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I've been banking with BDO for a while, but I've found their service to be fraught with red tape and charges for very minor services.

Just now, I was trying to move to a new branch. Going to a branch different from the "home" one, even across the street, incurs a fee. To move, one goes to the new branch, opens a new account, then returns to the old branch and sets up a transfer to close the old account.

Despite the posted requirements for opening an account, and already being a customer, the new branch refused me because I don't have my passport on hand. (It's at the US Embassy for renewal.) Since it seems to be no simpler to stay with BDO than to transfer everything elsewhere, I'm considering a customer service upgrade.

Is BPI just the same? Perhaps some bank offers perks to American citizens?

  • @Flimzy: Why is it important that I am an American citizen? The last note about perks is just an aside. To be honest I don't expect anything like that. – Potatoswatter Apr 3 '14 at 2:54
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    Because US banking laws make finding foreign banks very difficult for US citizens in some places, and impossible in others. – Flimzy Apr 3 '14 at 16:33
  • @Flimzy I'm not aware of any such issues. There are plenty of Americans in the Philippines and only the largest few banks are attractive to foreigners of any nationality. – Potatoswatter Apr 3 '14 at 18:11
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It depends what you do with the account, to answer your question about BPI, who I bank with -- yes, you'll see a lot of the same things there although I'm not sure about charges. Bank accounts tend to be tied to a branch and you need to go there to do certain things.

However, I can do almost everything on-line or from an ATM with BPI. I pay all my bills on-line and transfer money between my saving and current BPI accounts on-line too. The only time I need to go to the bank is to transfer money abroad (also required to transfer to a non-BPI account in the Philippines). I'm reasonably sure you have to do that at the branch that holds the account, I think other branches can do it, but you may have issues because they can't verify the amount that's in your account first.

For things like large cash withdraws you can use any branch and I've never been charged.

You can also consider BPI Direct, which is completely on-line but with a 'branch of convenience' for when you need to access services that are not available on-line:

Being a virtual bank, BPI Direct does not have any brick and mortar branch. We operate online and over the phone. However, we are also supported by the branches of BPI. Like when you opened your BPI Direct account, you were requested to nominate your Branch of convenience. This is the branch where you will present your identification papers, sign your account opening documents and pick-up your BPI Direct Express Teller ATM Card. This branch will also service your over-the-counter transactions like deposits and withdrawals when amounts exceed the ATM withdrawal limits.

It's not clear if you can change your 'branch of convenience'.

As pinoyyid says in the other answer, much of the red tape is required by law and the central bank. I'm not sure if that's what imposes the restrictions on inter-branch account access.

I have to use BPI as that's where my salary gets paid (and I have to use a specific branch). If I didn't, or was looking to open another account elsewhere, I'd consider either HSBC or Citibank, probably the later purely because they have a large office nearby.

  • BDO does charge to withdraw at an alternate branch. Asking around, nobody seems to say anything bad about BPI and no news is good news :) . Citibank is tempting, but they just closed their local branch this month, and I was very disappointed with their services in the USA (although that was a few years ago). – Potatoswatter Apr 4 '14 at 9:06
  • @Potatoswatter -- to be fair they might have charged for the withdrawal and not told me, but if it was it was trivial. I also can't remember if I took it out of my Direct account or my non-Direct account. Also, although the branch stuff, on-line and telephone banking are great, the customer service is pretty terrible if anything ever goes wrong. 1st and 2nd line support have pretty much no authority to do anything, and I've had mails from them that are actually about somebody else's completely different problem. If you go with them try and get preferred customer status (or whatever), it helps. – SpaceDog Apr 4 '14 at 12:58
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"Expat friendly" is a bit vague. What specific features are you looking for, and what negative aspects are you looking to avoid? All banks are governed by Bangko Sentral, so some of the red tape is systemic. For example, you will need to demonstrate that you are resident in PI, and that is usually interpreted as having an ACR, along with the usual proofs of address. Receiving cheques and exporting money is also subject to BSP red tape.

The only bank that I've encountered that has expat-specific features is HSBC. As a premier customer, one is entitled to free international money transfers, preferential exchange rates, and an Internet facility called Global View which allows you to see all of your HSBC accounts from different countries in one place.

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    As I mentioned in the question, BDO gave me trouble opening an account despite presenting Philippine and USA driver's licenses, an ACR, a water bill, and a current ATM card from another BDO branch. They looked up my account and agreed when I recited my passport number, but then they demanded a photocopy of my passport as well. So, by friendly, I really only want some vague awareness on their part that they are creating red tape. – Potatoswatter Apr 4 '14 at 8:47
  • I guess one factor is the extent to which you feel the need for a physical branch. It might be worth a conversation with say HSBC or Citi to understand how they could provide you service remotely. – pinoyyid Apr 4 '14 at 10:15
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I have had accounts at BPO and Metrobank before finally settling with HSBC. The experience is incomparable. The service was swift and the personnel much more helpful. I heard some good feedback of expats regarding BPI however the international reach of HSBC made a real difference in particular if you have HSBC accounts in other countries.

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