Changing Foreign Currency - tourism, work

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First off - let me tell you about myself so that you have some context. I have to fly in between Australia and Singapore a fair bit.  And occasionally I have the need to transfer money to and fro countries to pay for holidays, etc.

I'm not a tax lawyer accountant so I can't advise you on tax laws. So please don't quote me if you get hauled up by the ATO. I do know that - as of  January 2006 - you're allowed to bring $10k in and out of Australia without declaring it anything more and you have to declare it.

OK, first off  its relatively safe to change foreign currency in Singapore and you get very good rates - much better than changing foreign money here in Australia. If you are changing small sums of money for tourism or even sizable amounts if you're buying something expensive, you don't have to change with the banks - go to the Money Changers in the REPUTABLE AREAS like the ones near Raffles Place MRT. They offer very good rates close to the interbank rates. Where are they? There's a few at the Arcade outside Raffles Place MRT - the main Central Business District. They operate in proper shops, and have the official rates shown in clear. You should attempt to negotiate better rates if you are trying to change more than $1k.
First go to an online site like which has a currency-converter or use the XEU app on your smartphone. That will give you the interbank rate. Interbank rate is the wholesale rate - what banks give other banks for the exchange. Type in the amount of cash you want to swap - and hey presto you'll get the quote. Now you've got an idea of how much you're gonna get. So armed with the info - go to the money changers - ask them for their rate, and how much you're gonna get for your cash - and compare it to the price you got (from Yahoo or XEU- then ask whether they can improve on that.)
Try and get a few rates from money changers to get a feel of what you can get. Surprisingly I found one money changer located on the main street at Orchard Road next to Centrepoint Mall who was actually better than the usual guy I change cash with. But on occasion my usual changer offers superior rates.

The Singapore money changers, run by Indian Muslim Singaporeans, will give you better good rates (than the airport and banks) and can give you a better rate if you ask nicely and have more cash to swap. But do ask at least two or three money changers to get a feel of the rates. And of course you must be aware than the rates do change because currency prices fluctuates.

Which brings me to a corny joke:
There was this man from Hong Kong who went to Australia. He went to the NAB and changed some cash. He came back the next week and changed some more. But he was puzzled that he got less than the previous day. So he asked the bank staff about the difference. The fat lady bank teller told him, "Sir, the currency fluctuates. It changes prices from day to day. Sometimes it moves in your favor, sometimes it doesn't. The currency market price has fluctuations."
His eyes glazed over and he said  he said he didn't understand.
The teller, rolled her eyeballs, repeated her answer. But after several times she got the same blank response.
Finally, she snapped at him and shouted. "THE!!!! MA!!! KET!!!! SA!!!! FLUCK" "CHOO" "ASIONS"!!!!!
The Hong Kong man roiled in horror and roared back "Fluc-choo yooo lay-sis blussaad!!!!"

The most important thing is to first check online with Yahoo (or a reputable exchange rate site) to find out what the current interbank rate is. Then calculate how much I will get before trying out the money changers.

The interbank rate is the rate in which the major banks give to each other over foreign transactions. So be warned you probably won't get the same rate - and you will get a premium charged ontop of that.

A word of warning - Travelex and the Aussie Banks here offer the most appalling rates of exchange. They really rip you off in the exchange rates. I even tried to change some cash at Travelex in Melbourne airport and the idiot cashier gave me the wrong (unfavorable) rates 3 times!!!!

