best bank for Filipino travelers

The best bank for Filipino travelers 2021: forget BDO, BPI, or Paypal

Reader mail: Hello Trisha. I’ve been following you for a while on Instagram and your blog. I am amazed by all your travel stories! I am a follower since your South America days in 2013. I was always curious about how you manage finances. What is the best bank for Filipino travelers in your opinion? I am going on a backpacking trip soon and I want to see how you do it since you are always moving around different countries. Thank you in advance and keep up the great content!
– Melissa Ramos, Philippines

Hi Melissa,

Thank you for your message and thanks for following the blog! I don’t think a lot of people know that handling your finances as a digital nomad is super hard. I was just talking about this to a friend today. It’s really not that easy, especially if you’re moving around constantly.

It took me years to finally find the best bank for Filipino travelers and I’d love to share this journey with you. If you have any questions that weren’t answered in this post, feel free to send me a message on Instagram, @psimonmyway.

Good luck and I hope this helps!

Xx,
Trisha

I’ve been traveling full-time for the past 10 years, without going back home to the Philippines. You can imagine how tedious that process is if you are a Philippine bank account holder. I experienced a lot of inconvenience. In 2014, for the first time in my life, I was robbed in Rio de Janeiro. Don’t worry, nothing bad happened to me. You can read that story later.

Every ATM card that I have was in that wallet. When I was younger and was beginning to travel, I made sure I had all the ATM cards in every major bank in the Philippines: BPI, BDO, Metrobank, and Unionbank. If you come to think of it, having all these accounts does not make sense. More on that later but I’d like to explain to you the hassle I went through when my wallet got stolen in Rio de Janeiro.

The time difference between the Philippines and Brazil is 14 hours, the Philippines being ahead. I lost my wallet at 14:00 so that was 4:00 in the morning in the Philippines. There was no way that anyone in the banks can assist me. All I wanted to do was cancel the cards and for them to send me a new one.

I waited for a little bit to call the bank. When I reported my case and asked them for a new bank account, they told me that they cannot send me a bank card in Brazil, that the Philippines do not do those kinds of things. They can only send it within the Philippines is what they said. From this moment, I realized how bad bank security in the Philippines is.

All over Europe and probably most first-world countries can send bank cards abroad. For example, when my Croatian friend lost his bank card in Ecuador, he called his bank and within 4 days, the card was in his hands. The bank directly sent it to him! The same goes for my French and American friends. They would even send it to your hostel which I found a little bit extreme: how do European and American banks trust these addresses? Why would they send a bank card to a hostel?

Then I realized it’s just really a matter of security. Every country has higher bank security than the other and unfortunately, in the Philippines, we do not have that high-end system.

RELATED POST: HOW I SAVED OVER $4,000 ON ACCOMMODATIONS IN ONE YEAR OF TRAVELING SOUTH AMERICA

best bank for Filipino travelers

So what I did was very very very tedious. I wrote an authorization letter so that my mom can take the bank card for me. I signed it and sent it. My mom went to the bank to retrieve my new bank card and they told her that my authorization letter should be sealed by the Embassy of the Philippines in the country I was in (Brazil). So, I did that too. It was tedious! When my mom got the bank card, she sent it to me. And sending a package from the Philippines to Brazil is rather costly. She paid about $200 USD just to send me a bank card.

But I want to clarify that this happened years ago. I am not sure if they are asking the same requirement now. Probably, this will be irrelevant to you as you read through this post, you will realize how inconvenient Philippine banks are and you’ll probably stick to my recommendation of the best bank for Filipino travelers.

Read on…

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Best bank for Filipino travelers

Why I gave up on Philippine banks

Aside from the inefficiency, poor service, or crazy timezone difference, there are a lot of reasons why I just gave up on Philippine banks. The interface of both mobile and online banking is so not user-friendly to me. The technology is really bad and there’s always that annoying option for Filipino travelers where the banks send one-time passwords (OTPs). As the years go by and I never get to go back home because I was backpacking South America, I lost track of what mobile number I used in registering for my online access to my banks.

In order for you to change a mobile number for your online banking in the Philippines, you will have to be physically present. Not a representative can do it for you. That was another cross mark on my efficiency list. Do I need to go home all the way from South America to change a mobile number? Of course, not. And I won’t. They won’t even accept it if you do it by phone!

