How to Open a Bank Account in Thailand as a Retired Foreigner

 

Opening a bank account as a foreigner is not just possible, it is actually necessary  for expats who apply for a retirement visa. But not every Thai bank allows foreigners to open an account, and each bank (and branch) has their own set of requirements. 

Bangkok Bank is Thailand’s largest bank and has the best reputation among both Thais and foreigners. There are 18 locations in Chiang Mai as well as additional branches in outlying cities in the Chiang Mai region. Most branches have multiple fluent English-speaking bankers that are knowledgeable and helpful. Bangkok Bank has branches in New York and London, providing a cost-effective transfer for Americans and Brits, saving money when transferring funds to/from a domestic account rather than an international transfer and the additional fees most banks will impose (usually a set price to transfer internationally, plus a transaction fee of 3% of the amount you transfer).

Although there are other major banks in Thailand, they are not as advisable for expat banking. The Kasikorn Bank has total assets almost matching Bangkok Bank, but it has no branches in Chiang Mai. Siam Commercial Bank (Thailand’s first and largest bank) is well represented in Chiang Mai with about as many branches as the Bangkok Bank, but does not yet have the same positive reputation Bangkok Bank.

Something to consider along with which bank to choose is which branch to work with.  Unlike in western countries where virtually every branch of a bank will offer identical services, this is definitely not so in Thailand. For example, you might find that one branch has better (and more flexible) services and policies - particularly including those affecting foreigners - than another branch. This makes local knowledge regarding not just Chiang Mai banks in general, but specific branches of that bank, very important.

 

Transferring money | The best exchange rates and the lowest fees

There are numerous ways to transfer money to your Thai bank account, with varying costs and lengths of time. Transferwise offers a great exchange rate with lower fees than alternative money transfer services, such as Western Union or Moneygram. Setting up a bank account with Bangkok Bank is the most affordable and secure way to transfer money to Thailand. 

Bangkok Bank branches in New York and London provide the most convenient way to transfer money. Most banks in the US charge a minimal fee of $3.00 for an external transfer to a domestic bank, usually taking around 3 days. Once the money is transferred to the New York branch, it is automatically transferred to Thailand for a rate of .03-.05%.  The minimum is 200 THB ($6) and the maximum rate they will charge is 500 THB ($15). With the amount of time it takes to make an external transfer (3 days) and the international transfer between Bangkok Bank branches (3 days), it can take over a week for the money to be put in your Thai bank account. Be sure to plan properly so you aren't scraping by on Pad Thai for a week.

At Land of Smiles Retirement Co., our relocation package includes helping you open your bank account. We guide you through the process and prepare all required documents. Once you arrive to Chiang Mai, we escort you to an English speaking bank branch in a central part of the city. You can start to use their services the moment you walk out.  

 

Using credit and debit cards from your home country in Thailand

Contrary to the west's common use of credit and debit cards to make payments, Thailand uses Thai baht (cash) for almost all living costs. Aside from 7-11 and high-end hotels and restaurants, cards are not usually accepted for purchases at local shops and restaurants. Online payments will be accepted, but often include an international transaction fee.

Foreign ATM fees 

Short-term visitors to Thailand will likely use their debit cards to withdraw money from a Thai bank ATM. This will involve the cost of an ATM fee and an international fee. Most ATMs charge 200-250 THB ($7-8) per transaction and most foreign banks charge a transaction fee. Exchange rates fluctuate between banks.

To avoid any potential holds on your card, alert your bank you will be using your card in Thailand. Even after your notifying them you will be using your card abroad, occasionally banks will still issue a hold. To ensure you aren't stuck waiting for your bank to clear a hold, make sure you bring enough money to cover all costs during your first month.

Most expats choose to have a Thai bank account while keeping accounts from their home country open. This makes it easy to transfer money between accounts using online banking so you can continue paying for any bills or recurring payments, and if your credit card (from your home country) is linked to your home bank, you can use a credit card you have already been using for years. Find comfort in making online payments for flights, online orders, and monthly subscriptions that you will continue to use when you move to Thailand. 

When you book a free consultation with us we will tell you how you can use an American debit card without ANY transaction and ATM fees all together.

What bank should you use while traveling outside of Thailand? Let's say you have a Bangkok Bank account and US Bank account. What card should you use to withdraw money while traveling in Vietnam?

Depending on which account you want to withdraw money from, you will want to consider the difference in ATM fees. Keep track of the ATM machine fee, the exchange rate, and transaction fees charged by your debit card.

A "Be1st" Visa debit card, the typical debit card issued by Bangkok Bank, can be used at ATMs anywhere in the world where you see the PLUS or VISA logo.

Bangkok Bank's ATM Withdrawal Fees Outside of Thailand:

"When making payments or withdrawing cash overseas with your Be1st Visa Debit card, the amount will be converted to Thai Baht based on Visa's normal exchange rates with a conversion charge added which will not exceed 2.5% of the exchange rate applied. Cash withdrawals will be charged a flat fee of 100 baht."

 

Alternative forms of banking and bill payments 

Pay bills at 7-11

Yes, the convenience store, 7-11, exists in Thailand. In fact, you will see them everywhere, with many of them offering more for sale than 7-11s in the U.S. In Thailand 7-11s are not just a store to buy groceries and travel size shower products. Thai people take advantage of 7-11’s convenient way to make payments on almost anything. Phone bills, your electric bill, cable/satellite, airline flights, online orders and more can be paid at a 7-11 counter. You just hand the sales clerk your bill (or screenshot of a confirmation on your phone) and they will enter information into their computer or scan the barcode, and return your bill to you with a payment with a payment confirmation number. This hassle-free method of paying bills offers lower credit card processing fees, as well as the option to pay with cash.

Pay bills at an ATM

The processing fee for a domestic flight in Thailand is $15 using a credit card online versus $1.30 using a 7-11 counter service, or $0.75 using an ATM

Similar to 7-11 payments, Thai bank ATMs also offer bills to be paid directly from your Thai bank account. After inserting your PIN number, you will select "Bill Top Up/Payments" on the main menu. Select the appropriate service and complete the payment with the provided code.

If you don't have the funds, you can deposit money in the "Cash Deposit" ATM (a separate ATM machine than the cash withdrawal ATM) and your money will show up in your account immediately. You can then go back to the other ATM machine to make your payment, which transfers money direct from your account.

More banking tips are provided to our clients during our pre-arrival consultations. Once you arrive in Thailand you will receive our Live Like a Local All You Need to Know Guidebook with detailed steps to make payments using these alternative methods.