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Philippines - Banking

As an expat, it is important to familiarize yourself with the Filipino currency and the various options for transacting money while in the Philippines. Most financial services available to expats are located within big cities like Cebu and Manila. On the other hand, you may have to carry a reliable cash reserve with you while travelling to the rural areas.

The peso is the official currency of the Philippines. One peso is equivalent to 100 centavo coins and is convertible with foreign currencies. Filipino currency is issued in note denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, as well as 1000-peso notes. The centavo coins are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 25. You should be able to see five and 10 peso notes once a while even though the Philippines Central Bank stopped printing them.

Banking options

Major international banks are located in large metropolitan cities like Manila. Most of the banks accept wire transfers from foreign bank accounts. It is advisable to get paid in your foreign currency, then do the conversion while in the Philippines. Remember, exchange rates vary significantly in the different money exchange channels available to expats.

Another good idea would be to open a personal account with a local bank to streamline both foreign and local money transfers. International banks available to expats in the Philippines include Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC, Bank of America, Citibank, Rizal Commercial Bank Corporation, Metro Bank, and the Bank of the Philippine Islands. These banks will have branches and ATM bureaus in different places within the cities. You should be able to open a savings or checking account with any of these banks while staying in the Philippines.

When you open a new account or link your foreign account to a local one, it is a good idea to ask for a debit card from the bank. It should help you access money on the go or pay for bills and other services. In addition, ask the local bank if they have any other special services for expats, including special ATM cards issued only to foreigners.

How long you have stayed in the Philippines can determine the privileges granted to you while accessing local banking options. Expats who have been in the country for more than 180 days are allowed the same banking privileges as Filipino citizens. On the other hand, foreigners who just arrived in the Philippines can only open and transact from a deposit account.

You will need your passport details to open local bank accounts with Filipino financial institutions. You are also required to have an Alien Certificate of Registration or ACR I-Card to open an account in the Philippines. The official business hours for most Filipino banks are from 9am to 3pm on weekdays. Some banks will extend their business hours to 4:30pm and even 6pm once a week.

Money transfer options

Banks, hotels, and shopping malls are common places to exchange money while in the Philippines. Foreign currencies accepted in the Philippines include the US Dollar, the Euro, and the British Pound.

There are local money exchange establishments within the big cities that will transact foreign currency for you. In fact, most expats prefer private moneychangers because they provide better exchange rates than banks. Avoid exchanging money on the streets or paying attention to individuals approaching you with attractive exchange rates. Such individuals are usually con artists targeting unsuspecting tourists for their money. Always confirm that the moneychanger establishment you are transacting with is licensed and mandated by the Central Bank of the Philippines.

Lastly, always find out the current exchange rates for the day before approaching any private money changer. You are less likely to be duped this way and you will also be aware of the exact amount of money to be received in Filipino pesos.

Making payments in the Philippines

The best way to pay for bills or make payments as an expat is through online banking. Almost all established banking institutions within the major cities provide online banking to their clients. If you cannot access the online payment services, there are other ways to conveniently make payments to your service providers.

You can use your locally issued ATM card to make payments as well. Cellphone banking is also common in the Philippines, facilitating various payment methods. However, these two payment services are only available to expats holding local accounts.

Credit and debit cards are also accepted for making payments. Many shops, malls, and commercial establishments accept payments via debit or credit cards. Common credit cards accepted within the Philippines include MasterCard and Visa. However, whether you are buying something from a shop or making hotel payments, always ask whether your particular credit card is accepted for payment. Sometimes the “Visa Accepted” sign you see may be referring to credit cards issued only by local Filipino banks.

Making payments in the rural areas will be a lot different from the cities because rural areas may lack the banking institutions and Forex bureaux available in the cities. Therefore, expats are advised to carry cash with them when visiting the rural areas in the Philippines.

Ensure you exchange foreign currencies in the cities before travelling to the rural areas. If you must carry foreign money, it has to be US Dollars, the British Pound, or the Euro; these are the accepted currencies in most rural parts of the Philippines. You may be fortunate enough to find commercial establishments that accept Visa or MasterCard, but there are not many of these in the rural areas.

Above all, make sure your money is safely stored when travelling in the rural areas. Do not leave large sums of money in your hotel room or carry your money openly while out in the streets.

In general, transacting and making bank deposits and transfers between foreign owned banks and local banks in the Philippines is quite convenient.

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