Debit Cards and Credit Cards in the Philippines

Getting credit or debit cards shouldn’t be too difficult, right? In the Philippines, most people are limited to getting one or the other attached to bank accounts that deal in pesos, the local currency. That is, if they even have bank accounts. Trying to get either kind of card for US dollar accounts is something that I have yet to attempt and quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter. Anything purchased in US dollars causes the pesos on debit cards to automatically convert to US dollars.

US Dollar Accounts and Debit Cards

bank cards
By MediaPhoto.Org (mediaphoto.org Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Back in 2009, I checked with the bank I now do business with, Philippine National Bank (PNB). I could get a secured credit card with my US dollar account, but no debit card. This is understandable because most businesses deal with pesos only and I have yet to find an ATM that dispenses US dollars. I think I may be able to get a regular credit card (unsecured) now but I need debit cards, not credit cards.

I checked almost every Filipino bank that had a website and I couldn’t find one that specifically dealt in US dollars when it comes to credit and debit cards. Even the Bank of the Philippine Islands, the oldest bank, doesn’t seem to offer them (if I went there in person, I would probably find out they offer a secured credit card).

UnionBank of the Philippines

While I was searching the net, I came across references to the EON CyberAccount offering from UnionBank, so I decided to investigate. I eventually opened an account and obtained a VISA debit card. It’s a peso account, but everything gets converted to the right currency when I buy something with the card.

The debit card that can be attached to the account is called the EON VISA Electron Card. The annual fee, payable in advance, was 350 pesos (I don’t know what the fee is now). That comes out to less than eight US dollars. I never saw annual fees cheaper than that in the US (unless you kept a high daily balance).

There are detailed instructions at the website for how to open an EON CyberAccount, how to get the EON VISA Electron Card and even how to use it with PayPal for receiving money. Everything is pretty straightforward.

Why do I need debit cards?

The answer is simple, really. I needed at least one debit card attached to a local bank account so that I could order things online without getting the card locked out due to certain “fraud alerts”. This is the primary reason I no longer wanted any credit or debit cards from the US. I can’t count how many times I had to call my former bank in the US (thankfully, it didn’t cost me anything for the calls) after attempting to use a local ATM. I also needed an account I could use with PayPal, that I had access to in the Philippines.

I now use my UnionBank debit card for purchasing online more than anything else. When I pay my monthly web hosting fee, it will automatically be deducted unless I don’t have enough money in the account and when that happens, I manually pay the fee through PayPal. If I’m trying to pay for something that only accepts PayPal and it’s short a few dollars, the rest will automatically be pulled from the bank account if there’s money in that account. Since I keep track of how much is in PayPal and in UnionBank at all time, I never have any issues.

My Google checks and my monthly pension are the only payments going into my PNB dollar account. Everything else gets deposited into my PayPal account. After I withdraw dollars from PNB, I’ll usually deposit a few thousand pesos in UnionBank if I expect I’m going to buy something online soon.

I’ve repeated these routines since around December of 2009. I rarely go to UnionBank these days to make a deposit because I usually have enough money in my PayPal account to take care of paying fees or buying things that I can’t get locally. Since there are some places that don’t accept anything but credit or debit cards, I keep a running balance In UnionBank, just to have it available when I need it.