Banking in St. Maarten

As AUC students, we are eligible to receive US federal student loans to pay for our tuition and living costs while at school. In a nutshell, basically we request to borrow a certain amount of money every two semesters from the government. The school takes out a chunk of what we borrow to pay for our tuition. Then, they refund us the rest that is left over for us to use. They split the refund and give us a each half of the refund amount each semester, even though we only take out a loan every two semesters. If you take out a full loan, expect to get back about $15,000 per semester. It’s more than you’ll ever need.

As of April 2012, AUC students may either choose to have the school directly deposit their loan refund checks into their bank accounts back home, or have their loan refund check directly sent to their home address. Direct deposit is the more convenient option.

However, once you have this money, what banking method should you use on the island?  There are a couple of options for banking on the island, each with its pros and cons. The main thing to consider with each option is whether or not there are any international transaction fees.

There are two ATMs around AUC. As of 2013, there is a Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT) ATM on campus (just outside of Lecture Hall 2), and a ScotiaBank ATM inside the Atlantis Casino right across the street from campus.

Here are some options for banking on the island that students have used:

1. Checking Account with Bank of America.

  • Pros:
    The biggest advantage of Bank of America (BoA) is that there are no international transaction fees when withdrawing US dollars from a ScotiaBank ATM. It’s as if you are withdrawing cash from an ATM back at home in the states. Plus, you can keep your account in the US. Note, however, this only works at ScotiaBank ATMs, since ScotiaBank partners with Bank of America on St. Maarten. Some BoA employees aren’t aware about this and will tell you that there is an international fee when you ask them, but know that there is most definitely not as long as you withdraw US dollars, which is the most commonly used currency on the island. Conversion fees would only apply if you withdraw Euros or Netherlands Antilles guilders, but you won’t ever need to use these currencies on the island. Having a BoA account is especially convenient considering that there is a ScotiaBank ATM just right outside of school (like less than a minute walking), inside the Atlantis Casino.

    If you are considering opening a Bank of America account, tell them you are a student and see what student banking options they can do for you. With CampusEdge checking account, you don’t need to maintain a minimum balance in your account. There is also no limit as to how much or how many times you can withdraw from an ATM per statement period. I’ve withdrawn 12 times within a statement period without any problems before. As for daily withdrawal limits, this is something you can change by going to your Bank of America account online and then going to the Customer Service tab, and then “Manage Check Cards/ ATM Withdrawals.” Just punch in the amount you want to set as your daily transaction limit.

  • Cons:
    Although using your regular BoA debit card to withdraw cash from the ScotiaBank ATM is free of any international transaction charges, using it at businesses is not and will cost a transaction fee of 3%. Therefore if you’re used to swiping your credit card at stores and restaurants, but want to avoid international transaction fees, consider getting a BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card (which is a credit card, not a debit card). This card was made for travelers and there are no fees. Another hassle with Bank of America is that you have to tell them every three months or so that you are using your card outside the country in St. Maarten, or else they will think your card is improperly used and will freeze your account.

2. Capital One Banking Account

  • Pros:
    Unlike Bank of America, all transactions you do with your debit/credit card at businesses are free. This is good if you’re the type of person that doesn’t like carrying cash around with you. Keep in mind though that many businesses (like Gourmet Marche) require a minimum purchase in order to use a credit/debit card.
  • Cons:
    Withdrawing at ATMs will come with an international transaction fee of $2-3 depending on where you go, although I have also heard that the RBTT ATM does not charge extra for withdrawals using Capital One, which could be convenient with the RBTT ATM on campus. I have not been able to confirm this myself.

3.Checking Account with ScotiaBank.

  • Pros:
    Many landlords on the island use ScotiaBank so you may be able to pay for rent, power, water, and any other bills you may have online, which is a convenience that BoA and other non-island bank users do not have. If you are Canadian and already have a ScotiaBank account, you can keep it and have no ATM fees. I’ve had friends who opened up ScotiaBank accounts and are happy with it.
  • Cons:
    Can be expensive to maintain checking account as ScotiaBank charges for each transaction made and other services, depending on the account. They may also require a minimum balance to maintain the account without getting charged a fee ($10,000 US minimum for their premium account or $750 minimum for their student account but you must be between 18-25 years old), but I’d check with them as these plans may change or may be negotiable. For more details, check out here. Since there aren’t really that many, if any, ScotiaBanks in the US, it may be a hassle to use the money in your ScotiaBank account whenever you come back to the states. If you are Canadian and already use ScotiaBank back home in Canada, you would still get transaction fees at ScotiaBanks in St. Maarten.

For me, I already had a Bank of America account and kept it while on the island, and it has been pretty good. I feel the benefits of keeping a US bank account outweigh its costs, especially if you are from the US. Although I know other students who are happy banking with other banks, I felt having a Bank of America ATM Card for withdrawing cash without fees, as well as a BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card for credit card transactions without fees worked pretty well for me.

