Money & costs

The question we get asked more than any other is ‘how do I manage my money whilst in Asia?'

The following information should answer questions about this sometimes confusing topic.

Handling currency

Where and when should I change it?

Despite the perceived complexities of changing and handling money in Asia, the solution is actually relatively straight-forward and there is very little you need to do different to any other holiday. In fact, there is often no need to make any arrangements in advance of your departure. There is certainly never any need, in our opinion, to arrange traveller’s cheques.

At the other end of your holiday, be sure to change any local currency back into UK£ or US$ before departing the country as with the likes of Laos kip, Cambodian riel and Myanmar kyat, you cannot change it outside of the country. Not all airports have exchange counters therefore it is best to do this at your final hotel. We also operate a Currency Charity Collection Scheme, helping you ensure that any unused local currency doesn't go to waste.

Where will I find cash machines (ATM)?

ATMs (automatic teller machines) are available in varying quantities throughout Asia, a density that is constantly increasing. They accept most international cards (Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro, etc). Your local bank’s withdrawal card may not be accepted however, and it is advisable to check before your departure if you are if you are at all unsure.

In our experience withdrawing money in this way offers the same if not better exchange rates than through a traditional money exchange outlet, and is the most convenient way to access your money abroad. Try to keep the number of withdrawals to a minimum as there is usually a fixed charge (e.g £2) applied to each transaction applied by your bank.

Can I use Sterling cash?

Carrying a quantity of Sterling cash does no harm at all, and in most locations throughout Asia you will be able to exchange a Sterling note for the local currency. Particularly useful when you come to the last day of your holiday (or are crossing a border) and do not want to withdraw a large sum from an ATM; just £10 exchanged at your hotel reception may be enough to see you through.

Borneo (Malay)

There is no need to obtain Ringgit in advance of your arrival, although it is possible to do so.  ATM machines are available in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, Lahad Datu and Sandakan (and also at some airports). ATM machines usually offer as good, if not better, rates of exchange than any currency exchange bureau or hotel. The symbol used for Ringgit in many shops and restaurants is $. In most shops and restaurants only accept Ringgit cash and card payments are accepted.

Bhutan

You cannot obtain Ngultrum (NU) outside of Bhutan. You can change money on arrival at the airport, in larger hotels and major banks. US Dollars are the most popular currency for this purpose.
ATM’s are only available in Paro and Thimphu currently, and (in our experience) are not always operational, so bear this in mind if you’re travelling into the countryside for a few days.
Towards the end of your trip do not withdraw large amounts of NU as you will need to change it back before you leave the country and it will inevitably be at a poor exchange rate. 
Incidentally, the NU is pegged to the Indian Rupee and, as such, the rupee is widely accepted throughout Bhutan. 

India

You cannot obtain Indian Rupees outside of India. You can change money on arrival at the airport, in larger hotels and major banks. Banks and ATM’s are widely available in all cities, towns and tourist areas.
India is still very much a cash society, so we would recommend always carrying some cash with you, especially lower denominations. And if you are travelling into more rural areas, cash is King! One tip: don’t accept damaged bank notes as you’ll have issues trying to pass them on.
Credit cards are not widely accepted. You will be able to pay with plastic only in major hotels, high-end restaurants and some shops. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted credit cards. Towards the end of your trip do not withdraw large amounts of cash as you will need to change it back before you leave the country and it will inevitably be at a poor exchange rate. 

Laos

You cannot obtain Kip outside of Laos, however both US$ and Kip are widely accepted.  It is essential to arrive with some US$ in order to obtain your entry visa upon arrival, when you must pay in US$ cash. Bank notes need to be in good condition. It can also be beneficial to have some on arrival for immediate use until you locate an ATM. ATM machines are available in Luang Prabang, Pakse and Vientiane and usually offer as good, if not better, rates of exchange than any currency exchange bureau or hotel. ATMs only dispense Kip.

