After struggling with this issue for half a year, I finally found an excellent solution.
I’m a digital nomad, deriving my income from my various online jobs and businesses, a luxury which has enabled me to travel around the world for the past 15 years. The problem with this is big brother is growing and about a year ago the banks where I held accounts started asking me to prove that I still live in the country where my account is located. A few years before that my PayPal US account would no longer issue debit cards. One by one I was losing my cards. As a seasoned traveler, I like to have several cards and accounts for backup purposes, and different card types, because some smaller, remote villages might only have mastercard atms, while others only visa.
Now the number of my cards has whittled down to only one: my Bulgarian visa card. But it uses the latest technology with a little chip in the card which the old atm machines in Coron cannot read. I tried everything to resolve these issues but the only solution would be to fly back and show up at the banks in person. This was not an option, so I finally resorted to my good friends at Seadive Hotel in Coron, who would accept a direct paypal payment from me and either give me cash or write me a check. An expensive 10% commission option, but at least there was a way.
Opening a bank account
So an obvious solution would be to open a local bank account, move my income stream to a local PayPal account (where I get all my income), connect the two and we’re done. Since Coron is the closest town with banks to my beautiful little island, I started first with BPI, since the Seadive had an account there and it seemed the most established.
After spending an unbelievable 30 minutes to exchange $300 in cash to Filipino pesos, the clerk filling in all sorts of forms, punching in details of my passport and who knows what in the computer, vigorously stamping many papers in the process, it was finally time to work on opening the account. He grabbed a purple pink little pad of sticky paper, pealed off one and proceeded to scribble down a small list of instructions of what I needed to get, smiling assuredly when I asked him, “That’s it?”
Because it was low season and the regular ferries to my area were not operating, I was forced to hire private boats to go to Coron, three and a half hours away, to do occasional shopping and sort out these headaches. I therefore ran out and arranged for the copy of my passport and other requirements.
Long story short, I had to go back to my island and back to Coron many times, and each time I showed up with the needed documents, I would hear what I have been hearing my entire life whenever dealing with banks: “Oh yes, and we still need this and that.”
By the fifth visit I finally blew up and demanded to see the manager. The woman came over and I filled her ears with questions why doesn’t such an established bank have saved in its computer system a simple form they can just print out with all the requirements necessary to open an account at their bank, without resorting to these amateur gumby and inaccurate sticky papers that waste a lot of my time and money. To this she responded that, in the end, it is still up to the discretion of the bank, even if I fulfill all their requirements.
To that I could only respond by asking what discretion, the manager’s particular mood that day? She seemed quite taken aback by that comment, and my head was so boiling hot I was very close to adding that it might also be influenced by her menstruation cycle.
The final solution
I will not go into detail about a host of other Filipino bureaucratic idiosyncrasies I’ve come across during my stay in this lovely country. The locals know it themselves. But the final solution was to buy a Globe sim card and request a GCash mastercard from them.
With the card you can:
- buy things online or in shops like a regular credit card
- download funds from your PayPal account, for ZERO charges, withdraw from atm for the next to nothing Filipino rates, about 100k a month once everything is verified
The small catch is, as usual, the PayPal account must be Filipino, but that is easily resolved by using another email address, if you already have a PayPal account elsewhere. If you do not have another email address, simply set up a free one at gmail or yahoo etc.
When setting up another PayPal account or transferring funds from one to another, make sure to first log out of one before logging in to another. Otherwise some alarm signals can go off and your account blocked. Then you have to phone in, which is always a traumatic nightmare, and answer all the security questions you may have easily forgotten.
For extra paranoia, I would use a different password, to avoid any possible automatic red flags, and a different browser. You should use your real name and other truthful information, in case some day they ask you to verify yourself by sending in a picture of your passport etc. For your local address, make sure it is the same for both your Filipino PayPal account and your GCash account. It cannot be a postal address. Since I live on a paradise beach island with no streets or “addresses”, I just made one up. I don’t need paper bank statements, since I am a digital nomad.
Just go to an official Globe shop, bring your passport, and they’ll set you up. But hey, either it’s because it’s a banky sort of thing, or maybe I’m always plagued with these sorts of things, but I did run into problems, so I’ll go through those so at least you’ll have a heads up on what you might run into.
- First of all, try to use the same email address for both accounts, and all other information, exactly.
- There is some verification process on the Globe end that takes about three days. You can expedite that to immediately by going to your official Globe shop and ask them for that, or apparently there is an online option using your Facebook account.
- In your PayPal account, verify your account by connecting it to the same GCash debit card (detailed instructions below). You will need at least 150p on your GCash account for the verification to work.
- With your GCash card you will receive a little brochure of information. So little in fact it has hardly any useful information other than the weblink. Follow that, open an account and connect to your phone number (the one associated with your GCash card).
- Download the GCash app to your phone. When trying to figure out why it was not working, one website stated that it needs to be at least Android 5. Follow the simple logic and connect to your Paypal account. Detailed instructions below.
Sometimes I think there are little devils in another dimension who meddle into my IT life and aggravate me in so many ways to hinder my spiritual advancement. So I will just list some points I had to struggle through, in case the above does not work for you.
After everything was verified according to the above, I tried to transfer USD funds from my PayPal account to GCash, but I received the error message:
“Oops! The payment cannot be processed because no payment source is available.”
Tinkering around, I then converted some USD funds to pesos in my PayPal account and tried transferring that. It worked! Unfortunately, only that one time (after that I always received the above message). One website said they had the same problem and resolved it by removing the USD account on PayPal and making the pesos account primary. Didn’t work for me, and my housemate said she regularly sends money from her USD balance to her GCash card without a problem.
Tinkering some more, if you click on Profile > Profile and Settings, then My Money, then Update for “My preapproved payments”, you will find a link to Preapproved Payment Plans, which will take you to the following window:
In my case I found two for the same service, because I accidentally did it twice. I removed both, added a new one, but was still getting the same error message.
And the final solution? I tried and I tried and finally the next day it worked. Sometimes a little patience can do wonders!
Some useful pages I read when I was trying to troubleshoot the glitches.
- simple, general, step by step instructions – from GCash
- problems with funds disappearing sometimes – system is not perfectly set up
- simple instructions with easy pictures
- interesting discussion with lots of other tips on the Cebu Foreigner Facebook Page
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