Unlike more modern consumer-oriented countries, using a debit or credit card in the Philippines is a hit or miss situation. Although there are shopping venues that take cards with the VISA and Mastercard logos, there are even more that don’t. In those places, cash is the only thing accepted.
I have to assume there are more places in Metro Manila that take debit and credit cards than anywhere else in the country. Fortunately for me, I don’t live in Metro Manila. I live in Olongapo, where more places take cash than cards. My wife, Josie, and I rarely shop at those places. For groceries, we mostly shop at one of two Royal Subic stores, both located at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. They take cards and United States dollars as well as pesos.
There are three malls in the Olongapo and Subic areas. Harbor Point is at the freeport zone. Two SM City malls are in Olongapo. Some stores within each of them take cards and some don’t. I can’t tell you which are which, although I’m sure the SM supermarkets within the SM City malls do. Regardless, I’ve never used a debit or credit card at any of them. I intend to do things differently when I return from my extended vacation.
I opened an account at Philippine National Bank before I moved to the Philippines in 2006, through a branch in Los Angeles. It was easier to do that and deposit nearly $100,000 (from the sale of my home in Phoenix) there than it would have been to transfer it later. After I arrived in Olongapo, I set up a direct deposit dollar account. Direct deposit accounts in the Philippines are different from those in the United States.
Direct deposit dollar accounts, with funds coming from the United States, are actually remittances sent from partner banks in the United States. Philippine National Bank deducted $7 for every deposit. BDO, my current bank in Olongapo, deducts $4.50. Most of my monthly deposits are currently being sent to one of my banks in the United States. I keep under $50 going to BDO each month so it doesn’t go dormant.
I have never had a credit card from any bank in the Philippines and I only used a UnionBank of the Philippines debit card for online transactions. Banking in the Philippines is time-consuming. I always have to do everything in person. The mistake I made was closing all of my American bank accounts just before moving to the Philippines. I rectified that mistake when I knew I was going to be in the United States for more than a couple of months.
I use one bank and one credit union. The bank I have my allotment going to refunds my ATM fees every month. The credit union gave me a credit card with a $15,000 credit limit. That credit card also pays me cash back for every purchase. When I return to the Philippines, I’ll have to call that bank, so they won’t freeze my card every time I try to use it. The Philippines is automatically flagged for fraud by some banks.
Moving money from bank to bank in the United States is easy now and that’s how I intend to make my credit card payments.
If you don’t live in the Philippines, and intend to live in the Philippines some day, don’t close the bank account in the country you’re departing. This is especially important if you want to keep using a debit or credit card that isn’t connected to a bank in the Philippines.
I had to wait for two weeks to get approved for a car loan in 2015, with financing through yet another bank in the Philippines. It would have only taken a day or two with my credit union in the United States.