Nepal

It's easy to change cash and access ATM’s in Kathmandu, Pokhara and other tourist hubs, but almost impossible in rural areas or on multi-day treks. So, bear this in mind if you’re travelling deeper into the countryside for a few days.
It’s the same principle with credit cards, which are widely accepted in Kathmandu and the main tourist centres, however if you’re travelling to more remote parts of the country you will need to carry Nepalese Rupee cash.  
It is essential to arrive with some cash in US Dollars, Euros, or Pound Sterling to obtain your visa upon arrival.

South Korea

Credit card usage is very high in South Korea and international credit cards are widely accepted in Seoul and other major cities, although small shops and restaurants may only accept cash.
The monetary unit of South Korea is the Won. GB pounds, US Dollars and Euros cash are easily changed at banks and money changers. ATMs with a ‘Global’ sign work with internationally issued cards and are readily available in towns and cities. If you are travelling into more rural areas we would suggest having plenty of local currency. 

Tibet

The monetary unit of Tibet is the Renminbi (the same as mainland China). In Tibet, it’s only possible to change cash (US Dollars, Euros, Pounds Sterling) at The Bank of China, or in a handful of top-end hotels in Lhasa.
ATM’s are available in Lhasa, Shigatse, Tsedang, Baiyi, Lhatse, Zhangmu & Saga, although in the small cities they can be unreliable, so bear this in mind if you’re travelling into more remote regions. Credit cards are only accepted in Lhasa at top end hotels and a few larger tourist shops.
Essentially if you are travelling throughout Tibet, then we recommending obtaining Renminbi cash in Lhasa for the duration of your journey.

Thailand

ATM machines are widely available throughout Thailand, including most airports, ensuring there is no need to obtain Baht in advance of your arrival, although it is possible to do so. ATM’s usually offer as good, if not better, rates of exchange than any currency exchange bureau or hotel. In most shops and restaurants only baht cash and card payments are accepted.

Myanmar (Burma)

Despite significant modifications in recent years, Myanmar still boasts one of the more complicated currency 'situations' in Asia. As is often the case, you cannot obtain the local kyat (pronounced 'chat') outside Myanmar.

Until recently, we were advising that it was essential to arrive with most of your spending money in US$ cash, with all notes in absolutely perfect condition (*see below). However, in November 2015 the Central Bank of Myanmar announced the revocation of foreign exchange licences, essentially meaning that US dollars are no longer an acceptable form of payment in the country.

At the time of writing (July 2016), this rule has seemingly not been fully enforced by the new government and, even though the ruling is still technically in place it is common for hotels and restaurants to accept both US dollars and Myanmar kyat. It seems that only a handful of restaurants are still abiding by the ruling.

It is also worth pointing out that many larger tourist restaurants are still encouraging payment in US dollars. In these establishments, exchange rates are (unsurprisingly) weighted in preference of the restaurant owner, not the diner, and change to a payment made in $ may even be given in local kyat at (again!) a decidedly poor exchange rate. We appreciate that it’s a complex and confusing situation. If you would prefer to avoid restaurants carrying out these practices, we suggest you ask before being seated.

As ATM machines have now become prevalent across much of Myanmar, certainly in the key tourist destinations, we would suggest using ATMs to withdraw Myanmar kyat (they only dispense local currency) as you travel through the country, withdrawing extra if you are travelling more off the beaten track. Please be aware that you may have issues withdrawing money from an ATM with a card issued in the US, although you will be able to use these cards in hotels for payment.

Purchases can also be made on Visa and Mastercard in hotels and many tourist restaurants. However, it’s not unheard of for banks to block cards being used in Myanmar and with this in mind it’s always advisable that you inform your bank over the phone in advance of travel. It is also important to note that when the power goes down (which is not uncommon away from the cities), so do the ATM’s. As such we would suggest taking back-up cash in the form of US dollars (see below) that can be exchanged for kyat and an alternative bank card (if possible).   

Further useful suggestions/information:

  • Bank notes: it is essential that you take good quality notes – this means no creases, no biro marks, definitely no tears. Keep all your US$ currency flat and store carefully. If your money does not meet these criteria, there is a good chance it will not be accepted. The larger your denomination of US$ note (up to $100), the better the exchange rate, the better condition of US$ note, the better the exchange rate.
  • Towards the end of your trip do not withdraw large amounts of kyat as you will struggle to exchange them back and if you do, it will be into US dollars at a poor exchange rate.
  • ATM’s in Myanmar dispense in kyat.

