Some of our guests run short on cash towards the end of their stay in El Nido because most establishments do not accept credit cards here. Rather than enjoy the rest of their stay, they have to cut back on planned activities, run into town to try and get cash from an ATM or Western Union, or spend hours trying to validate their Paypal accounts.
This adds a lot of stress to your trip, so we wanted to pull together some tips on how to avoid running into cash problems in El Nido.
1. Bring Cash
Most people tend to bring less cash than they will need, under the assumption that they can withdraw money from an ATM here in El Nido (or in Puerto Princesa). That can be trickier than you’d think:
- There are only two sets of ATMS in El Nido: one at Municipal Hall as of late 2015, and the second at a new BPI branch that opened in El Nido in mid 2016. Both sets of ATM have withdrawal limits and fees.
- Sometimes ATMS will not be working (or they will run out of cash, especially after a pay day).
After seeing many of our guests struggle to get cash out of ATMs, Western Union or international remittance services, we advise that you bring enough cash with you. Also always be sure to have lots of small bills as tricycle drivers and shops often do not have change for 1000 or 500 peso bills.
2. Use a money belt
We feel very safe here in El Nido, and crime is very low. Just to be on the safe side though, don’t carry your money in your pockets or your backpack, where it can be easily lifted. It’s best to have a money belt that you can use to store your cash (and smartphones). We use this money belt from Travelwey, but pretty much any money belt will work.
3. Prepay as much as possible
There are many island-hopping tours, scuba stores and kayak rental places that will let you make reservations online and pre-pay them with a credit card or by Paypal. Take advantage of these opportunities, as it will reduce the amount of cash that you need to bring with you.
4. Notify your bank and credit card companies ahead of time
Many credit card companies will flag international transactions as fraud, and then call you (or send you a text message) asking for approval. But if your phone doesn’t support international texting and calling, then you may not get the fraud alert and your transaction may not be approved.
Make sure to call your credit card companies ahead of time, to let them know when and where you will be traveling so your transactions will be approved.
5. Check your ATM card’s withdrawal limit for foreign transactions
The ATMs in El Nido will limit your withdrawal to the policies of the bank that issued your ATM card. For example, a US Citibank card will limit you as follows:
As an added security, please be informed that effective March 20, 2014, the daily ATM withdrawal limit at non–Citibank ATMs within the Philippines will be set at P40,000 PER ACCOUNT. Should you wish to withdraw more at a non-Citibank ATM, please call our 24–Hour CitiPhone at 995 9999. You may also use any of our Citibank ATMs where you may continue to withdraw up to USD3,000 (or its peso equivalent) per CITIBANK ATM CARD. Please note that the USD3,000 daily limit is inclusive of any withdrawals already made at non–Citibank ATMs.
However when we tried to use the Municipal Hall ATMs to widthdraw 30,000 PHP with our US Citibank card it was over the limit, but we’ve always been able to withdraw 20,000 PHP.
Make sure to call your bank ahead of time, to find out what their policy is for daily ATM withdrawal limits in the Philippines. While you’re on the phone, some banks will let you increase that limit as well.
6. Be familiar with the local atm
The two atms at Municipal Hall are typically refilled with cash on Saturdays, which can take over an hour. Please also note that Saturday and the 15th and 30th are typically paydays in El Nido, so the atm will be extra busy on those days or even run out of cash. The atms also do not work when there are brownouts (which happen at least once a week). We’ve always had much more luck using the atm inside the building than the one outside, which tends to have software problems.
7. Bring multiple cards with you
If one credit card doesn’t work while you’re traveling, then it’s good to have one or two other backups. We’ve seen multiple credit cards not work at the atm. Most places in El Nido will not accept a debit card, and credit cards are much more widely accepted. However debit cards may work better at atms than credit cards.
8. While here, stretch your cash by visiting establishments that allow you to pay with a credit card
Art Cafe in downtown El Nido will take credit card payments without charging a fee. A number of higher-end restaurants also take cards, but they may charge at least a 4% fee, so always ask. Some places will ask you for ID with your credit card, so bring your passport or ID with you if you plan to use your credit card.
9. Prepare your Paypal account ahead of time
Sometimes a guest will try to pay by Paypal, but run into an issue because their Paypal account isn’t verified, or they haven’t connected their bank account to their Paypal account. If you’re going to rely on Paypal, make sure that you’ve take care of the above before leaving for your trip! Also, download the Paypal app to your phone before you leave; bandwidth tends to be slower here, and apps are generally faster and easier to use than websites.
10. Wire yourself money using Xoom, a Paypal company.
Xoom.com is a Paypal service that enables you to wire money to 41 countries, and you can access larger quantities of cash than you could at an atm. Though the sites says that funds are available instantly, they are typically available in 1-4 business days. The limit is $2999 (approx 140,000 PHP) for a $4.99 fee from a banking account, $5.99 fee from a debit card, and a $6.99 fee from a credit card. However please note that they do offer a lower exchange rate than you would get at a bank. For instance the exchange rate at M. Lhullier Financial Services in downtown El Nido offered a 46.5 PHP to $1 USD rate, but Xoom offered 45.9 PHP to $1 USD when we used the service in December 2015. Our long term guests have reported that this is an easy way to access cash (you wire it to yourself and pick it up at M. Lhullier), however you will be required to call and verify your first transaction, so you will need access to a phone or Skype to call the Xoom offices in San Francisco.
We hope that these tips help you enjoy your stay here!