OTPs are standard to all banks, hence, you always have to have an active mobile number. At the time, I was just hopping from Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, etc so I was frequently changing sim cards. Now that I am more stable in Mexico, I only have one sim card. Remember that I may have found the best bank for Filipino travelers but an active mobile number is still necessary. It’s just easier for me to keep one now since I am just in Mexico. I haven’t moved for the last 2 years.

best bank for Filipino travelers

UnionBank is the only account I kept. But this is not the best bank for Filipino travelers.

Having multiple bank accounts in the Philippines: does it make sense? Today, you can now do inter-bank deposits but when I started traveling, you can only do deposits to the same bank. This is the reason why I had all these 4 bank accounts which were totally unnecessary. I just did it so I can easily transfer to other banks. In this inter-bank transfer department, I would personally recommend UnionBank and flush all the other bank accounts that you have. They have an efficient online banking system with high-end technology. In fact, they are voted the best mobile banking app for years in a row.

But this is not my recommendation for the best bank for Filipino travelers. I just keep my UnionBank account because I believe it’s the best in the Philippines (within the country) but not necessarily for long-term Filipino travelers. If you’d like to try it, then go for it. However, read on because you may like what I will suggest. In fact, you will love it!

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Best bank for Filipino travelers

Paypal? I gave up on that, too

For many Filipino freelancers, Paypal has been very common and efficient. Imagine, if you are a digital nomad and your client/employer is in the USA or Europe, how will they pay you? Not long time ago, Paypal partnered with Philippine banks so we can easily (and directly) transfer from our Paypal accounts to our Philippine bank accounts. That worked pretty well for me, too.

But the conversion is sh&t. I feel like Paypal earned a lot from me just by their transfer commissions. And what I hate the most about Paypal is their country limit. Sure, you can add different currencies within your Paypal account but you can only add Philippine bank accounts because you are from the Philippines. The same goes for all nationalities. You can never add multiple bank accounts from different countries in one Paypal account.

Which sucked because of my set-up: I earn in USD. When a client sends me USD through Paypal, he’s charged a commission and I am too. But this only happens if your Paypal accounts are from different countries. For example, if it’s PH to PH, there will be no fees for both parties. If come to think of it, I just get charged $4 USD per transaction but if you look at the entirety of it, especially for a digital nomad like me who has lots of Paypal activities, I’ve come to realize that I’ve reached at least $2,000 USD in fees through the years.

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best bank for Filipino travelers

Paypal’s interface is surely user-friendly and transferring money to your Philippine bank account entails easy steps. Sure, it’s familiar. But the more you get comfortable with it, the more you don’t check the conversion rate that you will receive. You are only eager to transfer the money so you can have it immediately. But if you take a second look with Paypal’s conversions, they are way way way way way low. And I find it really unfair!

Not only that, since you have a Philippine Paypal account and you receive USD, the USD you transferred will then be converted to Philippine peso. Conversion rates change daily but if you check Google right now, for example, USD to Philippine peso, it will show you 48 pesos but Paypal will just give you between 43-45 pesos. And that’s a lot! You might think it’s just 3 pesos but we are talking about conversion from each dollar. Do the math!

Then another conversion happens if you withdraw it in Brazil, Mexico, or whatever country you are in. Not to mention the withdrawal fees that these countries are charging which is usually $2-$5 USD depending on the country. In short, your money gets converted three times and that never looks good.

Again, do the math. I did and it made me tired. It made me feel like I wasn’t really getting the money I worked hard for.

And so, I quit Paypal, too.

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Best bank for Filipino travelers

How to have an International bank account as a Filipino traveler

And the best bank for Filipino travelers is….. TRANSFERWISE!

I am totally in love with Transferwise (TW) because it has great conversion rates and it gives you a personalized bank account for every country in the world! Right now, I have USA, Australia, Singapore, United Kingdom, and European bank accounts in one! I said goodbye to 4 multiple bank accounts in the Philippines because it really did not make sense. Transferwise is a gem and it is truly the new way of managing your money all over the world.

