Last week, a good friend whom I originally met from his participation on this site contacted me. This fellow recently moved to the Philippines. He will be living here for a while, but probably not permanently. Because he doesn’t expect to be living here permanently, my friend opted not to go for a permanent resident visa. Instead, he was able to obtain a Balikbayan Visa.
With a Balikbayan Visa, you can stay in the country for 1 year with no hassles at all. No need to go do any kind of Visa renewals, no checking in at the Bureau of Immigration, no nothing. Just enter the Philippines, get the Balikbayan stamp in your Passport, and stay for up to a year. It is certainly a big convenience. At the end of the year, you can even stay longer, because you can then convert your Balikbayan Status to a Tourist Visa and stay for another 16 months, although you will then need to do all of the normal Visa Renewals during that time. But, all in all, getting a 28 month stay is a nice way to do it, unless you need to stay longer than that.
My friend told me that he was having difficulty opening a bank account and asked me what he should do. I confirmed with him that he was here on the Balikbayan program, and he said that he was. Well, that presents a small problem.
In the Philippines, under the law, anybody can open a bank account. There are no legal restrictions from anybody opening a bank account of any kind. Problem is, that is not how it works in practice. You see, when a foreigner wants to open a bank account, the bank almost always asks to see an ACR (Alien Certificate of Registration). An ACR used to be a piece of paper showing that you can legally reside in the Philippines. Things have changed though, and now and ACR is a plastic card similar in looks to a credit card or a driver’s license. You can only get an ACR if you are here under some kind of permanent visa. A tourist cannot get an ACR card.
Since almost all banks are looking for an ACR card in order to open your bank account, it is not easy to open an account without an ACR. Oh, I’ve heard of a few times when a bank has relented and opened an account without such a card, but only very few such incidents. As I said, the law does not require an ACR card in order to obtain a bank account, but the banks do. Since it is the bank that you are dealing with, you must generally meet their requirements.
My friend went on and asked me what he could do. The only thing I could advise was that he should go from bank to bank and ask to open an account. He may find one that will do it for him, or maybe somebody will forget to ask for an ACR card. Other than that, I know of no way that you can open a bank account in the Philippines.
Good luck to you, my friend, and I hope that you find a bank that will help you out. If you do, let me know, so that I can update this article and pass the news on to others who might have such a need.