So you met this great Thai woman or man, and you know she/he is desperately poor, and you’d like to help by sending money periodically. How do you do this?
There are two ways: money transfer and debit card. The debit card method is cheaper but initially a bit more complicated.
1. Money Transfer
This method is best when you just want to send money once or a few times, not regularly.
First have her open a bank account, if she doesn’t have one already, and send you the bank and account details. You can then transfer money via your bank, doing a telegraphic transfer (also called a “wire transfer” or “inter-bank transfer” or “SWIFT transfer” depending on what country you are living in). This costs US to , depending on the country you live in, and the bank you deal with, so it generally is not worthwhile unless you are sending more than 0. Some banks charge less than others, so it pays to shop around and ask what the fee is.
2. Debit Card
Open an account in a bank in your town that has the PLUS or CIRRUS symbol displayed. This means they are on an international ATM (“automated teller machine”, also called “banking machine”) network. PLUS and CIRRUS are both international, and do the same thing, and charge the same rates to their customers (the banks). Some banks belong to both networks, some to only one, and some to neither.
The account should be in your name. Get an ATM card (also called a “debit card” or “bank card”) from the bank, put some money in the account, and use the card in any ATM to verify the card is OK by checking the balance or actually withdrawing some funds.
Mail the card to your friend in Thailand by registered mail. When she acknowledges receipt of the card, mail the PIN (the identifying number you have to enter when using the ATM card) by registered mail. Don’t mail the PIN with the card in case the letter gets into someone else’s hands.
She can then go to any ATM in Thailand that displays the same symbol (PLUS or CIRRUS), insert the card, enter the PIN, and withdraw any amount of cash (in Thai baht) up to the limit of what you put in the account. Your bank will automatically do a currency conversion from Thai baht to your currency. Since this is a separate account from your normal account, there is no danger that she (or anyone else if the card is stolen) can access your money in your normal bank accounts. Also, she can’t withdraw any more money than what is in the account. So make sure there is no overdraft facility on the account when you open it.
Most banks will charge a fee for each withdrawal. Some banks charge as much as US, but most are less. Shop around and find a bank that has the lowest fees for international ATM transactions. (My bank charges nothing for international ATM transactions because I have a Gold Visa with them.) And tell your Thai friend to withdraw substantial amounts, not go back to the ATM every day to withdraw 100 baht, because the fees make that uneconomical.
So periodically you can transfer money into that account, and your friend can access it the same day. If you do this on a regular basis (say, at the first of every month, or the first and fifteenth), and tell your friend the arrangement, then she will know to go to the banking machine on those days and can withdraw the money.
With some banks, it is possible for the account to go negative (have an overdraft) even though overdrafts are not allowed, because she can withdraw the entire amount in the account, and the fee for international withdrawals will then be applied, pushing the account into a negative status. Some banks let you get away with this, and some charge a huge penalty (of say US). So check with your bank what their policy is. If you don’t like their policy, you can do one of three things:
* change banks;
* keep an eye on the account (via the bank’s Internet banking service) and transfer enough money in immediately to bring the account back up to zero; some banks will let you set up a rule that will be applied automatically to sweep money from your normal account into this account to keep the account non-negative;
* tell your Thai friend not to withdraw the entire balance, but to leave xxx Baht in the account at all times. This may or not be possible, depending on whether the ATM in Thailand tells her the balance of the account. This is a function of your bank, not the ATM or PLUS or CIRRUS. Some banks make the balance available, and some don’t.
I hope this has been helpful. I’ve used both methods (telegraphic transfer and debit card).