I live in Singapore…the ex-pat haven…but I’m having trouble getting a local credit card, even from my own local bank! My bank is UOB (United Overseas Bank), a Singapore bank. I have my salary deposited in there, and I keep a good amount in the account for any problems or incidents that may arise. I have sent some back to the United States (to my Chase account), but I like to use my money that I earned in Singapore…well…IN Singapore.
While I’m in Singapore, there’s no problem. ATMs are plentiful, and almost everywhere takes NETS (the local ATM network) cards as regular payment. While I’m in Singapore and I’m out and about, I’m pretty well covered. However, when I go online, and want to purchase things like travel tickets, groceries, food or anything else you can think of to buy online, I’m forced to use my US Visa card because it’s harder than rocks to get a credit card in Singapore.
First off, using my US credit card carries fees when it’s used on non-American websites, and a currency conversion needs to be done. This is invariably the case with websites here in Singapore because they tend to use currency called the Singapore dollar because, well, we’re in Singapore. Most travel websites I use link me to local travel sites because the costs are cheaper (like I just paid $95 round trip to fly to Indonesia in a few weeks), but the credit card fees needlessly increase them. If I use my US credit card in person in an establishment here in Singapore (there are a few that don’t allow you to use NETS), the fees increase even more.
The reason it’s so difficult to get a credit card in Singapore is not because they won’t give them out to ex-pats. It’s because there is so much red tape and so many documents that you have to have in perfect order before they’ll issue one. When asked about a debit Master Card or a “secured” Visa card, they looked at me like I was speaking Swiss German. Do these things not exist in countries other than Western countries? First, I need 3 months’ paystubs to prove that I have a regular job here in Singapore. Then I need a bill or a copy of my lease to prove that I have legal residency here in Singapore. After that I have to get an affidavit signed by my employer that I will be gainfully employed for at least 1 year. Only then will they entertain the idea of issuing me a credit card, and only if I have a certain amount of money in my account. Excuse me?!?! I thought a credit was supposed to be used when you DIDN’T have money!!
This really wouldn’t be too much of an issue if the American banks and credit card companies didn’t charge such exorbitant fees for using the card overseas, or for currency conversion to use the card. If the world is quickly shrinking into the “global village” that we’re supposedly becoming, then why have the banks not caught up with it? When I moved to Singapore, I shopped around for an “international” bank where I could easily transfer money. I went to 3 banks, and, after checking with Citibank and HSBC, finally settled on Chase because they gave the least hassle and lowest fees to transfer money. It’s not easy, mind you, just less hassle. Also, I was promised to be able to use the Chase banks in Singapore as easily as in the US, but, alas, that was not true. So I’m with UOB, and I’m not dissatisfied with them. They are a very responsive bank, and they have the most ATMs in the city than any other bank. So, I like them….except their policies on giving credit cards to ex-pats. I may never get one because I never plan to have children, and I’m sure they’ll want my first-born!