Changing Money in SE Asia

Changing countries begs the question of what I will do with remaining cash. Typically, I face three choices. Do I save it for a future trip, change the leftovers into my next destination’s currency, or change into US dollars?  It’s rare that the first option comes into play.  I’ve found that the second option is usually quite inefficient.

I had a look at what I’d face changing Thai Baht (THB) to Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) ahead of my arrival in Bali.  Phuket lacks a truly excellent foreign exchange option a la, so I looked at what the banks charged. [Note: bank rates are typically acceptable.]

Typically acceptable –

I decided to play with the calculator on the Siam Commercial Bank website to see how many IDR I’d get for 3000 THB. SCB would pay 1 million even.  The google exchange rate? 1.3 million for said THB. Ouch.  I looked at the trading spread.  They buy 1 IDR for .002 THB and will sell it for .003.  That’s a significant spread, if you aren’t put off by the weird, almost obfuscatory, calculation of baht per one IDR.  By comparison, changing to USD in Thailand and then using said USD to buy IDR in Indonesia would, if using optimal or close-to-optimal rates might only cost you .5% total versus the spot rates.

I’ve noticed that this holds true for other intra-ASEAN currency exchanges (excepting the Singapore Dollar). The Vietnamese Dong, Philippine Peso, and Malaysian Ringgit also sport a pretty terrible exchange spread.  Note: you’re not going to find easily available info on changing currencies like the Laotian Kip, the Burmese Kyat, or the Cambodian Riel.

Categories: money Travel Tips Ubud