On the second of October 2015, I sent myself money from my USA bank account to the Philippines. Just like I have been doing for the last seven years. The last six, have been to my bank account. Everything appeared to be normal but there was one early warning sign. I usually get notices on my phone that the money has been received. I never got that notice. I did get an email and my Xoom account showed the money transferred within 30 seconds which is also routine. My trip to the bank though, it was anything but routine. I tried to withdraw the money from my account and only got a message “Your transaction could not be completed.” I’ve never seen that message before. I checked the balance, Jessie was with me and she let out a gasp. I had sent myself almost 70,000 pesos and my balance was zero. What is worse, I have only 400 peso or about $5 USD in my pocket left.

Panic at an ATM in the Philippines

I was not concerned at first, many times I have to go to more than one ATM as I get a message like this or some other issue. However, I

Bus trip to Bogo City from Cebu City

These mountains lie between Cebu and Bogo City.

got the same message at the next bank. So I went home. I sent an email to Xoom describing the problem and asking about the issue. I also talked to someone at the Bogo City BDO on the phone.  That is where I opened the account. He told me to go to a branch in Cebu City. I told him they can never help me because the account was opened in Bogo. He said his computers were still down and I should call back after 8:30.

Usually, I get a message on my phone that the money has been and is ready to be picked up. I never got that. I only got a message that the money was on the way. It was now about 8:30am and believing that the bank would be open Jessie and I headed to BDO at the E-mall here in Downtown Cebu City.  They open that early in Bogo City.

The bank was not open yet. I tried the ATM again this time I got a different result when I tried to find out what my balance was. Before it had shown my account balance to be zero, now it won’t show me my balance. Only that the transaction could not be processed. Needless to say, now I was worried.

Dealing with the Philippine Bank after Sending Money to the Philippines

To complicate matter, I had been unable to sleep the night before. I had been up for almost 24 hours. Jessie too had not slept which is not normal for her but it is for me.

BDO Bank in Northern Cebu ProvinceWe finally get into the bank and talk to someone. She’s of course pleasant but her facial expressions are troublesome.  I’m trying not to talk, I am so sleepy, I can’t hear. Jessie tells me the account is closed because I didn’t maintain the minimum balance. When I opened the account, I was told if the average monthly minimum balance goes below 5000 pesos I would have to pay a small fee. Now, I’m being told for the first time that the minimum is now 10,000 pesos or the account is closed.

That’s odd, I’ve never had a minimum balance that high in the 6 or 7 years that the account has been open. Now it is closed.

After about 30 minutes, the branch manager is involved. At various time the phone is handed to me but nothing gets done. I get asked many question by different people and I get no answers. At one point I’m talking to the manager in Bogo City and he explains your money was not “fully’ deposited to your account. I tried to find out what fully meant but I got nowhere.

I am told to go to Bogo City, I explain “I have no money. You have all of my money.” I keep getting told “No, the bank does not have it.”

I’m having issues here. My account was not closed when I went to the ATM. At first it showed my balance was zero. Only after I made the first call did my card no longer work at all. This looks very bogus to me, I’m a suspicious type person to start with though. I had lost my temper several times during this process. Once, I had become very loud though I was not aware of it. Jessie touched my leg to snap me out of it. I noticed at that point that everyone in the bank was looking at me. You know when I’m told the account is closed and then I’m told the money was not FULLY deposited to the account, it is no surprise that I lost my temper.  At least tell me the same consistent excuses!

They keep telling me I need to go to the Bogo Branch and keep telling them I have no money at all. I’m glad Jessie was there or I would have been very alone at that point. Finally the bank manager gives me 1000 peso. I told him I would give it back to him if I got my money but I never believed for a minute that going to Bogo City would do any good.

Jessie and I go back home. I check email and the reply from Xoom says your money was sent to your bank, we are sorry if you did not get it. I did not read further, that looked like it was saying you are just out of luck!

I also checked my balance at my USA bank. Usually it takes a day or two for the withdrawal to post but this time the money was already gone. Sometimes it shows that fast but usually it does not.

Going Back to Bogo City

Jessie and I took a quick shower, mine was very quick. It did not help much, I still felt like a zombie. The bus ride to Bogo City takes two

Seascape on the way to Bogo City

Views on the way to Bogo City are breath taking.

and a half to over four hours. This time, it was over four hours. Taking the trip on a Friday is not a great idea as many people are headed back home somewhere out in the province. That traffic was horrible, especially around Mandaue.

