The Philippines is made up of some 7,000 islands and draws visitors with its idyllic beaches, vibrant cities, and friendly people. There are large expat communities in some of the more major cities, with the Philippines especially popular with both retirees who want to make their fixed income go further, and digital nomads who are looking for a cool place to live and work for a while.
Whether you’re in the Philippines to work or play, you’re going to need some cash. Using ATMs to get the pesos you need to cover your stay is a convenient choice for many travellers and expats. Here’s all you need to know about using ATMs in the Philippines.
How easy it is to find an ATM, will depend on exactly where you are in the Philippines. In Metro Manila, there’s no shortage of ATMs to be found in or near bank branches, shopping centres and supermarkets. However, once you hit smaller towns and rural areas, you’ll find ATMs few and far between - and you’re far more likely to find that stores, restaurants and guest houses prefer cash payments. It’s definitely worth making sure you have enough cash to keep you going if you’re headed off the beaten track.
Find the most convenient ATM, using one of the following ATM locators from large global and national banks:
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in the Philippines. Discover cards have ‘moderate’ acceptance rates - you can use them at Citibank, SB Card, and BDO Unibank ATMs, but not elsewhere. Amex cards can be used in BDO ATMs, so if that’s your main card you’ll want to get familiar with local branches.
Find a handy ATM to suit your needs using one of the following locators:
- Maestro ATM locator
- Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator
- Visa, Plus, and Plus Alliance ATM locator
- Discover ATM locator
- American Express ATM locator
Bank cards issued in the Philippines may have either 4 or 6 digit PINs. BDO usually uses a 6 digit PIN, while BPI debit cards come with a default 4 digit PIN, for example. That means that many ATMs can accept PIN codes of varying lengths. If you have a chip and PIN card with a 4 digit PIN - from Europe, the UK or Australia, for example - it should be accepted in the Philippines with no problem.
If you don’t have a PIN for everyday use - for example, because you use an American-issued magnetic stripe card, you’ll need to get the card’s PIN from your bank before you travel.
If you have any concerns, use an ATM in a bank branch during working hours - then you can check with staff if you have any problems.
If you’ve set a maximum daily cash withdrawal limit with your home bank, you’ll find that it’ll apply in the Philippines, too.
Otherwise, the ATM providers rules will apply instead. These vary between different banks. BPI limits its customers to between PHP20,000 and PHP50,000 per day, with a maximum of 6 withdrawals allowed daily, for example.
As a holder of a foreign card, you might find that you are subject to stricter daily limits. Some travellers have reported hitting withdrawal limits as low as PHP4,000.
It’s also worth noting that some expats writing online warn visitors of issues in the Philippines when ATMs run out of money, for example, during peak holiday periods when they were not re-stocked regularly. It’s worth making sure you have enough cash for your needs if you happen to be there at a busy time.
Even in cities, you could find that some stores and restaurants have minimum spending requirements before a credit or debit card will be accepted. That means carrying cash is a smart choice. The last thing you want, therefore, is to discover your bank card has been blocked or limited, meaning you can’t use an ATM at all.
To make sure you can continue to use your card as normal during your trip, you’ll need to tell your bank you plan on travelling. That’s because your bank’s fraud department will be quietly monitoring your spending, and if they spot unusual spending patterns they might block or limit your card until they can confirm it’s you using it.
There are a good number of international banks represented in the Philippines, such as HSBC, ANZ and Citibank. If you bank with one of these brands already, you might get free or cheap cash withdrawals if you stick to their ATMs.
Nonetheless, there are a few extra fees - and potential ripoffs - to watch out for if you use your foreign card in an ATM in the Philippines.
Whenever you’re using a debit or credit card abroad, you need to make sure you don’t get caught out by dynamic currency conversion (also known as DCC for short). You’ll see DCC in stores, restaurants and at ATMs, in fact, any time you’re asked if you want to pay in your home currency rather than pesos.
DCC doesn’t offer a good value for customers. The main issue is that the exchange rate used is often not the real, mid-market rate - the one you’d find on google. The ATM provider or merchant can mark the rate up and pocket the difference. And you’ll not know until it’s too late because you only ever see the costs expressed in your home currency. You’ll get a better deal if you always choose to pay in the local currency instead.
Aside from DCC, you have to know what your own bank will charge you for using your credit or debit card overseas. You’ll find all the details for your specific account online, or on the back of a bank account statement - check out the details before you travel.
It’s possible that you’ll also be charged a fee by the local bank for the use of the ATM, as well as any fee added by your home bank. Even local customers might be charged if they use an ATM in a bank other than the one that operates their account. BPI charges its own customers PHP15 for use of ATMs outside their network, for example.
However, if you’re already banking with a global brand which is represented in the Philippines, you might strike lucky and get cheap or fee-free withdrawals, if you stick to their ATMs.
(Source 6 February 2018)
Check with your home bank, if they have branches in the Philippines. If they do, you might get free cash withdrawals. However, for most travellers in the Philippines, there will be some sort of fee levied for ATM use.
Even if you can’t get rid of fees altogether, you can reduce ATM fees in the Philippines with a few simple tricks.
Check whether or not your home bank offers cheap or free ATM use through either affiliated branches or a local partner institution in the Philippines. Often banks work together to offer their customers free or reduced fee cash withdrawals if they use specific ATMs while travelling.
If you have more than one bank account to choose from, then check out which offers the best deal for overseas cash withdrawals. The fees can vary a lot between different banks and account types. Foreign currency cash advances using a credit card, for example, are usually among the more expensive choices.
DCC is an entirely avoidable expense for travellers and expats using a foreign credit or debit card in ATMs or to make purchases. Just choose to pay in local currency, to make sure you avoid DCC’s high fees and poor exchange rates.
For a convenient and cheap alternative, try TransferWise. There are no hidden fees or unfair exchange rates to worry about. TransferWise only uses the real, mid-market exchange rate for transfers, so you can be sure you’re getting a fair deal. And there’s a transparent fee structure for each transaction, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
If you or a friend have a local bank account in the Philippines, you can transfer money between accounts, before you travel. Then all you need to do is withdraw cash from the local account using free to use ATMs, as and when you need it.
ATM withdrawals are a convenient way to get your cash for your trip to the Philippines. You can take out what you need when you need it, and as long as you’re careful about DCC, you can avoid most of the unfair fees. Or, you could give TransferWise a try. Send money to a local account and avoid international ATM fees altogether.
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