19 comments to Banking in St. Maarten

  • Kenny Bains

    Hey Benji,

    I was wondering if you knew about Wells Fargo bank account. If they had a fee for withdrawals and if they had a fee for using debit/credit cards. Thanks.

  • Carver

    Do you know if you have to have a Capital One back account or would just a credit card from them work to avoid fees?

  • Sam

    So your BoA debit card from the states will work at the ATMs there?

    • Benji

      Yes. With BoA debit card, you can withdraw cash in US dollars at Scotiabank and not get charged for international fees. For all other ATMs, you can withdraw money, but there are international fees, like $5 plus 1% of whatever amount you withdraw.

  • James Lieurance

    Can you use Bank of America checks to pay for rent or utilities on the Island or will you need to strictly use cash?

    • CONFUSED KID

      Is Benji answering questions still? Also James, do you know if students are allowed to open an account with Scotia Bank on the island? Or do you have to be a resident?

  • Jeeten

    Hey Benji! Amazing site you have here! I took your advice and opened a checking account with Bank of America, and I discovered that BOA offers an travelers credit card, which will allow you to use the credit card on the island (or anywhere in the world) without having to pay international transaction fees. This is perfect! I can now withdraw money from the ScotiaBank ATM with no fees, and use the credit card with no fees. I highly recommend Bank of America for students. I will be starting at AUC this September 2013.

    • Benji

      Yes, traveler’s credit card is the way to go! Too bad my wife and I didn’t find out about it until we went to England for my surgery rotation. Thanks for the informative comment!
      Benji

  • Paul

    Hello-
    I have a BoA account and will be in St Maarten for awhile. Would I be able to deposit cash into my BoA account via ScotiaBank while on the island?

  • Bindi

    Hey! I wanted to let you know that I was doing some research on credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees along with the BoA Traveler Rewards Card. Along with this card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Capital One Venture and Capital One Cash Rewards Card have NO transaction fees at all!!

    These two sites are great to look at:
    http://www.mybanktracker.com/news/2013/05/22/top-5-credit-cards-foreign-transaction-fees/
    http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/top-credit-cards/no-foreign-transaction-fee-credit-card/

    I thought this might be a good thing to share with all future AUC students!

  • Filza

    Hey Benji, as a Canadian student I am still a little unsure about what to do for banking. Is there an atm near/on campus for both Scotia Bank and RBC? So if I open an account with either of these banks I won’t be charged for withdrawing money?

    • Benji

      Hi Filza,
      There are two ATMs at/near campus. The ATM on campus is Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT), and the ATM in the casino across the street from campus is ScotiaBank. However, this ScotiaBank is somewhat separate from ScotiaBanks you’d find in Canada, and so there are international fees if you withdraw money using a Canadian ScotiaBank debit card. I’m not aware of any Canadian banks that won’t charge you for withdrawals, but doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
      I hope you get what you are looking for.
      Benji

  • Cale

    Hi Benji
    Quick question. You said you lived in Aventura, and I am thinking about living there. The landlord told me that I have to pay rent in Cash every month if I did not have a local bank account. So I was wondering if you had to do the same? And if so, were you able to pull that much cash out of the ATM every month?

    Thanks!

    Cale

    • Benji

      Hey Cale,
      It all depends on the landlord. I lived in a unit in Aventura managed by Solutions Management, and I had the option of paying by cash or using a debit card. I always paid in cash though, because the debit card would have charged me international fees (like $25 extra). I was able to pull out cash from the ATM every month. However, I highly recommend pulling out cash early rather than when rent is due, because the ATM will run out of money sometimes when too many students pull out too much cash all at once. When you withdraw, the ATM usually caps out at a max you can withdraw at one time. The solution is just to withdraw twice, and you can do that during the same trip to the ATM.
      Benji

  • Melissa

    Hi Benji,
    I will be entering AUC this September and I have just spoken with a representative from BoA. I was told that there is 3% fee for international transactions when you are over 23 because older students don’t qualify for student banking. I was also told that these fees could be avoided if a balance of $10,000 was kept in your account daily. Just wanted to make the over 23 crowd aware of the change. Thank you.

    • Benji

      Hi Melissa,
      If this is really the case, it’s unfortunate BOA has made this policy. I guess the real test is go to the island, use the Scotiabank ATM there, and see if they really do charge the 3% fee. $10,000 is quite a lot of money just to be sitting around in the bank. Sometimes BOA employees will get it wrong (like tell you they charge international fees at Scotiabank ATMs when in reality they don’t, which has happened to me before, and I am over 23). Hopefully this is the case.
      Benji

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