From Japan's snow-capped mountains to the wild jungles of Malaysia; from India's hot curries to China's juicy dumplings; from the temples of Angkor to the skyscrapers of Singapore... Asia has captivated Aussie travellers for years, and this doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon!
So, if you're planning a holiday adventure in Asia, you're also going to be working out what currency you need to take with you, how much, and how best to access your travel money while you're away. We always recommend having a mix of options when it comes to your travel funds - cash for when you land, a prepaid travel money card for future funds and a debit or credit card for emergencies - that way you're always covered no matter what.
These days, travellers are unlikely to carry all of their travel funds as cash - it's not always the safest option, especially in some of the lesser developed countries in Asia. That means somewhere along the way, you're going to need access to an ATM to withdraw some more money, whether that be from your travel money card or from your own bank account.
Asia is a vast continent, and not all of the countries use bank cards and have easily accessible ATMs like we do here in Australia. So where are ATMs easily accessible in Asia? Will your foreign bank card be accepted in the countries you are visiting? Will you be charged high fees for using an ATM in Asia? Is it safe?
These are all questions you should look into before you go so that you don't land up stuck with no cash and no access to an ATM. And, to help you out and save you a bit of time, we have done some of this research for you, for the countries in Asia that Australians love to visit.
If you are heading to the ever-popular Bali, you will have no problems finding an ATM or using your Visa or Mastercard debit or credit cards. But, if you go to any of the more remote places in Indonesia, like the Maluku Islands or Papua, your cards will be virtually useless.
When using an ATM in Indonesia, your foreign bank card should be automatically detected and you should then be given the option to have the screen displayed in English or in Indonesian. The ATM will dispense Indonesian Rupiah, usually in denominations of Rp 50,000 (around AUD$5*) or Rp 100,000 (around AUD$11*), and you will likely be limited to withdrawing around Rp 2 million (around AUD$220*). This withdrawal limit is set by how many bills can be physically pushed through the ATM dispenser, so it may change from machine to machine.
ATMs are located just about everywhere in Thailand, and many businesses operate on a cash only basis, so you will need to have cash on you during your holiday. Most Thai banks charge a 200 baht fee per withdrawal (around AUD$8*) from a foreign bank card, and you will also be charged a fee by your bank for using your Aussie card overseas, so this is something to keep in mind, as you are likely to have both fees charged every time you take money out of the ATM. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw up to 20,000 Thai Baht (around AUD$840*).
ATM fraud and card skimming are fairly common in Thailand, so you should take care to monitor your statements, make sure you don't share your PIN, cover your hand while entering your PIN at the ATM and keep your card in a safe place at all times.
In large cities and towns in China, like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, you will find that ATMs are widely available and easy to find. But, in smaller cities you may find using your foreign cards at an ATM or for payments a bit more difficult.
But, no matter where you do happen to find an ATM to use in China, you will typically find that it is a complicated process:
As you can see, for first-timers to China, withdrawing money can be a little complicated. It can also be expensive, with relatively high fees charged by the local ATM operators for foreign card withdrawals. Withdrawal limits can range from 2,500 to 3,000 Yuan Renminbi (RMB) per day (AUD$500 to AUD$600*), but it varies by bank.
The main foreign-friendly ATMs belong to the Bank of China, Merchant's Bank and ICBC, as these are usually easy to find and offer instructions in English.
The modern city-state that is Singapore demands that you spend money - with high-end restaurants, trendy nightclubs, shopping, shopping and more shopping. So ATM access is pretty much a given in Singapore - if you want to spend it, you will find a place to withdraw it.
If you look for an ATM with a Plus or Cirrus logo, you shouldn't have any problems using your Visa or MasterCard bank cards. And, you'll find that ATMs owned by the banks don't tend to charge local operator fees, so you'll only be hit by the ATM fee charged by your own bank.
The withdrawal limit at ATMs in Singapore is usually around the SGD$3,000 per day mark (around AUD$3000*).
Cash is the preferred method of payment in Japan, but you may struggle to find an ATM that supports foreign bank cards while you're over there, as many of the banks in Japan are not yet connected to the international ATM network.
