It’s been so long since I’ve had any personal finance issues when dealing with banks and VISA and MasterCard credit and debit cards internationally that I almost forgot about the problems that exist. One such problem reared its ugly head when I tried to pay for my ticket back to the Philippines today using my VISA debit card from UnionBank of the Philippines. Before I get to that issue, I’ll have to explain a few things.
Direct Deposit and Bank Accounts in the Philippines
When I first moved to the Philippines in 2006, I had two bank accounts, one at Wells Fargo (USA) and one at Philippine National Bank (PNB in the Philippines). I had opened the PNB account in Los Angeles, California, prior to moving to the Philippines so that I could have easy access to the money I gained from selling my home (nearly $100,000).
It wasn’t my first trip to the Philippines, obviously, and I knew I would have issues with an ATM card from Wells Fargo. American banks like to freeze accounts for “possible fraud” when you use their cards in ATM machines in the Philippines. Sure, a simple phone call can clear it up nowadays and it’s pretty easy to do if you have a VoIP service set up the right way (or if you don’t object to paying long distance fees). Still, who wants to deal with all that grief?
Some Americans living in the Philippines write checks against their American bank accounts and then deposit those checks in Philippine banks. The problem I have with that solution is that it can take up to a month for a check like that to clear — which means, you have one month of pay basically inaccessible at all times.
I’m not sure, but I think PNB is the only bank that has branches in the US. Regardless, I was able to have my monthly pension direct deposited to the PNB branch in New York and I withdraw from the Olongapo City branch. The only delays that actually occur are during Philippine holidays and I think the latest for a paycheck due on the 1st (which is the 2nd in the Philippines) was receiving it on the 5th once or twice.
Bank Cards and ATM Machines
Buried in the details of every bank is the limit on how much money can be withdrawn from an ATM machine per day as well as the limit on spending. What I found out today is that while my wife’s bank card has a spending limit of about $3000 per day ($400 for an ATM), UnionBank of the Philippines has a spending limit of 20,000 pesos per day, which is about $400 (and the same amount for an ATM). My airline ticket from Phoenix to Manila is obviously more than $400 (it should be about $814, actually). When my card was declined as debit and produced an error of “insufficient funds” when used as credit, that’s when I went to the UnionBank website and found the amount.
I still have two bank accounts, but one is PNB and the other is UnionBank of the Philippines – I closed the Wells Fargo account in 2010 after more than my fair share of frustrations. The PNB account is a dollar account for my direct deposit and the UnionBank account is a peso account. I use the UnionBank account it to withdraw funds from my PayPal Philippines account, which automatically converts from dollars to pesos, and when buying stuff through Amazon.
I had no issues with the UnionBank VISA card until today and that’s only due to that daily spending limit. While I’ve been on vacation in Arizona, I’ve made withdrawals from ATM machines (less than $400 each time) and I’ve made purchases (also less than $400 each time), including ordering stuff from Amazon for Christmas.
I guess the point of all this is to be aware of issues and limitations with VISA and MasterCard credit and debit cards when traveling internationally. Regardless of both, it’s still better than trying to travel with cash, which is an option I had little choice with back in the 1980s.