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.
Warning regarding Charles Shwab: Don’t bother, this is a card for the occasional traveler and not digital nomads, as the CW customer service representative explicitly told me. I’m a U.S. citizen who has been traveling abroad for the past eight months. Sick of horrible transaction rates, international fees, and rampant atm fees, I read articles like this recommending CW and opened an account. They sent my card to my mom’s address in the U.S., who forwarded it to the address where I was staying for a week; it was a pain to do and took a month, but I figured it’d be worth it. I was so excited to finally receive my card and activated it; I was unable to transfer funds from my linked checking account, so I called customer service. They said that since I opened the card abroad (international IP address), I needed to come into a U.S. branch with two forms of identification to lift restrictions on my account (I received no warning about these restrictions). Well, I’m not planning on returning to the U.S. any time soon, plus they said cardholders must live in the U.S. for at least 6 months out of the year (“industry standard”), so essentially this was a huge waste of time, money, and energy to open the account. I couldn’t even use the card at an atm to get the balance out, they had to transfer it back to my account. If anyone reading this does decide to get the card, apply for it from a U.S. IP address, AND be prepared for CW to shut it down without warning if they catch you using it abroad for more than half of the year.
sorry you had such bad experiences, it seems like digital nomads all have different experiences when it comes to banks, paypal, online work etc.
ive had accounts blocked or frozen for months doing the exact same things buddies were doing who never had a problem
as far as schwab goes they also have international accounts, maybe you can try to open one of those