Travel

Southeast Asia Cash vs Credit

  • Last Updated:
  • May 21st, 2019 10:31 am
[OP]
Deal Addict
Jun 11, 2010
1316 posts
718 upvotes
ottawa

Southeast Asia Cash vs Credit

Hey RFD,

We're traveling to Southeast Asia this July and are wondering what everyone would recommend on cash vs credit. I've read a couple threads already on reddit/RFD/Tripadvisor and seem to be coming to the following conclusions:
  • Hong Kong - credit cards accepted almost everywhere, MTR for travel and can be paid by CC when purchasing the cards, Uber also available and competitive rates - better to bring CDN cash and exchange while there if we need cash
  • Hoi An & Danang Vietnam - cash is still preferred though some places accept credit (visa/MC), can exchange with CDN bills in banks or jewelry shops or at ATMs (was planning to bring the Stack MC to use at ATMs?), Grab taxi is available via credit card or hire a driver [cash only?]
  • Chiang Mai Thailand - basically same as Vietnam but credit seems to be more widely accepted here?
  • Bali Indonesia - Cash is definitely more preferred, can exchange at ATMs but don't exchange at hotels
  • Singapore - Credit widely accepted sometimes 3% service fee is added, can convert CDN at banks or use Uber / MTR with credit cards
We're going for 3.5 weeks and would probably be doing a lot of street food where I'm assuming are cash only for the most part. My original plan was to just load up $100 at a time to stack, and withdraw it at the local ATM leaving my balance at $0 in case there are skimmers that way I don't have to carry CDN cash. I'd use my Rogers WE MC for CC since there's no conversion fees.

I'm hoping I'm not missing something or would others recommend bringing CDN cash anyway even though we have the Stack MC? Or are there any other payment methods / cards I'm not considering that should be used instead?

Appreciate all the advice from everyone here at the forums!
6 replies
Deal Addict
Dec 20, 2018
4675 posts
3739 upvotes
barqers wrote: Hey RFD,

We're traveling to Southeast Asia this July and are wondering what everyone would recommend on cash vs credit. I've read a couple threads already on reddit/RFD/Tripadvisor and seem to be coming to the following conclusions:
  • Hong Kong - credit cards accepted almost everywhere, MTR for travel and can be paid by CC when purchasing the cards, Uber also available and competitive rates - better to bring CDN cash and exchange while there if we need cash
  • Hoi An & Danang Vietnam - cash is still preferred though some places accept credit (visa/MC), can exchange with CDN bills in banks or jewelry shops or at ATMs (was planning to bring the Stack MC to use at ATMs?), Grab taxi is available via credit card or hire a driver [cash only?]
  • Chiang Mai Thailand - basically same as Vietnam but credit seems to be more widely accepted here?
  • Bali Indonesia - Cash is definitely more preferred, can exchange at ATMs but don't exchange at hotels
  • Singapore - Credit widely accepted sometimes 3% service fee is added, can convert CDN at banks or use Uber / MTR with credit cards
We're going for 3.5 weeks and would probably be doing a lot of street food where I'm assuming are cash only for the most part. My original plan was to just load up $100 at a time to stack, and withdraw it at the local ATM leaving my balance at $0 in case there are skimmers that way I don't have to carry CDN cash. I'd use my Rogers WE MC for CC since there's no conversion fees.

I'm hoping I'm not missing something or would others recommend bringing CDN cash anyway even though we have the Stack MC? Or are there any other payment methods / cards I'm not considering that should be used instead?

Appreciate all the advice from everyone here at the forums!
Cash is king in Hong Kong followed by octopus. Credit cards aren't that widely accepted except at mid to higher range stores/restaurants and not for transportation. Same with Singapore

And for rest of places you mentioned, you are right that cash is King. Bring cash and withdraw as needed, probably$500 cad at a time is good
[OP]
Deal Addict
Jun 11, 2010
1316 posts
718 upvotes
ottawa
StatsGuy wrote: Cash is king in Hong Kong followed by octopus. Credit cards aren't that widely accepted except at mid to higher range stores/restaurants and not for transportation. Same with Singapore

And for rest of places you mentioned, you are right that cash is King. Bring cash and withdraw as needed, probably$500 cad at a time is good
What would you say for bringing $100 bills in cad vs Just using the stack MC at ATMs? We're planning about 5 nights per city so we're aiming for like $200cad per city since all accommodations were booked and paid for already via either Airbnb's or Agoda.
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Dec 24, 2007
1454 posts
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BC
Your plan to withdraw only $100 at a time from an ATM will cost you big time as there are lots of fees on top of the fees your bank charges for an ATM withdrawal. Was in Thailand last week and they charge 200 Thai Baht per withdrawal - equal to about $8 CDN. This is on top of any ATM fees your bank will charge. A $100 withdrawal at a time will add up expensive fees really fast. Suggest looking up the various countries ATM fee policies before considering using ATM in those countries.

Same with using credit cards as some vendors will apply a surcharge of 3% to recover the amount that the Credit Card company takes from them.

Cash is king in many of the Southeast Asia countries, outside of Hong Kong and Singapore, which are banking hubs. Small vendors, like food stalls, do not take credit cards.

Although it's true in most cases not to double convert currencies as you lose a bit in each exchange but do convert your Cdn dollars to US dollars rather than just take Cdn dollars as Cdn exchange rates for countries outside of HK and Singapore are not as efficient since less demand for Cdn $. The US dollars are more widely accepted and get a more efficient exchange rate than Cdn dollars. Google some of the money exchanges you plan to use and compare the amounts you get if you converted Cdn$ over there vs using converted US$ vs. converting Cdn$ over here. (Thailand was one of those countries where this is true)

As for cash conversions: don't convert at hotels or airports as they have the crappiest rates. Big Money Exchanges (like Super Rich in Thailand) have better exchange rates than the banks, so don't assume that banks are the best options.

Any excess currency you have in one country, try to convert it for the next country you are in while over there as you'll get better rates than if you bring them back to Canada to reconvert.
Last edited by WetCoastGuy on May 19th, 2019 2:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Jul 7, 2017
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SW corner of the cou…
If you know where to go, the (mainly) Indian money changers used to have fantastic rates. I am using past tense as I am not sure if that is still the case though.
Cream rises to the top. So does scum.
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Nov 13, 2010
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Scarborough
Take cash as you never know if your card can get declined or blocked. Cash wins in Asia anywhere anytime.
Take like 2-3k cad cash, in 100 bills as xchangers will ripoff if u use small bills. So take 100cad bills as per your budget etc
Sr. Member
Oct 3, 2011
583 posts
376 upvotes
OTTAWA
Asia is still cash reliant. I wouldn't trust their infrastructure to let you use credit or withdraw with stack every single attempt. Always have cash backup. You probably want more than 100$ on stack at a time as well unless loading can be done instantaneously. When I was in HK it was probably still 80% cash when I interacted with vendors or restaurants, I didn't even assume they took a card unless it was a premium or touristy place.

For HK, I was successful in using several of the ATMs in the subway stations to withdraw money, but loading the octopus transit card required cash.. which is why the atm was there.

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