A Few Tips For New (and Old) Players
Extracted from StreetWise Cebu, first in a new series of in-depth guides to popular Philippine locations by Perry Gamsby.
I no longer waste my time and money with travellers checks, haven’t bothered with them for nearly a decade or more. It is far easier to carry a credit card and an ATM card as there are ATM machines all over Cebu and growing in number in the provinces. Those with Cirrus, Plus, Banc Net symbols on them, or Visa or MasterCard DEBIT cards, can be used at just about any ATM.
If you are coming to live, you may want to T/T your money to a bank account opened with a philippines bank in case you need to access large sums for car and house purchases. Otherwise, just leave it in your home account and use the ATM to withdraw money when you need it.
Most banks allow you to withdraw up to your home banks limit, for me that is AUD$1000 per 24 hours. However, some ATMs will only release Php4000 per transaction, and then only up to Php25,000 per 24 hours. Others will allow Php10,000 per transaction and this is important as you are being charged every time you perform a transaction. A transaction means inserting your ATM card, punching in your PIN and selecting withdrawal etc. With my EquitablePCI Bank ATM this means I have to take out P4000, six times in a row to get my maximum daily withdrawal limit of P25,000. No fun if a long line of people are breathing down your neck wanting to use the ATM!
Each bank is different but I have found HSBC to be one of the more generous in daily withdrawal amounts, although they ask for more money held on deposit if you wish to open an account with them. BPI, Bank of the Philippine Islands also allows larger withdrawals than MetroBank, EquitablePCI, PNB Philippine National Bank and ChinaBank or others.
Philippine banking allows just about anyone with enough clout and cash to open a bank, either a rural or a savings bank. Some smaller banks are specifically for a certain group or community and should be avoided. These local banks often go under taking everybody’s money with them. Most banks advertise they are covered by the statutory government insurance of depositors funds, but this has a limit of Php100,000 or less than US$2000. US Dollar accounts often don’t have any protection whatsoever.
You can open a US Dollar account with a few hundred dollars, depending on the bank you choose. They vary from time to time so check out the banks with links at the end of the manual for the latest details. Most say you need to keep a minimum amount of a few hundred dollars in them to keep them open but I have an open account with less than two bucks in it. Interest paid on these deposits is negligible and not worth my time to research who offers the best rate. US Dollar accounts are simply a place to keep your US Dollars where a buck is worth a buck and exchange fluctuations can’t hurt its value.
I also have a savings account with an ATM card in a Peso account. To open an account you need to show ID and often an ACR, although many banks don’t ask for this document. You may have to provide one or two ID photos, although EquitablePCI Bank didn’t require photos when I opened my account with them last year.
All transactions of US Dollars are noted, even down to the serial numbers of each and every bill, depositing and withdrawing. Depositing large sums of money can cause headaches as the US has laws that require notification of any transaction of US$10,000 or more per transaction. You also need to declare if you are taking that kind of currency out of the country and if you are bringing it into the Philippines.
Obviously the excuse is they are trying to control money laundering by drug gangs and terrorists but the truth is these criminals use the regular banking facilities to move their money around. I would suggest you T/T amounts of US$5000 a day until you get it all here, or keep it in the States and draw what you need from the ATM as you need it. If you have to bring in a large amount of cash, I’d do it the old fashioned way and line my shoes, clothes and carry on bag. Of course you can declare it, its not a crime they just want to know what you are doing.
You could get sneaky and buy Bearer Bonds and other negotiable instruments, even convert everything to gold jewellery and then cash it in but I am sure you would lose out on the deal. I wouldn’t know
where to buy a Bearer Bond, or where to cash one in.
For everyday people the simple answer is the ATM card. If you are going to the province for a visit to her family, just make sure you have cash in small bills before you go. Few places in the city can change P1000 bills and some even struggle with the P500. In the province a P100 bill is big money, so have lots of P20 and P50. Unless going for a while or donating most of it to her family, US$200
would take a lot of spending in the province.
Credit cards can be a problem as the merchant is hit by high charges from his bank, so the protocol is to pass these onto the card holder. Expect up to 8% charged to your card for using it to buy accommodation, meals or cash advances from merchants. Few shops outside of the big department stores or those in the city malls will accept your card and getting a cash advance at a bank can take half a day but at least an hour the first time you try.
Not every branch will give over the counter cash advances on credit cards, even some of the big Cebu City branches won’t do it. You will need your passport and a lot of patience as they double and triple check every little detail. Equitable PCI across the road from SM Mall will do it, go to the New Accounts counter and start the ball rolling there. Have your passport with you! Modern electronic banking is only slowly happening and nobody really trusts the system yet, so be prepared for funny looks and lots of waiting.
If you bring cash, then exchange it at one of the kiosks in Ayala Mall, Mango Square Mall or at Robinsons on Fuentes Osmena. Forget changing it in SM Department store, they only take crisp perfect notes and expect you to write down all the serial numbers. Be wary of anyone coming up to you on the street offering rates even a peso per dollar more than what everyone else is offering (except major hotels). The margins are razor thin with forex and the kiosks mentioned consistently
give the best rates and are straightforward genuine businesses. Major hotels, in my opinion, get greedy and try to rake in extra money a they know their guests are usually unfamiliar with where else to go. Anyone who can afford their rates usually doesn’t flinch at losing a few cents per transaction in exchange for the convenience and security of doing it in the hotel lobby.
No matter where you exchange, always count it out yourself, even if you followed the clerk as she or he counted it into your hand. Never be rushed or feel rushed by other people waiting for service. If the person getting agitated is a Filipino, then you are getting scammed. Filipinos would rarely be exchanging money in the same place as you but if they are, there is no way they would show their impatience and irritation at you for taking too long. It is not the Filipino way and it means they are a part of the scam. You have been short changed and they will pressure you into accepting the clerks count and moving away from the window. Once you do if there is any money short there is no way you will be able to correct the problem or prove the error. STAY AT THE WINDOW UNTIL YOU COUNT THE MONEY YOURSELF AND ARE SATISFIED.
For big purchases such as cars and property, you should get a Managers Check from the bank. Never carry cash around in large amounts, no matter how short the journey. The car seller may have a relative ambush you on your way back from the bank with the money to buy the car. He keeps the car and a share of the money and you are none the wiser. If both parties meet at the bank and exchange Managers Checks, then there is no opening for a problem to occur. It is the way Filipinos do it here and so it has to be the safest way for both parties.
I carry my money in a wallet in my back pocket. Unless I am using jeepneys or carrying more than a few hundred pesos. Then I carry the wallet in a front pocket. I once had to carry a payroll off Php30,000 in small bills for the workers on our bar. I laid the wads of money along my left forearm and bandaged the arm up. It looked like I had a broken arm in a cast and the money travelled safely from Cebu to Malapascua with nobody the wiser and the men were all paid on time. Be aware who is watching when you withdraw or exchange any amount of money, to a starving peasant, even twenty bucks is a fortune.