Thursday, August 11, 2022

Money & Shopping in Thailand

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Money in Thailand

Currency in Thailand

Weighty bahts

Your new girlfriend asks you for a gold ring of one baht? Be careful, because it’s not a cheap piece of jewelry: for jewelers and goldsmiths, the baht is also a measure of weight, 15.244 grams to be exact. So at the 2013 gold price, one baht of gold would cost you well over 20,000 baht in cash!

The currency of Thailand is the baht (THB, ฿), written in Thai as บาท or บ, which is divided into 100 satang (สตางค์). There are six coins and six notes:

  • 25 and 50 satang coins (cents, copper-colored) – almost worthless and only accepted (and issued) by buses, supermarkets, and 7-Elevens.
  • Coins of 1, 2 (in 2 versions: silver and gold), 5 (silver-coloured) and 10 baht (silver/gold-coloured)
  • 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (grey-brown) Baht

The most useful notes are the 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don’t have much change. Taxi drivers also like to play the “no change” trick; if caught, they go to the nearest corner shop and make a small purchase. Beware of 1,000-baht notes, as counterfeits are not uncommon: Feel for the embossing, look for the watermark and tilt to see the color so you can be sure the note is genuine.

Tax refund – VAT in Thailand

Foreign visitors (with a few exceptions) can benefit from a 7% VAT refund on luxury goods purchased in shops participating in the “VAT Refund for Tourists” programme. If you see a “VAT Refund for Tourists” sign, you can get a refund of 7% of the VAT charged on the goods in the shop. However, certain conditions apply and you cannot claim the refund until you leave Thailand from an international airport. Goods must be purchased from participating shops that display a “VAT Refund for Tourists” sign. You cannot claim a VAT refund for services or goods that you use or “consume” during your stay in Thailand, such as hotel or restaurant expenses. Goods purchased from a participating shop must have a value of at least 2,000 baht including VAT. When you buy the goods, ask the seller to fill out a VAT refund form, called a P.P.10, and attach the original sales and tax invoices. Each P.P.10 must be for a value of 2,000 baht or more. You must show your passport to the seller when you purchase the goods so that they can complete the above form. When you leave the country, the goods must be checked and your completed P.P.10s stamped by the Tourist VAT Refund Service (at Gate 10 on the 4th level) before registration.

Bank & ATMs & Credit Cards in Thailand

ATMs are everywhere and international withdrawals are no problem. If you use a debit card, an ATM usually offers a much better exchange rate than a cash machine, especially if you have a card that doesn’t charge a transaction fee for overseas withdrawals (which is becoming more common in countries like Australia). ATMs are available at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok after you have collected your luggage and cleared customs. Although it is advisable to arrive with a small amount of baht if possible, you can also get cash from an ATM after landing. There is a surcharge of 150 to 180 baht for using foreign cards at all ATMs. You will be informed in all machines that charge these fees, so you always have the option to cancel. Citibank does not charge for foreign cards, but they are only available in Bangkok. The AEON ATM, which used to be free, now charges 150 baht. The yellow Ayudhya (Krungsri) ATMs should be avoided; not only do they charge an extra 150 baht, but the exchange rate is atrocious.

One of the main bureaux de change is SuperRich, with branches in Bangkok in Silom, Ratchadamri, Khao San Road and Chatuchak. There are no fees and the exchange rate is usually better than at the ATM (even before taking into account ATM fees and local bank fees), with a very low buy/sell spread. For a comparison of all bank exchange rates (updated every 10 minutes), see DaytoDayData.

In more remote areas (including small islands) there are no banks or ATMs, so cash or travellers’ cheques are essential. Many hotels and guesthouses will change money for their guests, but high commissions and low rates may apply. US dollars in small denominations ($1, $5 and $20) are valuable for subsequent travel to neighbouring countries other than Malaysia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (for example, to pay the visa fee for Cambodia).

Credit cards are widely accepted in the tourism industry, especially in restaurants, shopping centers and shops serving tourists. Unfortunately, fraud is commonplace. Therefore, use them sparingly and inform your bank in advance so that your card is not blocked because you use it. Some businesses charge a surcharge (usually 2-3%) if you pay by credit card, in which case it may be cheaper to pay in cash.

Tipping in Thailand

Tipping is not common in Thailand and the Thais themselves do not practice it. Thais round up the amount of the taxi fare to an amount that is easier to pay (for example, from 59 or 61 to 60 baht). Sometimes they leave change in restaurants, but this is also rare.

You don’t have to feel weird if you don’t tip at all, because that’s what the locals do. But the many foreign visitors to Thailand have changed some practices. Tipping is becoming more common in upscale hotels and restaurants, but also in the simple restaurants often frequented by foreigners. Don’t overdo it, never tip more than 50 baht. In some tourist areas, especially along the road to Khao San, there are even restaurants that tip. This is not common (and even rude) in Thai culture, so you can easily ignore it.

Do not tip if a fee is charged as this is only common in luxury restaurants and hotels.

Costs in Thailand

Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be. Recently, Bangkok was named the second most expensive city in Southeast Asia behind Singapore. However, low-budget travellers who are careful with their spending will still find that 1,000 baht will leave a backpacker with a cheap bed or dorm room, three square meals a day and enough for transport, sightseeing and even partying. If you double this budget, you will be able to stay in decent hotels, and if you are willing to pay 5,000 baht a day or more, you will be able to live like a king. Bangkok requires a more generous budget than inland destinations, but also offers by far the cheapest prices for shopping sprees. The most popular tourist islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui generally have higher prices. In other places, too, tourists often have to pay many times the actual price in tourist areas. If you want to get an idea of the real prices in Thailand, you should visit shopping centres like Big C, Tesco or Carrefour, where locals and expats regularly shop. You will find them in the big cities (Bangkok has dozens of them) and on the big islands like Phuket or Ko Samui.

Shopping in Thailand

Thailand is a shopper’s paradise and many visitors, especially in Bangkok, spend much of their time in the myriad markets and shopping malls. Clothing, from cheap locally produced streetwear to luxurious Thai silk and all manner of handicrafts, are particularly interesting purchases. Electronics and computer equipment are also widely available, but prices are slightly higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Kuala Lumpur.

A Thai speciality is the night market, which can be found in almost every city, the largest and most famous of which are in Bangkok and the night bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here, various vendors, from designers to artisans, have stalls with goods not normally found in shopping malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large outdoor eating areas.

You can also find wonderfully tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness the pink sandals with clear plastic wedge heels filled with fake flowers. The night markets along the main streets and the Mahboonkrong (MBK) Mall in Bangkok, near the Siam Skytrain stop, are particularly interesting sources. Don’t forget what is often presented as the largest weekend bazaar in the world – the Chatuchak Weekend Market – or known to locals as the “JJ” market. Chatuchak sells a variety of products, from clothes to antiques, covers 35 hectares (1.1 km²) and is growing every day!

Haggling is the norm and often vendors in the market and on the street will try to charge you as much as they think you can afford. It is not uncommon to buy something, go out and find someone who has bought the same item for half or a third of what you paid (or even less). First try to find out the approximate value of the item. Neighbouring stalls, government-run fixed price shops and even gift shops in hotels are a good place to start. You will find that prices drop considerably when the seller realises that you have an idea of what it costs.

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