Banking Services in Thailand
There is no shortage of banks in Thailand. The largest banks are : Bangkok Bank, Krung Thai Bank (government controlled), Siam Commercial Bank, Kasikorn Bank and Bank of Ayudhya. There are a number of smaller commercial and government banks, and branches of major American and European banks.
Most tourists will only use Thai banks to exchange currency. For anything more complicated than that, we suggest you stick to the major banks listed above, or if existing, a branch of your home bank in Thailand.
Longer time residents may want to look for more banking services. Once a bank account has been opened, you will be able to use ATM cards, debit cards, do internet banking. However, the first step is to open a bank account. This is invariably possible, if you persist. The problem is that requirements to open an account vary between banks, between branches of banks, and depending on the present mood of the bank employee you are interacting with.
Besides copies of your passport, often a work permit is requested. Well, quite a few foreigners are residing in Bangkok without working there.
Strangely enough, when you want to stay in Thailand with a retirement visa, immigration will request that you have money deposited in a Thai bank. But some Thai banks (or branches of certain banks) will not open an account for you to begin with. Personally, we have opened accounts with various banks during our stay in the country, as far as we remember without too much hassle. Only we know that opening an account is a persistent issue, often talked about on webboards and forums. Do not despair, you will have to walk around a bit, but eventually you will find a bank branch that will open an account for you. What may help : look the part and dress up a bit.
Rather late (we really were not aware of this for quite a few years), we discovered that a so-called Thai Residence Certificate, can be helpful in being able to open bank accounts. It is also useful for obtaining other documents, like a driving licence. You can get a Thai Residence Certificate from Immigration. It supposedly is free ! You should take your passport, probably a few pictures of yourself, and if you possibly can also the 24-hour registration after arrival documentation with you. The last document is the one that has to be obtained each time when you arrive at a location in Thailand. Hotels do this without you being aware of it, but also condo owners need to provide it to immigration, when a foreigner takes up residence, comes back from a holiday etc , within 24 hours of arriving. We understand the requirements have become a bit more lenient than initially, but you still may need when you go to immigration of a Residence Certificate. It makes sense, since the registration actually indicates that indeed you are staying at the place you want on your Residence Certificate, since the landlord vows for it.
Siam Commercial Bank on Asoke road (Sino-Thai tower).
Once you have an account, you can withdraw money easily through one of the thousands of ATMs located around Bangkok. They are at street corners, in supermarkets, close to convenience stores etc. There is an ATM pool, so you can withdraw money from your bank, through the ATMs of other banks. No or minimal fees are asked for this service. For a small extra fee, your ATM card will be upgraded to a debit card, which you can (sometimes) use to pay at supermarkets and department stores.
When you have a current or saving account, or opened a fixed deposit account, you will be issued a passbook. Do not expect to get monthly statements at home. The money in your accounts is printed in your passbook, and can be updated at the bank or through electronic utilities installed close to some ATM machines. If you earn more than 20,000 baht interest on your account, you are liable to pay 15% interest on the money earned (automatically deducted).
Making payments through Thai banks can be a bit tedious. You can pay your electricity bills, phone bills and the like online. The strangest problem arises when you need to make payment to an account at another bank. Large fees are charged by the banks for this rather basic service (usually around 200 baht). So, in practice, if you need to make a payment to a Bangkok Bank account, you will need to go physically to that bank, and pay there with cash in person to avoid high fees.
Cashing foreign currency cheques is of course possible. Fees charged by the banks vary quite a bit. We know that Siam Commercial Bank charges 200 baht for this service (a while back, to be correct), but at other banks we are often talking about fees higher than 1000 baht. If you transfer money often and in small amounts, it is worthwhile to investigate how much your bank will charge for the service.
ATMs are ubiquitous along Bangkok's streets, in supermarkets and department stores etc.
Being a long time customer of a particular bank, does not guarantee adequate service at all times. We have tried to obtain a credit card with a Thai bank on numerous occasions. Now, this was at a time when credit cards were handed out left and right, to anyone who has an income of 15,000 or 20,000 baht a month. Let just say, that quite a few people who are not really credit worthy have been given a card to enjoy (to get themselves and the bank into problems). Despite various attempts, our request for a credit card was never successful until recently.
Lately we tried two times with Siam Commercial Bank. Despite having an account for many years, having reasonable amounts of money at the bank, and despite agreeing to 'freeze' a deposit of money equal to the amount of credit available, our request was rejected. For some reason, the critical issue is whether you have a work permit, and regular deposits (like your salary) to your account every month. Overall creditworthiness is not considered.
[Update : Check out how we finally got a credit card]
One last note, foreigners rarely consider them, but there are some long established government owned banks. They often do not provide a lot of banking services, you may even be unable to get an ATM card. On the other hand, they often give higher interest on your deposits. And if push comes to shove, well, they are government banks. In a major crisis they may be safer than commercial banks. You could have an account with a commercial bank for your daily transactions, and keep the bulk of your savings with a government bank. Government Housing Bank and Government Savings Bank are two well known government banks.