Want to send money from the USA to the Philippines? There’s no shortage of remittance companies to choose from. The USA-Philippines remittance corridor is one of the largest, moving an estimated 9 billion (!) dollars a year. It’s no surprise that there are dozens of players in this lucrative space, raking in high profits from transaction and conversion fees.
My husband W. is from the US, and we have joint bank accounts both here and there. We transferred money once from our US account to our Philippine one, and we used Transferwise because of their use of the real mid-market exchange rate (no hidden currency conversion charges), transparent low fees, and quick delivery.
But what if you want to send money the other way around, from the Philippines to the USA? Well, this opposite direction’s not so lucrative, and sadly Transferwise doesn’t offer PHP to USD transfers. Most of the major players like MoneyGram and Xoom don’t, either. The ones that do, like PayPal and Western Union, charge exorbitant fees on top of terrible exchange rates. Same goes with bank wire transfers.
- Its backend is bitcoin, which I know little about. I know of bitcoin, as does anyone else who spends time on the internet, but I’m no expert
- No one seems to be talking about it nor using it. Yes, there are the obvious press releases and sponsored news articles, but I found a grand total of only one blog review from someone who has actually used the app
There’s some chatter on Reddit about it, so I went ahead and downloaded Abra on my iPhone. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for:
- You can send money from the Philippines to a US bank account. There are three ways to fund your Abra wallet locally:
- online bills payment through BDO Unibank (BDO), Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), or UnionBank of the Philippines (UnionBank) – free
- cash payment to Abra “tellers”, which are mostly pawnshops like Tambunting – with service fee
- bitcoin payment from a third-party wallet – free
- Low fees. As long as you don’t use the teller or credit card options, the fees are comparable with those of Transferwise
- It’s quick. The receiver immediately gets the funds in his/her Abra wallet; it’s the adding or withdrawing through a bank that takes up to two business days
- We both downloaded the Abra app on our iPhones. W. easily linked our US account to his wallet.
- I funded my Abra wallet by paying PHP 1,000 through BDO Online Banking to the biller “Plutus Technologies Philippines Corporation”. (This is the most convenient method for me, as it doesn’t involve physically hauling ass to an Abra teller. I don’t have a third-party bitcoin wallet, either.)
- It took two business days for the funds to appear in my wallet. Once there, I converted the amount from peso to dollar by changing my wallet currency from PHP to USD, which yielded USD 19.35. (This is where Abra makes money — it has a conversion charge of around 1% on top of the real mid-market rate. Abra’s exchange rate is way better than those of PayPal or Western Union.)
- I sent the funds to W.’s Abra wallet by entering his registered phone number. He got the funds instantaneously once I hit “Send Money”.
- After a few minutes, W. was able to withdraw the USD 19.35 to our US account, which took two business days.
Verdict: We like it. We’ll definitely use Abra the next time we transfer money between our US and Philippine bank accounts. The app has a lot of potential, and I do hope it gains more users and tellers while continuing to add more currencies and banking partners.