The currency in Thailand is the Baht. One baht is also 100 satang (satang is also the Thai word for money).
Denominations are as follows:
Coins: 25 satang, 50 satang, 1 baht, 2 baht, 5 baht, 10 baht.
Notes: 20 baht, 50 baht, 100 baht, 500 baht, 1000 baht.
There’s no point offering an approximate exchange rate as it changes regularly, as any other currency. At the time of writing the baht is a pretty strong currency, making Thailand a little more expensive for visitors.
I’m often asked where to get the best rate of exchange. My usual answer is that most places are roughly the same. You might get an extra .02 of a baht for each dollar if you shop around but if you’re changing up USD500 that gains you ten baht, the price of a pack of chewing gum. You might, however, find independent kiosks are better than the banks and in Phuket the best rates seem to be had at Superrich or NC Plus, both in Phuket Town. If you’re at the beach it’ll cost you more in transport than the extra baht you’ll receive.
It’s worth taking your passport; some places ask for it, others don’t, but policies can change overnight so be prepared.
You’ll almost always get a better baht exchange rate inside Thailand than anywhere else, even at the airport, so it’s better to exchange a little at the airport upon arrival – airport rates are worse than elsewhere but the differential isn’t as great as in some countries – and change the rest at your destination. Hotels are a last resort, almost always offering dreadful exchange rates.
ATMs are common throughout Thailand; I don’t think I’ve been to another country with so many of them. It’s perfectly OK to use them, and they generally have an English language option, but it should be borne in mind that all of them charge a fee of 180 baht for a transaction on a foreign card, plus a 30 baht bank charge on top. This makes drawing small amounts uneconomical, though many tourists don’t like to walk around with too much money. It’s the same using a credit card in an ATM. Your home bank may also make a charge so it can work out quite pricey to use cards.
If your card doesn’t work, don’t panic. Ring your bank and in most cases you’ll find they’ve blocked the card just in case its use is fraudulent. The card can be reactivated immediately.
Be wary at ATMs. They can be busy so hide your PIN. If you get approached by anyone asking you to reinsert your card for any reason at all, and reasons can sound genuine and advantageous, do not do it. Skimmers are used by criminals to clone credit and ATM cards, another reason for hiding your PIN. If anyone ever asks you to reinsert your card into a machine for any reason, don’t do it.
If you lose your card, have it stolen, cloned or fraudulently used, then the process is no different to your home country. Ring your bank, cancel the card and have a new one dispatched to you. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. And it should be, but it often isn’t. Many banks will only send a card to a registered address, some won’t use a courier service and reliance on the Thai mail is not a good idea, you may be travelling to another destination and don’t know where to have a card sent and you might have hotel bills to pay and have no means of doing so. For this reason it’s always best to have a back-up card. Otherwise you may need to borrow from a friend to tide you over, a helpful hotel owner can be a godsend, but a rare one, and Western Union is always available if you need cash quickly.
If your card is retained by an ATM machine for any reason, go into the bank and tell them. Usually returning with your passport the following day will enable you to collect your card. For this reason, as well as the rare occasion that something goes wrong with a transaction, ATMs outside banks are much safer to use than standalone ATMs or those outside convenience stores.
You might need to find a Thai speaker to help you. Ask at your hotel or guesthouse; they will hopefully be able to go with you.
Finally, when spending money, watch your banknotes. People hand over 500 or 1000 baht thinking they are 100 baht bills. Most Thais are honest and will tell you of your mistake but don’t expect a taxi driver to hang around if you’ve just paid 2,000 baht instead of 200!