One of the annoyances foreigners experience in Thailand is opening a bank account. Before the Thai government changed the banking rules, it was easy to open a bank account in Thailand. Now, it’s more difficult and practically impossible, if you don’t have a work permit or a long-term visa allowing you to live in the kingdom. Follow these few simple tips though, and opening a bank account in Thailand shouldn’t be too difficult.
You must have a work permit to open a bank account in Thailand – Up until about a year ago, pretty much anyone with money could open a bank account at most banks without a work permit. Since the Thai government clamped down on the laws for foreigners staying and working in Thailand, this has become more difficult. If you shop around at many different banks, you may find you can open an account at a Thai bank without a work permit, but it’s highly unlikely. I’ve checked at Bangkok Bank, Siam Commercial Bank, Thai Farmers Bank and Krung Thai bank (four of the main banks here) and they all told me a work permit was required before opening a bank account with them. If you have a work permit, though, follow the next few steps and you’ll have a bank account in Thailand in no time.
Take your passport to the bank with you – No Thai bank will allow you to open a bank account without making photocopies of your passport. They photocopy the current Thai visa page, (and it had better be current – if you’re doing an ‘overstay’ ie: living in the country illegally, they won’t let you open a bank account), and the photograph page. You will also need to take your passport to the bank every time you need to do anything over the counter with a bank teller eg: taking out money if you don’t use your ATM card, checking a balance if you don’t use the check balance machine, getting a new ATM card, etc.
Find the ‘Open New Account’ desk – Most branches of most major banks in Thailand have a desk specifically for opening a new account. If you go to a smaller branch, they may just have a specific teller so, if you don’t see a desk, ask one of the tellers where you need to go.
Complete the ‘Open New Account’ paperwork – The teller will hand you the paperwork to complete and, usually, while you’re doing this, she will take your passport and go to make all the necessary photocopies. Warning – the paperwork in Thailand usually has incredibly tiny writing on it so, if you have any problems reading small print, make sure you take your glasses with you.
Give Teller your deposit – The deposit minimum at most Thai banks is at least 100 baht (just less than $3). You’re better putting in a lot more though, so you don’t have to waste time coming back later to add a larger deposit.
Choose an ATM card – Most Thai banks offer many different types of ATM card with different daily withdrawal limits. The card at most Thai banks will cost you between 100 baht (around $2.85) and 500 baht (around $14.25). Some banks, like Bangkok Bank, that has a high fee for ATM cards will give you the option of coming back in a week to pick up your ATM card – this option makes your ATM card free, so if you don’t need it right away, I would recommend doing this, as almost $15 for an ATM card is ridiculously expensive.
Choose an ATM card password – The teller will ask you to choose an ATM password and key it in twice. Quick tip – choose numbers you can remember and not letters as, if you use the ATM card outside Thailand, some countries only have numbers on their ATM machines, so it makes it really difficult to remember the code if you have chosen letters).
Check that the ATM card works before you leave the bank – Once you have been given your ATM card and you are leaving the bank, make sure you go directly to a bank ATM machine and check that it works. Then, go to another bank’s ATM machine, and check that the card works. The last time I opened a bank account at Bangkok Bank, I was told the card would work immediately, even outside the country. Five days later, I was in the US, and discovered to my horror that my ATM card wouldn’t work. After calling Bangkok Bank, it took the bank over three days to fix the problem, so I couldn’t access my money for well over a week.
Foreigners receive lower interest than Thais on bank accounts – Don’t forget, don’t expect to get a good interest rate on any money you have in a Thai bank. Thais get between 2.5% and 4.5% at Thai banks, depending on the accounts they open. Foreigners (eg: Westerners and other Asians) get less than 1% (I think my current interest rate at Bangkok Bank is .75%), so it’s not worth putting a lot of money in a Thai bank. You’re better keeping it in your home country and accessing it via ATM if necessary.
Be careful with your ATM card – Once you get the ATM card, make sure you remember your password correctly. If you key in an incorrect password, after the third attempt, the ATM machine will keep your card and, in Thailand, you cannot get it back. You have to go back to your bank and get a new ATM card at a cost between 100-500 baht.
You can only do business at the branch you opened your account at – Don’t forget, in Thailand, you can only do any bank business at the branch you opened your account at. So, if you open a bank account at Bangkok Bank at Siam Paragon, you cannot go to the Bangkok Bank branch at Silom (even though it’s the main head office) and do any business there other than withdraw money. So make sure you choose a branch that is convenient to your home or office.
Foreigners are not allowed to have check books – Because of too many foreigners bouncing checks then leaving the country, foreigners are not allowed check books in Thailand. Honestly though, I’ve lived here for 5 years and never needed one as it’s easy to pay bills etc. in cash at the local 7-11 or ATM machine.
Thai banks overall are very good. Lines are usually small to see a teller, the tellers are always polite and friendly, and you can use your ATM card to pay bills, pay cable TV, pay your rent, pay electricity, pay for plane tickets though a travel agent and a lot more. Just remember, no work permit, no bank account – so make sure you get a job that offers you a work permit or you’ll spend all your time in Thailand without being able to save money in a bank or get an ATM card.