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.