Expat In Bacolod

Stephen Bentley - Writer

Banking in the Philippines

Money Money Money!

You have now made your move and decided to relocate to the Philippines. You will obviously want to have easy access to your money which is almost certainly paid into your bank back home. To do that, you will want to open a bank account here in the Philippines. Which bank should you choose here? A large, reputable bank is preferable.

All the major banks here all have slightly different rules and processes to open that bank account. There are many types of bank accounts including foreign currency deposit accounts. It falls outside of my expertise to advise you on which type of account you need so I suggest you research that and seek professional advice.

Opening an Account in the Philippines

The general principles in opening an account are that you will have to show proof of ID and provide residence details. Many banks will refuse to open an account if you are on a tourist visa without the ACR card. Once you have that card, then there should be no difficulty opening an account. The process at the bank can take as little as 30 minutes or so and you usually have to wait several business days before you revisit the bank to collect your new debit card. Again, the rules differ from bank to bank, but generally you have to be a customer of the bank for at least 6 months and have a landline in your name before you can apply for a credit card. I would suggest checking the web sites of all the major Philippines banks before you go visit your local branch in order to open your account.

banking philippines

Keep your Bank and Credit Cards Back Home

The solid advice from the experts, which I endorse, is to keep your current primary account back home. It’s also a good idea to keep one or two of your home country’s credit cards active too. What about your address back home? Find a good friend or family member who is willing to receive your bank and credit card statements at their address. You can always check your statements online.

So what are the reasons for keeping a “financial footprint” back home? Simple really! You never know what the future holds in store. What if you decide to move back home, or are forced to because of reasons totally out of your control? Your accounts back home, whether bank or credit cards, will ensure you maintain your credit score. It’s a good idea to use your cards now and again for say online purchases, as it doesn’t matter where you now live but shows you are “financially alive and kicking”. In the event of a repatriation, voluntary or otherwise, this should ensure you encounter no problems with items like mortgages, car loans and almost anything else that requires borrowing money.

One of the advantages I found with retaining my home country issued cards was when I was dealing with the Apple Store. I discovered that using a Philippines issued bank card, whether debit or credit, locked me out of certain features of the store. Purely as an aside, it’s also worth considering a VPN to change your location to your home country to further ensure you benefit from features with online retailers that apply to citizens of the United States and the U.K. for example, but not to citizens of other countries. Yes, I know that’s discriminatory but please accept that I don’t make the rules!

A further consideration is this: there will be occasions you need to send money to friends or family back home and it’s far easier and cheaper to do this if both parties, you and the recipient, have accounts in the same country. Forget checks! A check drawn on foreign banks can take a long time to clear and it’s not unheard of for such checks not to be accepted at all by banks in America or the U.K. Yet another advantage is that your U.S. or U.K. card also has a far greater chance of being accepted at any ATM wherever you travel in the world.

Online Banking

It’s not difficult to track and manage your home based accounts in this digital age. The days of trusting a close friend or family member to take care of your finances back home in your absence have long gone. Using any established bank or other financial institution, enables you to pay any kind of bill from your home country online and schedule money transfers to any individual or organization you wish in the same country as you home account. All it takes is a few clicks on the bank web site after you go through the security log in procedures.

But to return to your Philippines bank account – the best advice is to keep sufficient in your new account for your regular payments in your new country. It’s also wise to have a separate savings account with the same bank as your “rainy day” money or “slush fund”. However, it’s also the wise man that keeps the substantial part of his savings in the financial institutions of his home country owing to the enhanced stability of the banking system in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. There are better protective measures in place for savers in the more financially stable countries of the world. Another reason to keep more of your nest egg back home is to do with stable currencies and interest rates. Historically and over the long term many western currencies have been far less volatile than some third world countries. Many savings vehicles back in your home country pay a rate of interest even some checking accounts.

International Money Transfers

You still need to transfer your home based money to your Philippines account. By far the easiest way to do this is by using one of the many companies that specialize in international currency transfers. Like your online banking, this is also done by a few clicks of the mouse. If you shop around you will find out which are the most reliable, speediest and cheapest. You should closely examine the fees that are charged in conjunction with your actual rate of exchange. It’s no good transferring say $1000 for only a flat fee of say $2 then finding out you are not receiving a competitive exchange rate. Of course, these companies have to make a profit but make sure it’s not at your expense!

I’m sure these tips will save you a few dollars if implemented correctly. If you bump into me and that is the case, then buy me a cold beer!

This article written by me first appeared on Retiring To The Philippines.


Since my own retirement to the Philippines I have used several different methods to transfer money from my UK bank account to the Philippines.

By far the cheapest and most reliable is TransferWise. They don’t rip you off on either the flat fee or the currency exchange rate.

I use them. I recommend them.

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Disclosure: I am an affiliate but only because I believe in them. Would I recommend them to a friend or family on a scale of 10? Yes – 10/10!

You pay no extra as a result of using any of my affiliate links.

2 Comments

  1. Good post, Steve. A caveat for Americans opening an account in the Philippines (or any foreign bank). This is from http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/irs-reporting-rules-foreign-bank-accounts-fbar.html

    “An annual FBAR must be filed with the (US) Treasury whenever a taxpayer has an interest in, or signature authority over, a foreign financial account with a value over $10,000 any time during the calendar year. It makes no difference if the average amount in the account during the year is less than $10,000 or all the money is withdrawn by the end of the year. If the account held more than $10,000 any time during the year, the FBAR must be filed.

    Moreover, the FBAR filing requirement is not limited to foreign accounts containing cash. You’re also supposed to file a FBAR if a foreign account has non-monetary assets of more than $10,000. For example, the cash surrender value of a life insurance policy is such a non-monetary asset.

    The penalties for failing to file FBARs are severe. There is a minimum $10,000 penalty if your failure to file was inadvertent. However, if you are found guilty of willfully not filing a FBAR, the minimum fine is $100,000 or half the value of the account, whichever is greater.”

    “. . . whenever a taxpayer has an interest in, or signature authority” (over a foreign account) that is also interpreted to mean if you are married/cohabiting with a foreigner and they have a bank account and it reaches the $10,000 mark you could be held liable for any taxes (and penalties) if you are a signatory and/or a beneficiary of that $10,000.

    The US is the only country that taxes and penalizes it’s citizens that do not live in the US. The only way out is renounced your American Citizenship which 100s are doing. Many foreign banks are now not willing to open an account for Americans because if they do not report your income or are not timely with the reporting the IRS can penalize them a whopping 27.5% – 50%. Thus, costing the foreign bank millions of dollars.

    I’m not a lawyer or tax account. This is info I have had personal experience with in attempting to open a foreign bank account. Now, I leave my money in a US bank and will use Transfer Wise to avoid ATM fees and high fees for wire transfers.

    BTW filing FBAR is not like filing your tax return. Even if you do not have control of or your own $10,000 bank account once you file you have to file every year and it will cost 1000 of dollars to file through a professional – even if you owe no taxes.

    I read of one American woman married to a German, and living in Germany, for the past 20+ years gave up her US citizenship because IRS were going to tax her husband’s German account as she benefited from the money in it. (I know the next two words going through the reader’s head – as they go through my head)

    FAQ are available at different tax lawyer/accountants website.

I would love to hear from you

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