Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

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NYGiantsFan
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Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by NYGiantsFan »

Young family member is planning to travel Southeast Asian countries (Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia etc) for six weeks as an independent traveler with a friend. What's the recommendation for taking/handling cash? He will be carrying Mastercard credit card (Barclays World) with no foreign transaction fee. He is not sure about ATM, taking cash, travellers check etc. I will appreciate recommendations.
Thanks
HIinvestor
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by HIinvestor »

Schwab reimbursed for ATM fees and has no foreign transaction fees if you use their debit card with your Schwab checking account. It can be handy to have a debit card to get cash from ATMs as needed. I prefer that to carrying significant amounts of cash, personally.
jebmke
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by jebmke »

ATMs should work in many places. I have used them in Hong Kong and some quite remote places on various continents. I would advise carrying more than one credit card in case one gets frozen or lost for some reason. When I traveled alone I usually carried more than one and kept them physically separated as much/often as possible (if someone pickpockets your wallet you don't want both cards to disappear). I knew one fellow who use to take one card and adhesive tape it to his leg just above the ankle. I used to stay mostly in reliable hotels so I used the room safe. One way to avoid having cards locked is to contact the card service prior to departure and advise them of the locations you will be using the card.
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flyingaway
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by flyingaway »

Most places don't take credit cards. For those places do, they usually have surcharges for foreign cards.
stan1
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by stan1 »

Southeast Asia is a cash economy and there is a lot of credit card fraud even in Western hotel chains (or I'm just unlucky).

Have him pull cash from an ATM attached to a brick and mortar bank only (preferably inside but I'd avoid independent ATMs).
StealthRabbit
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by StealthRabbit »

I have always found plenty of ATMs, and use (2) credit and (2) ATM cards... no fees in last 30 yrs traveling / living as expat in SE Asia.

I make it a point to keep integrated in local culture than to use ‘western hotels / food / tourist things’.
I keep very little cash on hand

If I have to book lodging (seldom) I really get great prices and service from AGODA (Singapore based hotel.com). They give you points, and have wide variety of choices, and accurate reviews. Friday is 1/2 price booking day. Local discount air carriers are very excellent and cheap... travel light... <7kg baggage!,,, we made it a yr, on the road doing this. Very very inexpensive ( cheaper than staying home!)
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NYGiantsFan
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by NYGiantsFan »

StealthRabbit wrote: Sat Nov 18, 2017 2:27 pm I have always found plenty of ATMs, and use (2) credit and (2) ATM cards... no fees in last 30 yrs traveling / living as expat in SE Asia.

I make it a point to keep integrated in local culture than to use ‘western hotels / food / tourist things’.
I keep very little cash on hand

If I have to book lodging (seldom) I really get great prices and service from AGODA (Singapore based hotel.com). They give you points, and have wide variety of choices, and accurate reviews. Friday is 1/2 price booking day. Local discount air carriers are very excellent and cheap... travel light... <7kg baggage!,,, we made it a yr, on the road doing this. Very very inexpensive ( cheaper than staying home!)
Which banks' ATM/Credit Cards did you use? Thanks
livesoft
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by livesoft »

I was recently in China. Never used cash for anything. Everyone else was using various forms of paying with a cell phone, so they didn't use cash either. You know, like Apple Pay and the home-grown equivalents.

So do SEA countries use cell phones for payments?
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Will do good
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by Will do good »

We tour Asia and SE Asia yearly, we use Schwab ATM everywhere without fees. Many small shops and street food vendors don't take credit cards.

I think we had some problem with Visa in Malaysia, now we carry both Visa and Mastercard.
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kramer
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by kramer »

At a minimum, take 2 debit cards for ATM use (preferably different banks) and a no-fee credit card. Do quick searches online for ATM basics before entering a country .... in other words, know what the max ATM withdrawal is in that country, if some of the ATMs don't accept international cards, know the general exchange rate, where to exchange cash, etc. Master Card is not as widely accepted as Visa.

Even 10 years ago, traveler's checks were hard to cash (as I found out on my first trip).
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kramer
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by kramer »

livesoft wrote: Sat Nov 18, 2017 5:44 pm I was recently in China. Never used cash for anything. Everyone else was using various forms of paying with a cell phone, so they didn't use cash either. You know, like Apple Pay and the home-grown equivalents.

So do SEA countries use cell phones for payments?
In China they are mainly using WeChat for payments and communication. It's not nearly as accepted outside China. This is one reason why it pays to do some quick research for each country one will be visiting, it just seems to vary a lot.
WhyNotUs
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by WhyNotUs »

Cities are pretty friendly for credit cards in Vietnam but in the country it is cash. Used some dong but dollars were pretty popular as long as you can keep up with the exchange rate and make good deals. If you can get the basics of language and think on your feet, the deals can be better in dong but I only had the most basic skills and most people knew some english. Second the advice about ATMs at larger banks when possible. Did not get skimmed but talked to other travelers that did. Also second using Agoda.
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SrGrumpy
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by SrGrumpy »

Vietnam limited daily withdrawals to about $70 or so (guessing here), which was a bit frustrating but not the end of the world. Despite what some people say upthread, credit cards are widely accepted - maybe not at roadside stalls and markets, but everywhere else.

