Financially smart ways to convert USD to THB
March 26, 2017 2:32 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend who is hoping to have surgery in Thailand and would like some assistance with the financial process. There are two main questions they're trying to resolve. What is the best way to convert their USD to Thai Bhat? And how can they hold THB before they make their payment to the doctor?

I have heard of P2P currency exchanges but do not have experience and want to make sure I'm not making a bad recommendation. Additionally someone mentioned at a group meeting that they had been advised to not use TransferWise. Why would that be?

This person would like to convert their USD to THB while the rate is advantageous and avoid paying too much for the privilege.

The total amount is close to $10k USD but they do not yet have the entire sum ready to convert and may want to convert in smaller quantities over time if the exchange rate is favorable. However, they have some questions about holding the THB until they're ready to make payment. They are a US citizen, would it be easier to find a bank in the US that will hold their funds in THB or is there a way to set up an account with a bank that operates in Thailand before their visit?
posted by polyhedron to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (8 answers total)
Everything below is to the best of my knowledge, but things could've changed or I could be wrong:

There aren't any banks that allow you to hold money in THB, or if there are, they're high-end banks for big-time currency investors.

I think you would need to visit a bank in person in Thailand to set up an account.

HSBC has big presence there, but I believe they firewall their Thai bank accounts and US bank accounts (they're effectively separate companies. I think you would have to open an HSBC account there and wire yourself the money from the US HSBC account-- not worth the time or hassle.)

Trying to time the currency exchange market can take you down the rabbit hole with lots of hassle and little benefit.

I would:

1) Check to see if the surgery place takes credit cards. Many are geared toward medical tourists, and it might be the easiest and cheapest for your friend, especially if they use a credit card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee (most Capital One credit cards.)

2) If not, I would bring cash. Brand New $100 bills. Go to the bank and make sure they're crisp and new, no tears. Currency exchange places in Asia are finicky about old or torn bills because of the counterfeits coming out of North Korea. When your friend gets to Thailand, have them find a SuperRich currency exchange. They usually have the best rates.

3) They could get THB currency here in the US, but US banks or currency exchange places would likely give you a bad rate.

4) If they're wary about bringing so much cash, they could start a bank account here that doesn't charge foreign ATM fees. I recommend a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account, although they'll be limited by the amount they can withdraw each day, and the exchange rate will likely be a little worse than the Superrich.

Good luck!
posted by bluecore at 4:11 PM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Carrying $10k USD (or any ambiguously large amount) through a US airport will put the fate of your travel plans (and possibly more) in the hands of a TSA agent.

posted by paulcole at 5:20 PM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not cash. The US Government, and the state governments like to confiscate cash on any minor excuse. See "civil forfeiture."

If you really can't pay in USD, I would find an international bank with offices in both the US (or you home country if not the US) and Thailand that gives you assurances that they can wire the money when requested. Deposit at home, wire when needed, withdraw there.

I don't actually have experience at this, but it seems the most likely thing, and in setting it up, you would be dealing with experts who should warn you if my advice is bad.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:46 PM on March 26, 2017

I was mistaken - there's a branch of Bangkok Bank in NY. If you're close enough, you could try there.

For what it's worth, I didn't have trouble bringing a large sum of cash (although it wasn't that much) but that was before the present administration's more aggressive TSA. I still think credit card is the best bet.
posted by bluecore at 7:35 PM on March 26, 2017

I'm not an expert, but I did this once. In a similar scenario, I paid a surgeon fee by international wire transfer from my bank directly to the doctor's Thai bank account. In two payments, actually--an initial deposit well in advance to secure a date, and the balance shortly before the trip. The transfer had a nominal fee, and the banks handled the currency exchange.

The payment of the balance intentionally included a slight overpayment, with the difference refunded in Thai currency when I arrived (which came in handy for spending while I was there).

The surgeon in question in my case was very well-known, with an excellent international reputation--your friend's mileage may vary, and they should certainly do their due diligence in researching their doctor before setting up a surgery date and paying large sums of money, but that should be a given anyway (they'll be trusting the surgeon with their life, after all).
posted by Pryde at 8:48 PM on March 26, 2017

Thailand is a major medical tourism destination. Hospitals have policies and advice for payment by foreigners, for example Bumrungrad International Hospital.
posted by Homer42 at 2:17 AM on March 27, 2017

(there's also a great hotel next to Bumrungrad--Ariyasomvilla, my go-to spot in BKK)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:48 PM on March 27, 2017

I've used TransferWise for similar sums of money, though only to a personal account. It went seamlessly: you make a request on the website, then send the money from your bank to an account they tell you, and once they receive it they send it on.
posted by katrielalex at 6:36 AM on March 28, 2017

« Older Suggestions for setting up a Homeowners...   |   How does a good Jew pray 3x a day? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.