In the first 6 months of 2018 I’ve made 20 trips to Asian countries from my base in Singapore.
Most important lessons I’ve learned so far:
- If you are a US citizen get either a chase sapphire reserve or capital one card before you go. They have zero foreign transaction fees (some cards charge you a minimum of $5 per transaction plus a very bad exchange rate). These two cards have reasonable echange rates, and can notify you immediately of how much you’ve been charged.
- Just Joking 🙂 Most places in Asia require cash. That said, use the above cards for hotels, expensive restaurants etc.
- Unlock your phone before you go. Many US and European phones are locked to their carrier and cannot accept local SIMs. They are cheap (approx $10 USD for a one week phone plus internet).
- Move to Whatsapp. Use it before you go. Even with local SIMs you keep your original number and are always contactable.
- Use Google Fi as a phone carrier if you can. The downsides of Fi is that the US carrier is T-mobile, which has dreadful reception in certain areas (such as San Francisco). However, when abroad they are awesome. The Fi SIMs once activated are capable of working in iPhones. Fi also provides multiple data-only SIMs, for zero monthly cost. These can be used by multiple people when traveling abroad. You only pay what you use, and their global coverage is great. Only in Vietnam I had no coverage.
- Use money clips. They’re awesome to keep your foreign currency together and you can drop them in a drawer when don, ready for the next trip
- Airport currency convertors: avoid when possible. The street ones are better.
- Grab works well in SE Asia, use it when possible. In some places, they do not operate out of a legitimate fear of physical violence from local taxi drivers.
- Never get into a cab without having negotiated the final price.
- Only drink bottled water, where you personally validate the seal by unscrewing the cap. Get this wrong and your holiday is over before it begins.
- Carry USD. Many countries require you to pay your visa on arrival in USD.