I am an EU citizen and I'd like to spend some month in Thailand (which may extend to years). I'd like to open an international bank account before leaving so that I have access to local branch in Thailand and have the least hassle to manage my finance while living in Thailand. Which bank(s) would you suggest?
Please note that if you have an ATM card from a non-Thai bank, all Thai ATM machines will charge you around 150 to 180 THB, every time you make a withdrawal (about 4 EUR). You should be able to use any ATM card from a large overseas bank.
Because of this charge, you probably do not want to be using a foreign ATM card in Thailand. Plus if your card gets swallowed in an ATM, you can not get a replacement easily.
Opening a bank account is generally considered to be something that you can not do without a work permit - but this is entirely at the discretion of the branch. When I first came to Thailand, I opened a bank account at a Bangkok Bank sub-branch at a shopping mall (those are open during shopping mall hours, not banking hours) before I got my first work permit, and have known people having different levels of success at their local branches at other large local banks.
Also, a friend of mine opened a bank account at the Government Savings Bank (the one with the pink and white logo - ธนาคารออมสิน) while staying here for six months on tourist visas.
Local banks in Thailand have online banking, which can be used to transfer money between accounts, pay bills, check balances, et cetera.
My recommendation would be to bring some cash over and put it into a local account, once you manage to open one. Kasikorn bank and Siam Commercial Bank both have excellent online banking, and Bangkok Bank are very restrictive in what they allow foreigners to do with their accounts (I do not recommend them).
For further information, the Thai Visa forum on business and banking, etc. might provide you with lots more information.
Actually, Bangkok Bank is the only Thai bank that can allow direct deposits from USA, UK, Switzerland, Japan, and Korea. And especially US/UK.
So BKB is reliable and relatively cheap to get funds into thailand initially or on a regular basis. But you may want to consider Krung Thai bank, Bank of Ayudhya (Krung Sri [See]), or Kasikorn Bank. Krung Thai and Krung Sri have very polished Internet Banking with Western Union integrated in. Krung Thai is also gov't owned, so it is least likely to fail in case crap hits the fan. Most of the banks are pretty stable anyway here, as it is a cash-based society. You could even WU from the atm machine. Kasikorn bank I like the way the uniform looks on the ladies that work there :). Their mobile banking app is actually independent of their internet banking login which might be more secure. But it also means you can't do as much via mobile.
Very important that you setup internet banking and get a debit card while you are opening up account. Better to get it out of the way and verify it is all working. (test atm deposit/withdraw, login to online banking and perform a transaction, to a test spend with debit card, etc)
The only other options besides SWIFT wire transfer that I know of are:
1) Banks will sometimes have option to pre-convert money or otherwise send it as the receiving currency. I don't know the name of this method. But it is wise to check out the conversion rate and compare it to sending SWIFT wire or other methods. I found it might actually be worth it in some places, and it shows up in the bank account within a few hours sometimes but usually not longer than 1 business day.
2) private money transfer, such as TransferWise. Takes a few days, but exchange rates are excellent without any hidden fees or tricks.
3) Western Union / Money Gram Not bad rates Thailand, and funds are available instantly.
4) Cash withdrawal from ATM: try to use a bank with 0% or 1% foreign transaction fee and either 0 atm fee or even a reimbursement on atm fees. Many banks charge 3% + $5 per atm transaction....damn. Remember this is separate from the 200 baht fee the Thai atm will charge you.
5) Paypal. But transfers from Thailand Paypal acct to Thai bank account take 7 calendar days. You can literally count 7 days from when you request the funds and then suddenly they will arrive in bank acct. Exchange rates suck. Considering the time delay, WU looks more attractive.
6) Alternate currencies, such as Bitcoin and Webmoney. There are local exchangers that will exchange this for you.....but be prepared to pay up to 10% for the convenience.