Your best bet is to use ATMs connected to Japanese Post Bank (inside Post Offices), and Seven Bank (inside 7-Eleven convenience stores). You may also have some luck with ATMs from the AEON chain of supermarkets. You can also look out for a sign that says "Card Issued Overseas" or the International ATM service sign and card logos.
This situation may improve ahead of the 2020 Olympics, as more banks move to connect to the international network.
In Malaysia, you're most likely to find ATMs located at the major bank branches, inside shopping centre's and at airports. Usually ATMs connected to Maybank or Public Bank are problem-free for foreign issued cards.
ATMs are widespread in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, but Vietcombank, Agribank, Vietin Bank and Sacombank have a good network across the country so you may be able to find an ATM connected to one of these banks further afield.
ATMs will only dispense Vietnamese dong, with a maximum withdrawal limit of 4 million VND (around AUD$260*). You can go back and withdraw more on the same day, but you are usually charged a fee of 20,000 VND (around AUD$1.30*), and you will be charged this (plus a fee from your own bank) each time you withdraw money from the ATM.
ATMs are widely available in major cities in the Philippines, like Manila, but you may be hard pressed to find a bank, never mind an ATM, in more rural areas.
Good ATMs to look out for are ones attached to Chinatrust, Citibank, HSBC, Maybank and Standard Chartered Bank, but no matter which ATM you use, you will be charged 200 pesos (PHP) (around AUD$6*) per withdrawal.
Local bank ATM's also have pretty low withdrawal limits - some go up to 20,000 pesos per withdrawal, but it's usually around 10,000 PHP (around AUD$300*). You might also find that ATMs run out of money on weekends, paydays and before or during national holidays, so keep this in mind when you need to make a cash withdrawal.
Under, the "one country, two systems" principle, Hong Kong maintains a different currency than mainland China, and they use the Hong Kong dollar (HKD), while China uses the Yuan Renminbi.
In Hong Kong, ATMs are easy to find, but it is recommended that you use ones that are in controlled spaces, like inside banks or shops, because scams are rife. Your withdrawal limit will depend on the ATM network you are using, as well as the limit set by your own bank, but it is usually around HK$3,000 (around AUD$550*).
You will find ATMs are widely available in all major tourist centre's and provincial capitals in Cambodia, like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Battambang. But, you must take care when using any ATM in Cambodia, as there are a lot of reports of people being robbed after they have withdrawn cash - so always be aware of your surroundings and careful with your cash and bank cards.
ATMs usually dispense US dollars and Cambodian riels, and the standard charge is USD$5 per withdrawal. You should try force the ATM to dispense smaller notes for you by withdrawing a random amount, like $280 rather than $300, so that you don't land up with all large banknotes that you can't get change for.
ATMs are generally considered to be the best way to access your money while travelling in Asia - as you can see, they are widely available in most popular tourist places, but you may find access gets trickier as you get further away from large cities and towns. So, before you venture further afield, you should make sure you withdraw enough cash for the time you will be there.
ATM fees do vary widely by country in Asia, so it's best to check with your card provider before you go, as well as do a bit of research on your specific destination. If you plan to withdraw cash often, these ATM fees can add up and you may want to include them in your budgeting. It's also a good idea to enquire about withdrawal limits so that if you know you need more than the limit allows, you can plan ahead.
Finally, ATM scams are still quite common across Asia, especially card skimming, so try use ATMs that are attached to open banks or shops, have a friend or partner with you while you use the machine, and be aware of your surroundings - if the ATM looks like it has been tampered with, just move on and find another one to use.
And of course, if you want to mix up your travel money options, we can help you out with cash before you go, as well as sort you out with a prepaid travel money card that supports a number of Asian currencies, including the Hong Kong dollar, the Singapore dollar, the Japanese yen and the Thai baht. Our friendly team of FXperts are available in a store nearest to you to answer any and all questions about your foreign currency needs.
*AUD conversions of ATM fees and withdrawal limits are indicative only and are not based on a specific rate of exchange available on any given day.
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