I am Australian and am going to Malaysia in a few weeks. Now obviously I would like to bring some money with me so I can buy things like food and the such.

What would be the best way to go about doing this?

Are those kiosk things that exchange currencies a good option? I am concerned that they inflate the rates so that they make a profit. If that's right is there a way I can get the proper exchange rate?

Also this would require actual cash. I don't want to bring too much cash with me as it could easily get lost or stolen. Should I bring some sort of debit card with a foreign currency on it? Or just bring cash and then make a local account when I get there and use a debit card there? Or something else?

  • For how long will you be there? – WBT Oct 13 '15 at 3:47
  • @WBT 2 weeks :) – Aequitas Oct 13 '15 at 3:51
  • I don't know what the overheads are, but it's probably not worth opening a local account unless you plan to return often enough. – WBT Oct 13 '15 at 3:54
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    On a sister site: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/10/… – Kate Gregory Nov 13 '15 at 16:46
  • The expats discussion might also have some advice on this topic. – keshlam Mar 12 '16 at 17:27

This page from TripAdvisor may be of interest. Look at what fees are charged on your ATM cards and credit cards, and consider overpaying your credit card so you have a credit balance that you can draw on for cash "advances" from ATMs that will dispense in local currency. Depending on what fees your bank charges, you may get a better rate than the forex cash traders at the airport.

Edit: Cards may not always have the best rate. I recently heard from a traveler who was able to use a locally but not globally dominant currency to buy cash of a major currency at a shopping mall (with competitive forex traders) at rates even better than the mid-market rates posted at xe.com and similar places; I don't think you'll have that experience going from Australia to Malaysia (but another traveler reading this might have a different pair). In my experience the card rates are slightly worse than those and the airport forex traders significantly worse.

  • The CBA which I'm with charges $2.50 per withdrawal which makes me not want to go with that option as I may as well just bring cash then as I'll withdraw as much as possible to minimize charges – Aequitas Oct 13 '15 at 3:53
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    Even with a $2.50 withdrawal fee, it might be better to make one withdrawal (in local currency) after you get there, instead of bringing cash and using the airport forex traders. Are there other Australian banks (or credit card companies) with better policies, that you could open an account with before you go? A second account in Australia might be more generally accessible to you than one in Malaysia. – WBT Oct 13 '15 at 3:55
  • I don't know it's all very confusing, heck there's two different foreign currency accounts I can have with the same bank but I don't understand what the difference is and what I have to do for the other one – Aequitas Oct 13 '15 at 3:59
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    @Aequitas call up the bank(s) in question and just ask them. – Sam I Am Oct 13 '15 at 17:15

I'm an Australian who just got back from a trip to Malaysia for two weeks over the New Year, so this feels a bit like dejavu! I set up a 28 Degrees credit card (my first ever!) because of their low exchange rate and lack of fees on credit card transactions. People say it's the best card for travel and I was ready for it.

However, since Malaysia is largely a cash economy (especially in the non-city areas), I found myself mostly just withdrawing money from my credit card and thus getting hit with a cash advance fee ($4) and instant application of the high interest rate (22%) on the money. Since I was there already and had no other alternatives, I made five withdrawals over the two weeks and ended up paying about $21 in fees. Not great!

But last time I travelled I had a Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card (not a great idea), and if I'd used that instead on this trip and given up fees for a higher exchange rate, I would have been charged an extra $60! Presumably my Commonwealth debit card would have been the same. This isn't even including mandatory ATM fees.

If I've learned anything from this experience and these envelope calculations I'm doing now, it's these:

  • The kiosk will inflate their rates to gauge you as much as possible, but so will the banks and ATM owners. Everybody wants their share. Look for flat fees rather than higher rates, since you always know what you'll be getting, and I suggest going to ATMs rather than kiosks just for the convenience.
  • Stuff is CHEAP there! Eating at the stalls in Georgetown in Penang was about $1.30 AUD for an excellent meal. Regardless of your exchange rate, you'll be saving money anyway by avoiding Australian food prices :P
  • Carrying around large amounts of money will probably make you uncomfortable. Heck, even leaving stuff locked in a safe in my hotel room made me uncomfortable, so I tried to carry around only a few hundred Ringgit where I needed it. To me, this was worth the slightly higher incidence of withdrawal fees.
  • Try to look at your money from the perspective of the trip as a whole: If you've spent $1000 on the flights and $500 on hotels and now you're agonising over a few $2.50 fees, you may have your priorities skewed and may not enjoy the trip as much :)
  • Would you have had the fees and interest if you had prepaid the credit card? I think a prepayment could have at least helped you avoid interest. – WBT Mar 12 '16 at 21:40

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