Keeping the money clean in Thailand

Keeping the money clean in Thailand

I changed my fourth batch of £300 today for Thai Baht.

What makes this unusual is that, in all four of the batches, none of the notes were rejected. That’s unusual.

But not unexpected.

The best way to change money in Thailand is at one of the street booths, their exchange rates are very close to the spot rate and often about 10% better than the best you would get in the UK but they have a strong habit of rejecting foreign currency notes that have any hint of damage or, even worse, any scribbling on them. So, before we came away, we were at great pains to make sure that all our notes were unpolluted and tear-free.

We always bring a few thousand pounds with us and it’s a real pain when you have a stash of cash that has been rejected and you cannot use. To make matters a little more inconvenient, banks in the UK now have automated tills that just dispense the cash and the teller has no ability to filter the notes. Typically 10-20% of notes would be rejected at the FX booths so we tell the bank clerk that once we have our first fistful of £20 notes that we would be back in 5 mins with those that we reject and ask them to replace. This usually takes a small conversation to confirm that we understand that they have no discretion over the notes dispensed and I explain that this may take 2-3 iterations of paying the soiled cash into our account and then withdrawing the same amount before we have enough “clean” notes. At this point there is usually a small sigh of resignation from them once they realise we’re here for the long-haul.

Depending on the amount of money you need and the queues in the bank, the whole operation can take between 15 and 45 minutes. The reality is that we don’t need 100% of the notes to be clean because we also need to pay the cat-sitter in cash and I wonder if she ever notices that vast major of the £20 notes that we give her are tatty, scrawled or defaced in some other way. One day I’ll probably explain.

I’ll admit to a degree of disquiet of a suspicion that we are fuelling an expansive money-laundering operation with these prolific small booths but I’ll equally admit to that western hypocrisy of condemnation, as long as doing something about it doesn’t cost me personally. On any given year, for our trips, the delta between using Thomas Cook and a Thai street booth would be circa £500, and that’s a lot of cash in anyone’s book!

So I try to stick to the bigger booth chains, such as TT, with a hope that there may be some auditory rigour in the background.

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