Their fees are super high! Well, I say super high now because I was really shocked and discouraged by Paypal’s conversion rates. TW’s rates are always fair and more often higher than any bank in the world. I am not sure how they are able to do this but this is amazing that one company actually cares for its customers. For example, I checked USD to Mexican peso today. Paypal says $18.50 for every dollar. Google says $21.72 and Transferwise? $21! I always trust Google’s conversion because I feel like it’s the worldwide conversion but look at the difference between Google and TW. You will see how low their commission rates are!

best bank for Filipino travelers

Step 1: Sign up for a Transferwise account

Simply go to the Transferwise website and sign up for an account. Choose “personal” account. It will ask you for your email address, password, and country of residence. I put the Philippines as my country of residence since I still don’t have residency in another country. I am just a traveler. It will also suggest that you sign up with Google, Facebook, and Apple.

I chose “Apple” so the app will trust my phone whenever I want to access it. Once you fill out these easy items, you will receive an e-mail from Transferwise asking you to confirm your e-mail address. Confirm the e-mail and you’re good to go!

Step 2: Fill out your personal details

Just some basic stuff like full name, address, etc. Remember that this information will not affect any of your multi-currency bank accounts with Transferwise. They are only asking for this for identity verification. Always put your legal name, as seen in a legal ID.

Step 3: Get started with balances

In this section, you will select all the currencies that you want to open. In my case, I have USA, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and Singapore. This way, I can always receive money from different clients all over the world. You’ll always want your clients to have options to transfer to a bank account. I once opened a Japanese bank account in my Transferwise balances just because I had a campaign in Japan and it was way easier for them to do bank transfers.

best bank for Filipino travelers

You can always close your currencies but it is also good to know that you can also always open a new one without limit. The bank accounts are generated automatically so it only takes seconds for you to open a bank account in different countries with Transferwise! For real, they have bank account digits, routing number, IBAN/BIC, and all the bank details you will need without having to physically go to a bank to apply!

After this, you can start receiving payments by sending your bank details to your clients all over the globe. The transfer is always instant in my case! I even added my US bank account on Transferwise to my Airbnb payouts (I’m an Airbnb host, remember?) and it always works smoothly! It’s always good to receive USD to USD! I feel so happy about using TW!

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Best bank for Filipino travelers

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

I’m sure you’ll get a hold of the app or Transferwise’s website interface once you explore it. It’s a new trend but it’s really easy to understand. I’d like to share with you some of the frequently asked questions I receive from readers.

How do you actually withdraw money after you receive them?

Simple. Send it to your Philippine bank account. I mentioned in the first part of this article that I still kept my UnionBank account. Since I am not a resident in Mexico yet (or another country for that matter), the only way I can take out cash is still through my Philippine bank account.

Transferwise has its border-free cards which can also be used as debit cards but they only have it in the USA, Europe, Australia, and some parts of Asia. It is not worldwide yet. In my opinion, I really don’t need a Transferwise account for now since I can easily transfer to any bank accounts in the world. It is definitely the same process as Paypal. The only thing is, with Transferwise, you get good conversion rates. Like really really good. Try it yourself!

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best bank for Filipino travelers
What if my employer/client asks me for bank names?

Sure, on the TW app, you will only see account numbers but you cannot actually see a bank name. All you have to do is to click on the blue rounded question mark below the address which you will find at the end of every bank account details. Transferwise provides all bank partners they have in each country. What’s best about this is that they only partner with one bank per country so it is 100% guaranteed that your bank account is actually registered in a bank somewhere.

As a Filipino traveler, am I eligible to apply for a Transferwise debit card?

TW cards are only available in select countries. Check out the country list and if you can provide proof of billing under your name in the country you want the card to be sent to, then it’s not a problem. TW will verify that billing statement and will immediately send you a card. Remember, billing statements from the Philippines don’t work even if it’s under your name. Your billing proof should be from a country where TW bank cards are eligible.

If you have any questions that weren’t answered in this post, let me know and I’ll try my best to answer them for you. Overall, Transferwise is not just for Filipino travelers but it is really for everyone! Once you try it, please let me know about your experience in the comment box below.

BEST BANK FOR FILIPINO TRAVELERS ON PINTEREST: SAVE IT FOR LATER!

best bank for Philippine travelers

WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHAT ARE THE BANKING CHALLENGES IN YOUR COUNTRY AS A TRAVELER? How do you manage your finances while traveling long-term? Is your bank from home supportive of your needs, i.e. when you lose your bank card, passwords, etc? How efficient is the banking system in your country? I would love to chat! Leave your thoughts in the comment box below!

Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • Elle
    November 6, 2020

    Hi Trisha,

    Just want to ask how are you able to travel these countries? Like visa-wise? Do you hold a Philippine passport or from another country? Really curious about this since I want to travel myself but getting a visa is rather hard.

    reply
  • November 6, 2020

    Wow! When reading the beginning of your blog, I had no idea what your solution was going to be. Something so simple for people residing in one place, yet such a headache for someone on-the-go to figure out. Not to mention the time change issue as well! I’m so grateful for your positive review on Transferwise– especially hearing your success with it as an AirBnB host. Move over, PayPal! There is nothing more important that ensuring your personal finances are correct and secure while exploring the rest of the world!

    reply
  • November 8, 2020

    I am not Filipino of course, but I have heard of Transferwise before and about its efficiency. Good to know its details from your blog. I couldn’t agree more regarding Paypal is crap when it came to conversion of money. So true!

    reply
  • November 8, 2020

    Having been robbed in Madrid, I understand how challenging it is to arrange to have your credit and bank cards and all your id replaced. It was pretty fast and easy from Canada. But something I take for granted. So I would never have guessed it was such a challenge from the Philllipines. And foreign exchange rates are always a key consideration for how we get money when we travel. I guess I am not surprised that Paypal’s exchange rate was high. Good to know you found an option for someone like you that is travelling to so many different spots.

    reply
  • Ann
    November 9, 2020

    First, I just want to say what beautiful photos, love the depth of field. Sad to hear that you have been robbed in Rio, it happened to a close friend of mine and as far as I remember it was a lot of trouble with her bank. Have not heard of Transferwise before but your article made me curious, will definitely check them out as it seems to be a convenient option if you travel a lot.

    reply
  • November 10, 2020

    It’s always so interesting to read about the different banking recommendations and challenges for each country. I’m an expat so I know how very difficult banking can be in different places. I’ve also learned similar lessons while traveling with missing cards and stolen wallets. I, too, use TransferWise and mine has a great Mastercard that comes with it as well. It’s the best way to transfer money in and out of my home country and my country of residence.

    reply
  • Subhashish Roy
    November 10, 2020

    Highly informative write up. A lot of aspects are so nicely clarified leading to solutions makes it an interesting read. Probably I would look at benefiting from Transferwise when there is an opportunity to use their services.

    reply
  • November 10, 2020

    This is great! I have always wanted to quit Paypal because of the huge fees and now, you just convinced me to try Transferwise. Thank you for sharing this.

    reply
  • November 11, 2020

    OMG! I can relate to this! Banks in India too don’t send their cards abroad. So I can imagine what a nightmare it would be if I lost my card abroad. It is actually surprising for me and I just learnt that banks in Europe or USA can send cards abroad within a matter of days! Oh paypal is definitely horrible in its conversion & charges, that’s always my last option if the client can’t process a bank transfer. Good to know about Transfer Wise’s card option and facilities. I’ve heard of it only for transferring money but not as a bank! I’m gonna check that now.

    reply
  • November 11, 2020

    Well, yes, its quite tedious to sort bank issues when you are in need. International cards is best solution but I am sorry you had bad experiences with Paypal and Philippines Bank. Even in India, there are some banks which do not offer up to mark services. TransferWise seems like a new one for me but it was good to know about it, especially as a traveller.
    I will read more about it.

    reply
  • April 6, 2021

    hi Trish yes Transfer wise now called Wise is better rates than pay pal to any where i use it to send money phillipines alot which goes into their Gcash card. but to my surprise WU rates are 60peso more to a bankaccount or cebuanna cash pick up. so far those are the two best ive come across and time of delivery is pretty good with in 4hrs for Wise but WU in minutes. pay pal i have to but will use it if i cant use the other two. World Remit was ok sending phillines but Indonesia can have lots of problems of time got sick of ringing them up so i deleted them. the other thing i dont like about pay pal the security system can stop your transaction send you a security pass word to clear you and when you enter password you still cant send once that comes up not even the paypal operators can over ride the computer you have to wait 2 working days and if that fails you have to wait 5 days for the pp security computer to reset its self thats ratshit for a company.

    reply
  • Boy de Castro
    April 10, 2021

    Good day Trisha. Thanks for all the information you shared specially about Transferwise. I have ditched my PayPal account for the same reasons that you mentioned: low exchange rate and high fees. I am glad I read your vlog and learned so much. Thanks again

    reply

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