and everything else, they’re still going to ask you to have it resent. Often, this kind of situation can be avoided altogether if you watch your spending and don’t leave yourself penniless for your last few days – should an emergency occur you won’t have a chance of covering it. Similarly, make sure you’re insured medically, but even so be aware that many insurance policies won’t automatically pay hospitals; you need to check the fine print and be prepared to pay first, claim back later. It’s always good to have a second credit card, just in case.


If you use your common sense, think ahead and observe a few basic rules, then travelling around Thailand and keeping your money safe is generally easy. If you’re reasonably cautious then you’ll have a wonderful time here, just like thousands of other holidaymakers.


 Dimitri Waring


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