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Expats: Opening A Bank Account In The Philippines

Author: Ethan Davis

The Philippines, an archipelago of 7,000+ islands in the western Pacific Ocean, is home to a substantial community of expats who enjoy the country's natural beauty, laid-back lifestyle and lower cost of living. Expats, whether planning to live in the Philippines for the long-term during retirement, or just in the country for an extended visit, might be interested in opening a bank account there to make it easier to access funds. Here, we take a quick look at what it takes to open a bank account in the Philippines.

Money in the Philippines

Similar to the U.S., the banking system in the Philippines supports large international banks, national banking institutions and small, rural banks. Expats typically choose either national banks such as Philippine National Bank, Metrobank and Bank of the Philippine Islands or international institutions such as Citibank, Bank of America and HBSC. In general, expats should avoid small, rural banks as they tend to offer limited services and may be subject to closure with little or no notice.

Internet banking is available through most major national and international banks, and physical banks are usually open between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on business days and closed on weekends and holidays. The official currency of the Philippines is the Philippine Peso (PHP). Notes come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 PHP. One peso is equal to 100 centavos, and coins are issued in 10, 5 and 1 PHP, and 50, 25, 10 and 5 centavos.

Opening an Account

To open a bank account in the Philippines, you must visit the bank in person with several identification documents in hand. While you will always be required to show documentation at any bank, the particular documents that are required may depend on the bank. Many banks require you to have an Alien Certificate of Registration Identity Card (ACR I-Card), a microchip-based, credit card sized identification card.

All foreign nationals holding immigrant and non-immigrant visas (including holders of a Temporary Visitor's Visa) – who have been in the country for more than 59 days – are required to apply for an ACR I-Card. You can apply for the card at the main office of the Bureau of Immigration or at one of its field offices throughout the country. The card costs $50, plus P500 (about $61 total). In some cases, you may be able to open an account without an ACR I-Card; however, you may be required to meet directly with the bank manager before an account can be approved.

You will also need a passport or some other form of photo identification, a passport-sized photo of yourself and proof of your address, such as a current utility bill or rental contract. The bank will also require a minimum deposit for the account to be opened. The Philippine National Bank, for example, has a minimum deposit of P10,000, or about $225.

The bank may also require a bank reference from your country of permanent residence or country of citizenship. The Philippine bank may contact your bank of reference directly, or ask you to submit written certification from the bank. If you were not introduced to the bank by an existing bank client or employee (which is often the case), your account might be put on hold until the reference process is complete.

Are Deposits Insured?

In the United States, any money you deposit at an FDIC-insured bank is automatically protected by the FDIC (the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), created in 1933 in response to the many bank failures of the 1920s and early 1930s. This includes deposits made to a checking account, negotiable order of withdrawal (NOW) account, savings account, money market deposit account (MMDA) or time deposit, such as a certificate of deposit (CD) – with a coverage limit of $250,000 per depositor, per account. If a bank fails, the FDIC ensures you get quick access to your insured deposits.

The Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation offers a similar program, but with a much lower level of protection than FDIC provides to U.S. depositors. In the Philippines, your deposits are insured up to P500,000 (about $11,000), which applies to the total amount of money you have on deposit in a bank, not to each individual account. So even if you have several different accounts, you are insured up to only a maximum of P500,000.

The Bottom Line

Expats and visitors have a number of options for banking in the Philippines. Large, national banks and international banks – including CitiBank and HBSC – are popular choices for expats. Citibank, for example, offers free withdrawals from any ATM in the Philippines (and 20,000+ Citibank ATMs worldwide) and online banking, so it's easy to keep track of your finances. With any account, be sure to read the fine print so you know what fees to expect: Citibank, for instance, changes P500 a month if your combined average daily balance falls below P500,000.

For more on living in the Philippines, see Retiring In The Philippines: Pros & Cons, Retire In the Philippines With $200,000 Of Savings? and How To Plan Your Retirement In The Philippines.

If you are a U.S. citizen, remember that you will need to file the IRS form known as the FBAR for your Philippine bank account. For more on that topic, see Should You Open A Foreign Savings Account?

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