Money & costs
Most travellers rely on credit or debit cards to access cash in Bangkok, where ATMs are almost as common as bumholes. The basic unit of Thai currency is the baht. There are 100 satang in one baht – though the only place you’ll be able to spend them is in the ubiquitous 7-Elevens. Coins come in denominations of 25 satang, 50 satang, 1B, 5B and 10B. Paper currency comes in denominations of 20B (green), 50B (blue), 100B (red), 500B (purple) and 1000B (beige).
By Thai law, any traveller arriving in Thailand is supposed to carry at least the following amounts of money in cash, travellers cheques, bank draft or letter of credit, according to visa category: Non-Immigrant Visa, US$500 per person or US$1000 per family; Tourist Visa, US$250 per person or US$500 per family; Transit Visa or no visa, US$125 per person or US$250 per family. Your funds might be checked by authorities if you arrive on a one-way ticket or if you look as if you’re at ‘the end of the road’. There is no limit to the amount of Thai or foreign currency you may bring into Thailand. Upon leaving, you are permitted to take no more than 50, 000B per person without special authorisation; exportation of foreign currencies is unrestricted.
Standard banking hours are 8.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday, though some banks close at 4.30pm on Fridays, and almost every bank in Bangkok has at least one ATM. It’s legal to open a foreign-currency account at any commercial bank in Thailand. As long as the funds originate from abroad, there are no restrictions on their maintenance or withdrawal.
Banks or legal moneychangers offer the optimum foreign-exchange rates. When buying baht, US dollars and euros are the most readily accepted currencies and travellers cheques receive better rates than cash. British pounds and Australian dollars are also widely accepted. As banks often charge commission and duty for each travellers cheque cashed, you’ll save on commissions if you use larger cheque denominations.
Most banks can change foreign exchange but it can sometimes take significantly more time than the specialty exchange places. In tourist areas, such as the Siam Sq shopping district and Th Khao San, you’ll often find small exchange counters outside banks; these can change cash and cheques in major currencies and are typically open from 8.30am to 8pm daily.
See the inside front cover for exchange rates. Current exchange rates are printed in the Bangkok Post and the Nation every day, or you can walk into any Thai bank and ask to see a daily rate sheet.
Taxes & refunds
Thailand has a 7% value-added tax (VAT) on many goods and services. Mid-range and top-end hotels and restaurants might also add a 10% service tax. When the two are combined this becomes the 17% king hit known as ‘plus plus’, or ‘++’.
Visitors to Bangkok who depart by air and who haven’t spent more than 180 days in Thailand during the previous calendar year can apply for a VAT refund on purchases made at approved stores; look for the blue and white VAT Refund sticker. Minimum purchases must add up to 2000B per store in a single day, with a minimum total of 5000B. You must get a VAT Refund form and tax invoice from the shop. Most major malls in Bangkok will direct you to a desk dealing with VAT refunds, where they will organise the appropriate paperwork (takes about five minutes).
At the airport, large items should be declared at the customs desk, which will issue the appropriate paperwork; you can then check them in. Smaller items (such as watches and jewellery) must be hand-carried as they will need to be reinspected once you’ve passed immigration. Either way, you actually get your money at a VAT Refund Tourist Office (0 2272 9384-5), which at Suvarnabhumi are on Level 4 in both the east and west wings. For all the details, see www.rd.go.th/vrt.