I just had a recent query on this issue … living your life in the Philippines on an ATM card, so I decided to update and republish the information in hopes it will help a few readers out there perhaps avoid getting themselves into the same “pickle” over and over and over. People tell me, “I have it all figured out. I’ll just use my US-based ATM card to withdraw money in the Philippines when I need to and that way I don’t have to bother with all the hassle of planning things out, establishing a bank in the Philippines, and having alternate sources to get money.”
My thought is, “OK, fine, that will work.” Until it doesn’t. What’s your plan then, grasshopper.
Again and again and again I get these messages, or read them on someone else’s site …
Hi ….where do I go to get answers to my husband’s queries on banking here in our city.
He’s a retired xxxx and depends solely on his pension from bank of America for a living.
Lately we cannot make one time cash advance from his bank of America debit card at Banco de Oro. We need to get one time cash advance…
Well let me take this opportunity to pass on a tip or two about Living in the Philippines. You can find plenty of cries for help like the one I quoted above, any day of the week. Here are a few rules and suggestions that can help you avoid being one of the ones in dire straights asking for help.
As a general observation, Americans in particular need to get their banking terms straight … because when it is your money, you need to use the proper terms. A bank ATM card gives you cash by withdrawing it directly from your bank account. This is Not a Cash Advance. A Cash Advance is the use of a credit card to obtain cash where the money comes from your credit card account the same as a purchase. It’;s a loan. Fees are imposed and you have to pay back the debt, and interest if applicable. Some bank ATM/debit cards are ‘dual purpose’, they can function as either a debit (direct withdrawal) or a credit (Cash Advance) card. Don’t go into a bank, or use a teller machine, and use the term “Cash Advance” unless you mean to incur the fees and the debt. Most banks will happily process the request as a “Cash Advance” instead of a “Withdrawal”, if you say so, because typically they make a lot more money on the deal … so, precision in speaking is required here if you ant to save yourself money. Typical “Cash Advance” fees these days run 3% of the amount withdrawn, up to $75.00 USD or so, and interest rates for repayment are in the high 20% range.
So do you want an “over-the-counter” withdrawal from you US bank using the ATM card (typically for a few dollar one-time service fee, or do actually want a “Cash Advance” (as when you have no money left in your account and you need to borrow). The two are NOT the same at all. Be careful.
First a Rule: (No it isn’t really a rule documented anywhere, but it’s “Dave’s Rule” and it has served me well so far). Do not attempt to live here on one ATM card. It is like playing Russian Roulette without even knowing how many cartridges are in the cylinder. Why?
ATM cards can get lost or stolen. Shouldn’t have to expand much on this, but if you have only one card and it gets stolen, have you any idea how long it will take your bank in the US to send you a replacement? Will they even send a replacement to the Philippines? Some banks will flat refuse to send a replacement card overseas. Other will send, but even if you pay extra to have the replacement card sent “overnight” by FedEx or some other express service, it won’t get to the Philippines for an absolute minimum of two or three business days. (Remember that old International Date Line thingy?)
You can NOT get anything “Overnighted” to the Philippines, regardless of how much you are willing to spend. Always, always, always have at least another, independent card (that you don’t carry with you in the same wallet) as a backup.
ATM’s here in the Philippines may ‘eat” your card, capturing the card and refusing to return it. This is a common anti-fraud measure. If you committed no wrong doing, can you get your card back? Normally, yes, through the head office of the bank who runs the ATM. How long? Figure weeks, not days.
Typically what happens is, the card does not come out of the machine. You contact the bank who owns the machine. The service personnel who care for the machine (maybe every day, maybe every few days, retrieve the card. They transport it by established bank security rules to the head office of the bank .. which is likely in Manila. Your card got ‘eaten’ while you were visiting Boracay you say? Well, too bad, it’s going to get a ride to Manila, and in “due course” you may physically present yourself to the proper office in Manila, with proper identification, and then after filling up forms and such, you’ll get your card back … if the bank who actually owns the card authorizes them to. If the owning bank feels there is actually a fraud problem, they won’t authorize the release.