Cambodia

You cannot obtain Riel outside of Cambodia, however both US$ and Riel are widely accepted.  It is essential to arrive with some US$ if you are obtaining your entry visa upon arrival, when you must pay in US$ cash. It can also be beneficial to have some on arrival for immediate use until you locate an ATM. ATM machines are available in Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and usually offer as good, if not better, rates of exchange than any currency exchange bureau or hotel.  ATMs only dispense US$ cash. When purchasing items using US$ it is quite normal to be given your change in Riel.

Indonesia

ATM machines are widely available throughout Indonesia, including most airports, ensuring there is no need to obtain Rupiah in advance of your arrival, although it is possible to do so.  It is essential to arrive with some US $ to obtain your visa upon arrival (currently $25), which must be paid in US$ cash. ATM’s usually offer as good, if not better, rates of exchange than you will find in many currency exchange bureaus or hotels. In most shops and restaurants only Rupiah cash and card payments are accepted.

Japan

Japan is surprisingly a cash society and many shops and restaurants do not accept debit and credit cards. Therefore you will need to carry Japanese Yen in cash whilst in Japan. It is possible to obtain Yen in advance of your arrival but ATM machines are widely available throughout the country. It is also possible to exchange US dollars, GB pounds and Euros cash on arrival at the airport.

Malaysia

There is no need to obtain Ringgit in advance of your arrival, although it is possible to do so. ATM machines are widely available throughout Malaysia (as well as at most airports). ATM machines usually offer as good, if not better, rates of exchange than any currency exchange bureau or hotel. The symbol used for Ringgit in many shops and restaurants is $. In most shops and restaurants only Ringgit cash and credit card payments are accepted.

The Philippines

You won’t have a problem finding an ATM in the major cities of the Philippines however it is advisable to have plenty of local currency (Philippine Peso) in cash if travelling to the more rural regions and the smaller islands, where there is sometimes not even a bank. 
Money changers will accept GB pounds, US Dollars and Euros cash: money changers in the city offer better rates than those at the airport and in hotels and you will get a better rate for larger bills (so 1 x $100 bill is better than 5 x $20 bills.)
Most merchants will not accept travellers cheques. Credit cards are widely accepted, but small restaurants and shops, especially in small towns on the islands will only take cash.

Sri Lanka

You cannot obtain Rupee outside of Sri Lanka. You will find ATM machines in most major cities and there are several in the arrivals area at Colombo Airport, where there are also a number of money changers offering fair rates of exchange on most major currencies. Hotels will also change currency and will often also accept payment in £, $ and Euro. In most shops and restaurants only Rupee cash and credit card payments are accepted.
Traveller cheques are no longer accepted in Sri Lanka. 

Taiwan

The monetary unit of Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar, which cannot be obtained outside of Asia. You can change money on arrival at the airport, but will undoubtedly get a better rate of exchange at one of the banks in Taipei. Some hotels offer currency exchange services, but the rate will typically be poor. There are very few private money changers in Taiwan.    
ATM’s can be found throughout the country, (apart from the more remote regions) in most banks, convenient stores, department stores and post offices. Not all ATM’s accept foreign cards so you will need to look for those displaying the logos of international networks such as Visa and Cirrus.
Towards the end of your trip do not withdraw large amounts of Taiwan Dollar as you will need to change it back before you leave the country and it will inevitably be at a poor exchange rate. 

Vietnam

Until recently you could not obtain the Dong outside of Vietnam; however several foreign exchange outlets in the UK have now begun to stock it. In reality this has had little impact on our advice for visitors as ATM machines, dispensing Dong, are widely available across Vietnam and at all major airports.  

It is essential to arrive with some US$ if you are obtaining your pre-arranged visa-on-arrival entry stamp, when you must have US$ cash. ATM machines usually offer as good, if not better, rates of exchange than any currency exchange bureau or hotel. Whilst you can use US$ at times in Vietnam, Dong is the primary currency. 
Traveller cheques are no longer accepted in Vietnam.

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