Should I get local currency before arrival?
The answer is no unless you arrive ahead of tour schedule and have to get to the hotel by taxi. You can easily get local currency on arrival at competitive rates. For countries whose currencies are not freely convertible on the international market, you pay a premium when you buy their currencies outside those countries. If you need local currency to pay the taxi driver for your transfer to the hotel, please check with us for a reliable taxi fare estimate first. For guests in such situations, we generally volunteer this information when we send out the final update two weeks prior to departure.
Do Your Due Diligence
Not all currency exchange services are created equal. Some of them, especially non-bank dealers at airports and tourist areas, are never good choices. So stay away from them if you can. In case of emergency, you are better off using your bank card or credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM machine operated by a bank.
Always do your homework before buying local currencies from the hotels. In countries like China and Vietnam, hotels acting directly on behalf of banks charge exchange rates very close to what you’d get at a local bank, making it unnecessary to go wait in the line at a bank unless you have a large trade to transact. However, the same cannot be said of Hong Kong, where hotels set their own rates and add a huge premium to the convenience. When you visit Hong Kong, you should pool your funds with fellow tour members and trade with a local bank so that everybody gets a better rate and shares in the transaction fee.
Names of the Currencies
Cambodia: Cambodian riel (KHR)
China: Chinese renminbi yuan (RMB)
Hong Kong: Hong Kong dollar
Japan: Japanese yen
Laos: Lao kip
Myanmar: Burmese kyat
Singapore: Singapore dollar
South Korea: Korean Won
Taiwan: Taiwan New Dollar
Thailand: Thai Baht (THB)
Vietnam: Vietnamese Dông (VND)
Bank Card & ATM
Except in Japan*, Most local automated teller machines (ATM) accept bank/debit cards issued by foreign financial institutions. This is probably the most convenient way to withdraw cash when you travel. It would be perfect if you bring a debit card that charges zero or very little in fees on cash withdrawal in foreign countries. Please check with your bank before the trip to see if your card is ATM-compatible in the countries you are travelling to. A U.S. customer told us some time ago that her US issued bank card with a 7-digit pin number didn’t work in China; so you might want to look into this as well.
Major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the destination countries. You should always use a credit card for big purchases. Cards issued in the U.S. generally incur no foreign transaction fees, but Canadians and Australians are not so lucky. To the best of our knowledge, Amazon.ca is one of four companies in Canada that currently offer Visa or MasterCard credit cards exempt of foreign transaction fees.
This is a dying business. Don’t bother with it. The hassles invloved in cashing one can drive you crazy.
Tools & Related topics:
* Why Your Bank Card Is No Good in Japan
Many if not most ATMs in Japan still reject bank cards issued outside the country. The reason is cost. Influx of overseas tourists is a recent phenomenon. Before that, except for a small number of locations with high traffic of foreign travellers, having ATMs connected to an international payment network made no economic sense for Japanese banks. There is a high monthly fee to get a machine connected to an international network (Visa, MasterCard etc) but it requires a minimum number of transactions per month to justify the cost. Until very recently, there hadn’t been enough demand to make it profitable for the banks to keep their machines connected to international networks.
Things are changing, albeit a bit slow. The Japanese government has been working hard to promote inbound tourism hoping it would help kick-start its economy that’s been stagnant for more than two decades. Supported by a depressed currency and free publicity of Tokyo Olympics 2020, the government’s effort has been paying great dividends. The country is now flooded with tourists from all over the world, resulting in huge shortage of hotel rooms and qualified tour guides. Now may be a good time for Japanese banks to jump in to make a buck or two by rolling out foreign tourists-friendly ATMs.