Aussie Banks really rip you off in exchange rates. (Why? I suspect its because the 4 main banks here ANZ, Westpac, Cwealth, NAB seem to collude to form an informal trust based on my personal observations) Lets say you want to exchange US$10,000 to Aussie Cash. The exchange rate is say for example A$1 to US1 - so you should get A$10,000, instead they'll give you $8,400, creaming off 10 - 20% in the exchange process for clerical fees or some other nonsense. I swear that some of the Aussie cashier seriously don't know how to calculate rates properly. In other words, they offer really bad exchange rates.
If you're working in Singapore, one way to remit money back to your country of origin is to open a same currency account in a Singapore bank, ie. Standard Chartered Bank or UOB. If you wish to transfer large sums of money to and fro. Example, I get paid US$9k in Singapore. I want to transfer some of my wages back to Australia. If I transfer the cash to Australia directly - I'd get ripped off in the Australia Bank who have horrible currency exchange rates.
So what I do is I open an AUD (Aussie dollar) currency account in Singapore. Wait for a good time to convert to AUD then do the currency exchange in Singapore.

After this I can do a straight AUD to AUD transfer to my bank account in Australia. The only thing the Australian bank can charge me for is a small service fee, but they won't be able to rip me off in the conversion - exchange rate process.

It also works the other way. If you are remitting money to Singapore from Australia, you should open an AUD currency account in Singapore. A word of warning - make sure that when you transfer the money overseas from Australia - you make it explicitly clear - in writing - that you want the money transferred over in AUD - Australian Dolars only please! Otherwise you're going to get hit in the exchange process 3 times and could possibly lose 20% of the capital. You'll face the horrendous stupid scenario of the Australian bank converting the cash to SGD and sending it over. But when it gets to your AUD account in Singapore, it will automatically be converted back to AUD from SGD. You will then have to reconvert it back to SGD to use in Singapore - I asked my brother-in-law to help transfer some $5k over and he screwed up and did it the wrong way - he got the bank to change the cash to Sing dollars and when it reached my AUD bank account in Singapore it got switched back to AUD - which I had to then reconvert back to Sing dollars. I lost $700 in the interchange monumental cock up.

If this makes no sense to you. Don't worry about it and do what you normally do.

By the way, you can use your Aussie bank debit card in Singapore to withdraw cash from the ATM. Ask your bank first. Your card will usually have a cyrus or diamond symbol at the back which means it can. ANZ operates branches over there. But you can just as easily withdraw your cash from Standard Chartered, DBS, UOB. A fee will of course be levied for the service even with overseas ANZ atms. And vice versa, you can do the same if you are a visitor in Australia and need to withdraw some cash.  Or just bring some cash over and exchange it with one of the ubiquitous Indian money changers in the middle of Orchard Road.

However, please take care if you are in Malaysia/ Indonesia. You should realize that corruption and crime is much more worse in Malaysia, and Indonesia etc.. Be very careful. If you're going to the ATM, go with another friend, and do it in broad daylight, sometimes even then its not safe.

Here's a good advice - be respectful - these people here don't have much except their dignity so don't talk down to them and make them lose face, i.e., be shamed- its just plain bad manners anyhow. Don't raise your voice unnecessarily. And don't flash your cash around, that is just asking for trouble. You wouldn't like it if some foreigner came to your country and did that - so oblige them the same courtesy. If you unfortunately have an encounter with a corrupt official. Be very careful how you behave and what you say. Remember you are not home. You are in their territory.

For your sake, don't do illicit drugs or associate yourself with people who do. If you do find someone in your company dealing with that sort of stuff, I'd make haste to get as far away from the bugger as possible. Association with criminals can result in a bloody nightmare. I remember this story of one man whose mate was a drug user. When they arrived in the foreign country, both were arrested because his mate's luggage had drugs. When they arrived at the police station at night, their fingerprints were mixed up and he, the innocent man, ended up spending 10+ years in a hellhole jail. He lost his wife, kid, job and health. Think about this carefully. What a tragedy. Don't let this happen to you.

Some advice: Remember if the local people are talking to you in broken English with a horrible sounding accent; they are doing you a favor (as you probably can't speak their language). So do NOT laugh at them. Its not their first language so don't laugh at them or get irritated with their accents. You are in their country as their guests. You are far away from home. Be careful.

This is the way I do things - maybe someone else has a better idea - but it works for me.
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