Asia Banks, ATM cash machines, transfers, debit, credit, prepaid cards, accounts for foreigners, expat residents.
The two main international ATM networks are PLUS and CIRRUS:
for VISA Credit, Check, Debit, Delta, Electron and Cashpoint cards
for MasterCard, Maestro, Switch, Solo and Diners Club cards.
PLUS and CIRRUS are international ATM networks (Automatic Teller Machine) for debit, credit and prepaid card cash withdrawals or advances. ATM's will accept cards in many countries including the Lao PDR. American Express operates its own ATMs, or has agreements with partner banks in other countries, such as BII (Indonesia) and Bangkok Bank (Thailand). JCB (Japan) has similar facilities. See more examples below or visit your bank's website.
While some banks in South-east Asia and other countries have ATMs and cards for domestic use only, many also issue cards for use in international ATMs linked to the above networks. These cards will show at least one network logo. The most widely known and recognised are VISA and MasterCard from PLUS and CIRRUS. If your card is not VISA but has a PLUS logo, you can use it wherever you see a VISA ATM; Cirrus cards can use MasterCard ATMs. If your card shows one or more ATM network logos, you will be able to get cash in local currency in Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and any other country where you see them
Using ATM, Debit or Credit Cards in other countries
When you use your ATM card in Asia or overseas, (except Cambodia – see below) you will get cash in local currency. You select the amount you want to withdraw, for example 5,000 Thai baht (currently worth around US$150 or £75). You should know in advance the approximate exchange rate of your bank account currency. Most currency exchange shops and banks advertise the rate for the country's money compared to others like the US$ (USD), British £ (GBP), Euro (EUR), and maybe more such as Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Singapore or Hong Kong dollar, Japanese Yen (JPY) etc.
You will receive the cash, and your own bank will convert it back into the currency of your country. This will appear on your bank or credit card statement (which you can also check while you are travelling if you have internet banking). The transaction will show the amount that has been withdrawn plus any associated charges.
Get US dollars from ATMs in Cambodia!
As far as we are aware, in Asia the only exception to the local currency payout is Cambodia. In the capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) the ATMs dispense US dollars. It's always a good idea to carry some US dollars in 'hard cash' as it can be useful for emergencies. If you are visiting Cambodia, the ATMs there are an easy way to get them. You will need between $30 and $45 to pay for your Laos visa on arrival and you can also use dollars to pay for goods and services in the Lao PDR.
Maximum cash withdrawal (daily limit) at a foreign ATM
There are two factors here. The maximum you can draw in 24 hours (or it might be per calendar day in your home country) is a figure set by the bank that issued your ATM card. You should know this before you travel. The other is the maximum single transaction value at a particular ATM. This varies between countries, banks and even different ATMs of the same bank. The maximum is sometimes not apparent until you select the amount you want. However, you can usually make several transactions at the same machine, up to your daily limit (or the ATM's) unless the ATM runs out of notes! Note that each transaction may incur a fee from your own bank as well as the ATM bank too. Lao ATM limits are on the Lao Banking page.
International ATM service in Asia
Laos now has international ATMs. ANZ, JDB and BCEL accept VISA (PLUS) and CIRRUS at all ATMs. See Lao Banks page for more about the Laos banking system, kip currency and ATM locations, fees etc. in Laos.
Many Asian banks, ATMs and retailers also accept American Express cards. They can be used to get cash either from the ATMs or branches of major banks in Asian cities. Bangkok Bank also has a branch in Vientiane, Laos, but no ATMs; instead use VISA/MC at ANZ, BCEL or JDB. DBS Bank (Singapore), Vietcombank (Vietnam), Express Teller, Equitable (Philippines), Maybank (Malaysia), BII Superkasa and Amex ATMs in Indonesia. This is by no means a complete list.
Bank access, transfers, credit & debit cards, online banking
Good money management is essential while travelling or living overseas. Credit or debit cards, and the more recently introduced prepaid ATM cards, usually Visa or MasterCard are not absolutely necessary for travellers, but they certainly make life easier when needing instant or emergency cash, or to make airline or hotel bookings and especially vehicle rental where a cash or other deposit is required.
Bangkok Bank (exchange rates) a leading Thai bank, has branches or representative offices in other Asian countries, the UK and the USA.
Overseas Travel without Cash or Credit Cards
Travelling overseas without ATM or credit cards is possible, but not ideal. If you don't have these facilities, or have a bad credit history, being refused cards, further loans or credit, or you are paying too high an interest rate on your existing cards and loans, then visit our Credit Repair page for solutions.
Prepaid ATM or pre-funded VISA Debit Cards
If you haven't been able to repair or alleviate your credit problems, but still want to be able to shop on or off line, or without cash or checks, or being able to get cash on demand at ATM's around the world, there is an alternative, the Payza prepaid VISA card for US residents.