We go straight to the bank and we hear my name as soon as we walk in but no one talks to us. We stand for a bit and sit down. The woman behind the desk looks at me like “What are you doing.” She is talking to someone else. I’m exhausted and standing is not high on my list of things to do. Another banker talks to Jessie and he immediately starts giving excuses. I can’t hear him. I ask Jessie, “They are not going to give me my money?” She indicated they would not. She had been positive up to this point and the banker in Cebu City assured me it would be resolved in Bogo City. I told him I would give him his money back if it was resolved.

She never talks to me, the manager ends up calling us over, or at least Jessie heard him. I didn’t hear him and when I got to his desk he didn’t seem to be ready for us. I had to ask if I could sit down.

There were some more loud moments at the Bogo Branch but I don’t think I ever went into the “red zone” to the same degree that I did in Cebu City. I think that I was probably in a rage at one point there. I don’t like it when I get told different things. I also don’t like it when I loose control like that. I am 8000 miles from the USA and I am without any money. It is not a good feeling! Now it is monday, three full days have passed and it is still not a good feeling.

It is now Monday morning and I have not heard anything more from Xoom. The last thing the Bogo BDO manager told me was it was out of their hands, I needed to coordinate with Xoom.

The last two days, have been spent in bed. I am concerned about having a stroke and at one point, while at the BDO in Cebu City, the right side of my body went a little numb. I have been trying to stay calm since then but it isn’t an easy thing to do. I did send another email to Xoom during my return trip to Cebu City, while still on the bus. I have heard nothing more from Xoom. I plan to call them soon. I need to buy some credits for Skype first. It is the only way I can call.  It is not a good way as the connection is often poor and calls get cut off.

I made a short entry into FaceBook after I got home Friday night. Writing is one of the best stress relievers for me. That can be bad because back during my first divorce, I wrote things that have forever damaged my life. The suffering I gained from that was way out of proportion but what I wrote was very bad too. It ended up in the wrong hands. Yes I learned to be a little more careful at that and stop being quite so open about my feelings. My nature is to be an open book because I see all of us as flawed and may be the least judgmental person you’ll ever know. I learned from that, others are more judgmental. It has been 25 years and to this day, there is still a hole in my soul from what was taken from me. Yes, I ramble, I’m Southern, it’s part of the DNA haha.

Jessie tends to hog my PC now, she even tried to get me on it yesterday and I intended too but I was just not up to it. I am still very tried but I am getting better.

I didn’t ask for help, didn’t dream it would be coming from my FaceBook post. I have asked for loans before but just didn’t feel like I should do it again. Soon after I left the message, a very giving and caring American that is in the Philippines right now called and told me he would loan me money. He loaned me about $1000 USD. I haven’t converted it because I will be paying him back 50,000 peso which is what he loaned me. I can’t buy all of my meds but I intend to get half of them, the hotel bill or rent is paid and I can buy food for about two weeks. A few months ago, I built up a 10 day extra supply of most medications. That helps. I had already run out of one though, before this happened. My stomach had been hurting since the Thursday, the day before this happened. I was out of Zantac but Jessie has been putting my meds in the containers for me and I was not aware of it. Guess that proves that Zantac is not a placebo for me as I was really hurting and I did not know I was out. I will be sure to build up 10 extra days of that very soon. I have to get this money issue resolved first.

Bank Accounts in the Philippines

I really do not see this as a Philippines issue. I’ve had bank accounts closed for crazy reasons in the USA. I had Wachovia bank close one of my business accounts and the only reason it got was that I was not using it very much. What? It is a freaking checking account. They just decided to close it for no reason as far as I could see. What was I going to do about it being 8000 miles away? It wasn’t worth the trouble to deal with it. What is different is the way it was handled. If the account was closed, the transaction would have never gone through and whatever happened would have been resolved immediately.

The real reason they closed my account? I haven’t changed anything until last month. I have always had a low balance but last month I withdrew everything out of the bank. I did this because I’m having a dispute with my credit card account with the same bank. And this issue is related to the Philippines. Now, it is partly my fault. Mostly because I moved away from Bogo City though. Forwarding mail here is not possible. At least it wasn’t for me. Someone will likely tell me they did it where they are. I tried and was told no. In fact, my last trip to Bogo City was to get a check that the Bogo City post office would not allow anyone else to pick up for me and would not forward. I like Bogo City but that bus ride nearly kills me so I doubt I will ever see it again.