You, Mr. or Mrs. “card holder” have no say in the matter. Remember you are NOT the “owner” of any credit card … the issuing bank is. (read your Terms of Service if you are in doubt on this). How many days are we up to now? How much money do you have left?
For some reason unknown to you, your bank may terminate or suspend your account. especially in today’s “War On Terror” hyperbole, foreign money transactions are always monitored by various agencies of the US government and by commercial security agencies, perhaps under contract to your bank and/or the card issuer. How could this happen if you do nothing wrong?
No way I can say, but if it happens, do not expect to get the matter resolved via a simple phone call. My advice. Have more than one bank or credit union, either in the US or both here and in the US so that one “backs up” the other.
Your bank may be totally out of line in taking such an action, and maybe you can sue tem, and write your Congressman, etc., but the bottom line is, if this happens to you, you ain’t getting cash.
ATM’s here in the Philippines are notorious for “Failure to Dispense”. You card is accepted, the transaction is processed and charged to your US account but no cash comes out. If you asked for cash up to the limit of the card, guess what, you can’t even try the card again until tomorrow.
Will you get your money back? Most likely yes. But here’s the way it works.
The bank here who owns the ATM which failed to dispense is acting solely as a service provider to your US bank. They are not responsible to give you a refund, and they certainly won’t. The money wasn’t taken from any other their accounts, they never had your money, so they can’t give it back even if they wanted to. They are required, and normally will, report the “no dispense” to your US bank, and the end of the next banking day here in the Philippines. You are also authori
zed to call your US bank and work with their customer service folks … please continue holding, your call is important to s … blah, blah, blah. More fun and games and time wasted.
Your US bank then, is responsible to credit your account for the money erroneously charged. How long will this take? Last time it happened to me, it was back in my account in three days, with only ne phone call to the States. Got time to wait for that before you go to the grocery store?
What do I recommend? belt and suspenders, or even multiple belts.
Carry a US bank debit card. Also carry a US “name brand” credit card, like Visa or MasterCard. If your US debit card fails, you can try the Credit Card, either in a machine or an over the counter withdrawal or cash advance from any major bank.
There are fees that come with a cash advance, but hey, you can still eat while you straighten out the mess.
I go several steps farther.
I have a bank account here in the Philippines. I carry an ATM card for that account. No fees and much easier to straighten out any screw ups that might occur.
I also carry a Philippine-issued master card, and I could buy groceries, go to the drug store or even get a cash advance on that card if I was in those “dire straights” we mentioned earlier.
But there is another pair of suspenders which I highly recommend.
It’s free, and I wonder why more long-term visitors don’t take advantage of it.
Not only do I recommend you have a bank account here, I highly recommend you introduce yourself to, and take time to notice and act courteously to the branch manager, his or her deputy, the chief security guard, etc. Do I mean be an ass kisser? Those who know me will quickly realize I don’t mean that.
But these folks are fellow humans beings, and they control, to a great extent at times, just how easy (or hard) it is to live here. My branch manager is Mr. Favro. It costs me nothing to pass by his desk on the way out and say hello. Matter of fact, he often has something interesting to say. And recently, when I came back from Florida, he and I had a very interesting conversation for about half an hour regarding the real estate credit crunch in the US, how things were similar and also different here, and so on. I know I certainly learned some things of value. I hardly consider enjoyable conversations like that currying favor, but hey, as we say here in the Philippines, ‘Sup to you’.
All can say is, works for me
… instead of having the adversarial relationship so many foreigners seem to have with their banks here, why not find yourself one managed by humans, and, in turn, treat them like humans in return. For me, it has paid dividends in convenience and peace of mind. Thanks to all the great folks at the SM Marilao branch of BDO, who help me out most every day.