These enable you to spend money you already have in the bank or prepaid to the card issuing company. There's no risk of overspending or coming home to bills for purchases on credit. There are several ways of funding the card beforehand. No credit status check or history is required for the issue of this type of card.
ATM Withdrawals and Internet Banking
Another advantage of online banking is being able to check the fees and exchange rate you pay for cash advances abroad. These vary greatly between banks, ranging from free and sometimes $4 minimum per transaction – often making it expensive to draw out small amounts from ATM's abroad. In Indonesia (Bali), different banks and even different ATMs for the same bank don't necessarily offer the same transaction maximum either. Check first.
Before you leave home, find out what your bank will charge you, and consider getting a second account and ATM card from a bank with low or no fees. Internet banking also lets you to see what you have paid for cash withdrawals.
International money transfers – via banks, agents or online
While 'high street' banks offer international transfers, usually by wire or 'SWIFT' to accounts at banks in many foreign countries, their charges including exchange rates differ widely. This is important if you want to have your home country pension or other regular payment sent to the bank account where you or your dependants are living. The receiving bank will often make a charge too and usually you will only be able to work out what these transfers actually cost once the money is in the overseas account. Apart from bank to bank, there are other ways to make transfers is by using reliable, independent companies to make real-time transfers. You may get better exchange rates and low or zero fees.
Cocos Is (Keeling)
Indonesia & Bali
There are other ways to arrange a remittance or an urgent money transfer overseas for yourself or a family member or friend could be a 'godsend' in an emergency. Even if you don't have a bank account, sending money abroad is quite easy nowadays. Western Union and MoneyGram are well known in this field and agencies can be found in most countries that travellers visit and expatriates live and work in. Transfers can even be arranged online from a smart phone or at an internet shop.
As well as providing other services, emergency money transfers and remittances can be arranged instantly using a credit card on line. This is useful because there are often more internet shops than ATMs or places that accept credit cards in some towns! You can transfer cash quickly to yourself, or relatives and friends, quickly and easily; and to many cities, towns and even villages in Asia and other continents.
Opening local bank accounts, cash (debit) and credit cards
Opening savings accounts with ATM cards at Asian banks is possible in Indonesia (including Bali), the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia; in Thailand and the Lao PDR, sometimes only for work permit holders. However, it depends on the bank and the branch; retirees or non-residents may also be successful. Usual access is by ATM card. If possible, ensure this is linked to one of the networks mentioned at the top of this page if you want to use the card in another country.
Some Asian banks now have online banking facilities for account checking, local bill payments, transfers between accounts and to other local bank accounts.
Credit cards from foreign banks are difficult to obtain, even with proof of funds or regular income. Again there are exceptions. In Thailand, for example, some branches of Bangkok Bank (maybe other Thai bank branches too) will issue an international Visa or MasterCard credit card to a foreigner holding a business visa and work permit, but a fixed deposit of 25% more than the limit may be required as a guarantee. In Singapore a non-resident with substantial funds on deposit at Standard Chartered Bank may be given a local credit card but cash advances are limited in accordance with government regulations.
Foreign currency accounts (US$, Sterling, Euro etc) may be opened by foreigners in some Thai and Lao banks including fixed term deposits (see below); this may also be the case in other Asian countries. Enquiries about banking services for foreigners should be made in person with the manager or at least someone in authority who speaks good English, and perhaps on the recommendation of another foreign resident who already has an account with the branch. It's important to be fully informed about the country's foreign exchange laws, deposits, withdrawals and repatriation of funds.
Fixed Term Deposits in Foreign Banks
Banks use different compounding periods for calculating interest on fixed term deposits. For example, Lao banks offer high interest rates for local currency fixed deposits, but compounding can be from once annually to interest on daily balance. Compare the various banks for the best effective interest accrual and ask for an explanation of their rates before arranging a fixed term deposit.
US Bank Accounts for non-citizens and non-residents
Although there are others such as Payza, the most popular and convenient online payment service is still PayPal (part of eBay). PayPal is free to join and allows virtually anyone to make secure purchases over the internet. If you have one it can be linked to your credit card (or bank account) and enables you to pay for goods and services from web sites that cannot accept credit cards directly. You can sign up for a free account at the PayPal Site. Use PayPal to purchase virtually anything online: software, e-books, or services which you can then immediately download from the vendor, or physical products for delivery by mail or courier services. SE Asian countries with bank account linking include Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia (there may be others).
Payments can be made over the internet using PayPal by credit card like Visa, MasterCard and American Express for services and products supplied by PayPal members. Although payment is processed via PayPal, it is not necessary for purchasers to open a PayPal account themselves.
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