This post was last updated in February 2018. If you travel to El Nido and find any of this information out of date, or find new ways to get cash in El Nido, please post a comment below. I’ll update the post with the new information.
You cannot use an ATM to get cash in El Nido.
Let that sink in a bit. Don’t brush it off like I did. I assumed people were being dramatic, or that the information was outdated. They weren’t and it wasn’t.
Update: It appears this has changed! See Ben’s and Christopher’s comments below regarding new ATMs as of late October 2015. Others please comment and let us know if these ATMs are working consistently.
Update January 2018 (from Darcy – see comment below): “January 2018: 2 ATMs at BPI bank in El Nido. Accepts all cards. I used a Canadian debit card to pull out 10,000, no problem”
Back to our story from December 2014…
The funniest part was I had specifically researched ATM locations in El Nido before we left Puerto Princesa (where we could easily get cash). I found one by searching Google: First Consolidated Bank in El Nido proper. We didn’t want to carry more cash than necessary up to El Nido, and assuming the ATM I found would dispense cash to us we didn’t worry about it.
But when I showed up I quickly realized that the ATM only accepted First Consolidated Bank cards. Fail. To become a First Consolidated Bank cardholder you need a local El Nido address with some proof of residency, so no work-around there.
We tried to use credit cards to pay for things and stretch our cash but few places take cards and most of those that do charge a fee of about 5%.
Halfway through our 3 weeks in El Nido we ran out of money. We needed to find a way to get some cash.
We discovered several work-arounds and will share them with you here in case you find yourself in a similar cash poor situation. Here’s some ideas for getting cash in El Nido:
Petron Gas Station
The Petron station by the port at the west side of town will charge your credit card up to 10,000 pesos and give you cash back.
You need to bring a passport and the service is only offered from 2 to 4 p.m. The store charges a 6% fee for providing this service.
Update: Seems like the Petron station is hit or miss. Mark found they had stopped offering the service in June 2015, but Alex was able to get cash from them in October 2015 (see comments at the end of the post).
Little Shop on Real and G. del Pilar
There’s a small store selling a variety of knick knacks on the corner of Real and G. del Pilar in the center of town. They will provide a similar service as the Petron station but for a hefty 10% fee. Ask for April or Amy.
Update: It sounds like restaurants along the beach offer a similar service now, also for a 10% fee (see the great comment from Alex below).
Change Cash at Art Cafe
Art Cafe in town offers exchange of many foreign currencies into pesos. However, the poor exchange rates they offered while we were there would have resulted in the equivalent of about a 6% fee for the transaction.
Henry LHuillier Pawn Shop
No, you don’t have to pawn your possessions. What you should do is Western Union yourself money online.
You can use a credit card on the Western Union website and the whole transaction takes just a few minutes. Western Union charges $6 and the exchange rate is a little worse than the real rate (but better than Art Cafe). The pawn shop charges a tiny fee (ours was less than $1 on $500).
The total “fees” for our transaction came to about 4% – the best of our options.
Update: When we got our credit card bill for this period we learned that our credit card company treated the Western Union transaction as a “cash advance” – resulting in more fees, bringing the total fees for this transaction to about 5%.
Update #2: Christopher reports that the LHuillier Pawn Shop is no longer accepting Western Union transfers in late November 2015 (see comment below). Can anyone else confirm if this is permanent?
Not exactly getting cash in El Nido, but reducing the need for it.
We paid for the first half of our accommodation at Telesfora Beach Cottages in advance via a bank transfer to Telesfora’s account. This was actually pretty easy to do – we got cash from an ATM outside a bank in Boracay, walked into the same bank, and arranged with the teller to deposit the cash into Telesfora’s account.
Booking your accommodation ahead of time on a site like Agoda would also work just as well.
If you’re confident of your dates and where you will be staying you could use this strategy to pay for some or all of your accommodation ahead of time, eliminating the need to find cash for that once you’re in El Nido.
We did end up paying the balance of our accommodation expenses at Telesfora with a credit card and paying the 5% fee for that transaction.
Best Option for Getting Cash in El Nido
The best option? It depends on how long you plan to stay, how fast you spend money, and your risk tolerance.
If you don’t plan to stay too long, will not spend too much, and can live with the chance that you might lose whatever cash you have on hand then just bring whatever you need with you. This way you don’t have to pay any special fees to get cash in El Nido.
If you are staying longer, living extravagantly, or can’t stand the idea that you may lose your cash then it may be worth it to you to pay the premium and use one of the services outlined above to get cash while you are in El Nido.
If you do decide to get cash in El Nido, we recommend the Western Union option as it worked out the cheapest for us and was very easy to do.
Update: See our note above about extra fees from our credit card company for the Western Union transaction, and potential end of Western Union transfers to the LHuillier Pawn Shop. The best option for you will depend on how your credit card company handles this transaction (and if you can find another Western Union destination). For us, the Western Union approach was still our best option even with the extra fee.
You may also be able to just use the new ATMs! See Ben’s and Christopher’s comments at the bottom of the page for more info about location and fees for the ATMs.
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