Oddly enough I just got some grief in first-world Singapore. I couldn't buy a bus card at Changi Airport with my Visa. They only took Mastercard - or cash, which I didn't have with me.
sfnerd
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by sfnerd »

Here's another vote for Schwab. I live in Thailand and travel all over SE Asia. Schwab is awesome, their ATM card has worked everywhere for me, and they always refund the foreign ATM fees. They are a pretty great broker too, BTW, and a great option for people who live overseas or travel a lot.

I second Kramer's advice about 2 ATM cards, and 2 credit cards. Call all the banks before traveling and let them know your plans. Also, while I don't always follow this advice, it's a great idea to keep a few crisp hundred dollar bills hidden somewhere on your person, in case cards don't work. Asia is full of moneychangers, and a lot of them have decent rates. This should usually be a last resort though.

If you don't have Schwab or another bank that refunds fees, I suggest getting as much as you need out of ATMs in as few transactions as possible. Here in Thailand, the minimum ATM fee is around 6-7 bucks. Yikes! Some countries are better, and some worse. Also, like another poster mentioned, stick to the bigger banks.

Install both Uber and Grab (an Asian Uber clone). Cheap as a taxi, and safer and more convenient. Get a local SIM card for internet access. Usually this is only a few dollars.

Finally, while SE Asia is actually quite safe if you're not acting stupid, I suggest keeping one or two cards locked in the safe at the hotel when possible, along with your passport. This way, if you lose your wallet or are robbed, you aren't completely screwed. Extremely unlikely, but better safe than stranded.
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by HongKonger »

livesoft wrote: Sat Nov 18, 2017 5:44 pm I was recently in China. Never used cash for anything. Everyone else was using various forms of paying with a cell phone, so they didn't use cash either. You know, like Apple Pay and the home-grown equivalents.

So do SEA countries use cell phones for payments?
There are systems like Hong Kongs Octopus card which you use for transport and can load with credit and use in practically all fast food joints, convenience stores, coffee shops and supermarkets by waving it over the terminal. Paywave Visa is also everywhere.
gsmith
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by gsmith »

One piece of advice about Hotel Safes is don't use them for more then small amounts of money.
I forgot the combo for the safe in my room.... Rather then an embarrassing call, it took 30 seconds after watching a 3 minute video on youtube to open the safe.

I think going to the ATM and getting a small amount of local currency, stored in a separate pocket then your other cards would be best.
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AlohaJoe
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by AlohaJoe »

SrGrumpy wrote: Sun Nov 19, 2017 1:17 am Vietnam limited daily withdrawals to about $70 or so (guessing here), which was a bit frustrating but not the end of the world. Despite what some people say upthread, credit cards are widely accepted - maybe not at roadside stalls and markets, but everywhere else.
(I live in Vietnam.)

Vietnam does not limit daily withdrawals. I've taken out over $400 from an ATM here. Your bank may have different rules than my bank, however.

I also would not describe credit cards as "widely accepted" in Vietnam. There is not a single place near my house that takes them and I'm a 5 minute drive from the main tourist area. If you spend most of your time in the tourist/backpacker areas and favor proper restaurants over more local food, sure, you'll find a lot of places take credit cards.

As a point of reference, I used my credit card 7 times last month in Vietnam...and that included a weekend in Phu Quoc, buying a new tablet at The Gioi Di Dong, and some new computer parts at Phong Vu. For everything else I needed to use cash.
TheGreyingDuke
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by TheGreyingDuke »

livesoft wrote: Sat Nov 18, 2017 5:44 pm I was recently in China. Never used cash for anything. Everyone else was using various forms of paying with a cell phone, so they didn't use cash either. You know, like Apple Pay and the home-grown equivalents.

So do SEA countries use cell phones for payments?
Indeed, I am just back from a quick 2-week trip to China and they use WeChat (a combination messaging, shopping, and payment platform) for everything from the shared bikes that are now ubiquitous in the cities to the smallest street food vendor. They scan the QR code with their mobile and they are good to go!

Most of my friends seemed unconcerned that they were adding yet another layer of data that was being collected on them.

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SrGrumpy
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by SrGrumpy »

AlohaJoe wrote: Sun Nov 19, 2017 7:35 am
SrGrumpy wrote: Sun Nov 19, 2017 1:17 am Vietnam limited [daily] withdrawals to about $70 or so (guessing here), which was a bit frustrating but not the end of the world. Despite what some people say upthread, credit cards are widely accepted - maybe not at roadside stalls and markets, but everywhere else.
(I live in Vietnam.)

Vietnam does not limit daily withdrawals. I've taken out over $400 from an ATM here. Your bank may have different rules than my bank, however.
My correction. It wasn't a Daily restriction, but a Per-Transaction restriction. And there was a small fee I couldn't avoid, even with my fee-free card.

Re: Card acceptance. I guess I frequented a lot of relatively upscale places in HCMC, Hanoi, Hoi An since it was so cheap.
Naismith
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Re: Southeast Asia trip - Cash handling

Post by Naismith »

In addition to using ATMs inside banks, another safe place is inside a shopping mall, where they have an ATM room with an armed guard. The other great thing about the ATM room at a mall is that you can look often look around and see what denominations are being offered, with signs on various machines. If your goal is cash for street food and pedicabs, then large bills are going to be a challenge, so look for an ATM offering smaller bills.
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