Some may remember a year ago I had another financial issue last July. I’m still digging out of that. That was very hard and two people came to my rescue or it would have been much worse. I have paid one person back and I still owe the other one 2000 peso. Which intended to pay back today but with this issue I cannot. Also, his wife is who I’ve been paying back and she is in the USA with him now.  That is almost resolved.

One of the women that was staying with me for about four months appears to have been helping herself to money. She never asked and that was really the only reason she was with me as long as she was. But the month I got rid of her and the month after, I had a lot more money. She would take nothing that I knew about. She even paid for her own food. After she was gone though, I found I had about 10,000 peso a month more than I had had since she moved in. I had more before she moved in too. Then it was back to what it was before she moved in. So I have no proof and no reason to get it but it is pretty obvious what was going on.

While the other issue from last July was ongoing, I missed making two months of payments on my Philippines credit card. The first month I just forget, easy to do as I get no statements since I moved away from Bogo City.  I almost forget every month.

When Jessie got here, I called the bank. Filipinos have a hard time understanding me, especially on the phone and especially numbers. It once took me 30 minutes to order a pizza due to these issues. Jessie did most of the talking to the bank regarding my credit card. They would not send a statement and claimed I owed 22,000. There is no way I owe 22,000 on that credit card unless they gave me no credit for any payments that I have made. They refused to send me a statement. When I left Bogo City a year ago the balance was under 10,000 peso. I’ve made a payment of at least 500 pesos every month and before the other financial problems I was paying 1000 pesos a month. I have continued to pay the 500 a month because I feared paying nothing would only make it worse but I have been afraid to put any money in my bank account since then. I planned to give them what they say I owe them but I have to get insurance money first. I will make them give me a full accounting of the account first. If they will not, I will get a local lawyer to deal with them. I do have my receipts where I paid on my credit card, at least most of them. I will continue to pay the 500 a month as paying nothing would likely cause me more issues. Possibly issues with immigration.

Now this part is an issue that is related to living in the Philippines. It would not happen in the USA. No bank would demand money without showing me what I owed. That is insane. I’m not blameless, you will not hear “poor me” as you do from most foreigners living in the Philippines. It is a mess and I think understandable but I am not without fault here.

How I will Send Money to the Philippines in the Future

I will continue using Xoom but I will have to send it to a remittance firm here locally. I will send the money to Palawan Pawn Shop as there is one right next door to the hotel. It is unlikely I will ever feel secure in this again.

Right now, I would still be out of Zantac and now I would hungry too. I don’t think I ate anything other than crackers Friday because it hurt too much to eat. Maybe a couple of pieces of bread too. I did not eat much Saturday but did eat Sunday. I also had Zantac again thanks to my friend.

The Situation Seems to Fully Resolved Now

I planned on calling Xoom before finishing this article but I just checked email and they finally replied to my email. Xoom tells me they have refunded the funds in full and that it will take 1 to 4 days for it to be put back in my account. So I will be paying my friend back soon and getting the rest of my medication. I plan to get half of it today as I’m nearly out of several things but most of it, I still have several days left.  I am out of one medication now. I won’t feel completely in the clear until I see the money returned to my account. Writing about this has made me rather tense, I need a Xanax haha.

Have any of you had these kinds of problems? I know many people that end up with Philippine pesos in the USA and most USA banks won’t touch them. You are not allowed to take out more than 10,000 peso when you leave the country. That and the tight control over money laundering makes US banks very skittish when it comes to these matters these days. My bank has a money remittance service and would probably be the best option for me but when I tried to set up that account, I was told I had to appear in person. Again, this is due to money laundering regulations. Another example of US laws hurting only those not doing anything wrong. Those that wish to launder money will still do so.

Hopefully, I can save some money. I keep thinking you shouldn’t have bought that camera and I knew it when I bought it. I’m not sorry I did. I need to enjoy life too. I need a new phone now, I dropped and destroyed it last month. It will have to wait until I have at least twice as much money as I need to buy a good phone. Based on the past, I won’t be buying another phone. Something always happens to cause a problem eventually. I suppose that is just life though.

I have one other problem, I have only one ID that has not expired and that is my passport. I think I will be able to get my money via Palawan but I’m not sure. BDO remains the best option when using Xoom as they are partnered with Xoom and usually the money transfers within seconds. With other banks you have to wait hours and I had some early transactions take days. I was not using BDO with those transactions though.

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Filed under: Finicial Issues for Expats

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