Charles Schwab Account = No ATM Fees
If you’re from the US this is probably the best advice you can receive before moving abroad. Getting a Charles Schwab account (at the time of writing only open to Americans) will make living in the Philippines or anywhere else so much easier for you.
They refund all ATM fees even internationally. Put all of your money in that account and have no worries about fees.
Before moving to the Philippines I never had any idea how awful banks are. Now that I have moved abroad I know that they are all the worst.
Charles Schwab vs Citibank
Citibank told me that you could withdraw USD from their ATMs as they have branches in the Philippines. I had done a lot of research and had never heard of this.
I asked the guy (mid level employee, not a teller) I was talking with if he could please check with the manager. He goes and asks the manager and then gets on the phone. Then he goes and talks to the tellers, two of which are middle aged Filipina ladies.
He comes back over and tells me that the manager didn’t know so they called someone else. They said that yes I would be able to, and the tellers confirmed. Then I arrive in Asia and hey what do ya know…. you can’t do that. Citibank Philippines is a completely different account than my US Citi account.
This means I would have to get an account with them that has a $2500 USD min balance (lol that min balance in third world country) and it would cost me money to transfer it over. I was a broke backpacker that was not an option. Had they not lied to me I would have got a Charles Schwab account.
Another bank told me that there was no fee for doing foreign transactions. Just the same standard fees you pay when withdrawing from any ATM that wasn’t their branch. What they didn’t mention is that they charge a 3% exchange rate fee.
After you add up the fees they charged for using a different ATM, the fees the other bank charged, and the hidden exchange rate I would have been spending about $60 a month on withdrawals if I used that card every month.
So How To Avoid Philippines Banking Fees?
Getting an account with Charles Schwab is the first step to take. Since they refund all of the ATM fees that saves you half of your total fees. After that you will want to set up a bank account in the Philippines or whatever country you will be living, and make sure it is a dollar account.
Then you can transfer any amount of money over and Charles Schwab will charge you $25 on their end, while the Philippines bank I have charges $5. Take your dollar to the money changer that gives the best rate and you don’t pay much at all.
If you are just on a vacation and won’t open a bank in Asia you should still go the Charles Schwab route. Give the scummy banks as little as you can.