Banking In Mexico Still Frustrating After All These Years
Exercises in futility, or how to deal with Mexican banks.
Mexican banks have mostly been bought by international banks ...
but the international banks either did not sell customer service or Mexican banks weren't buying. Mexican banks, which had begun to appear to treat customers well in the late 1990's and even in the early 00's, have returned to their old ways.
In 2010 a law was passed in Mexico limiting the number of dollars that could be converted to pesos and vice-versa. The amount has changed a couple of times, but is around $1,000 a month (or less) now. I believe that Mexican bankers interpreted this law as an excuse to mistreat their customers once again. And since foreigners just passing through aren't even really customers, guess how they get treated? I think cartel members are treated better.
Most Mexican banks have been sold to foreign firms. Banamex is now Citigroup; Bancomer is now BBVA; SERFIN is now Santander; Inverlat is now Scotiabank; Bital is now HSBC; etc. If I had to recommend a Mexican bank, I guess the tops ones would be Scotiabank and HSBC since they work better with foreigners. Avoid Citibank and BBVA; they are huge banks and the lines take forever. Deposits of Mexican checks from banks other than your own will take twenty-four hours to be credited, and from the same bank will occur instantly. However this can still vary from bank to bank. Sometimes a Mexican check can still take three to ten days to be credited. Count on waiting a week or two for U.S. checks.
Changing money - dollars to doughnuts or pesos.
I have been told that some banks don't make you jump through these hoops like a trained seal. How do you say "Arf, arf" in Spanish? My experiences in 2010 and 2011 have been the opposite, causing my normally benign demeanor to be replaced with a gruff visage.
In order to change U.S. dollars to Mexican pesos, you have to go to a bank, wait in line, hope that the computer network that ties all foreign exchange transactions is working, present your passport and even an airline ticket out of the country! That does the readers of these pages little good since we drive. The pimply-faced clerks could care less and will send you to stand in line to talk to a manager who has no interest in helping you. Essentially, you are treated like a cartel member, but an unsuccessful one. I recommend finding a casa de cambio, which will give you a lousy rate, but will change dollars. Now some of them even have to connect to that great financial nanny and make you jump through hoops.
Don't even think of changing traveler's checks. Sure, have a few for a sense of security, but don't count on being able to change them in a hurry.
For sending money to Mexicans, or to relatives on a regular basis, see this entry.
The best exchange rate can be obtained from ATMs, so I always recommend to my clients withdrawing money from ATMs. With the international exchange fee of 3 per cent or more, they are less attractive than they used to be, but less hassle than changing cash at banks. In tourist areas, some ATM's dispense pesos and some shell out dollars. Make sure you are using the right one. 500 pesos is a piddling amount of money to request when you wanted $500 dollars.
The easiest way to get money is to use your debit card from your home bank at an ATM machine. ATM machines are everywhere. So are ATM crooks, just like back home, so don't throw caution to the wind. A popular scam is for someone to offer to "help" you and then help himself to your pin and card info through a scanner. There are also (like in the USA) fake ATM's. Always use an ATM at a bank and if you really need help, ask a banker.
Cirrus is the most popular, followed by Pulse; Visa Plus is sometimes accepted. You can also use your Visa or MasterCard for cash advances at the ATM. (If you go to a bank to use them, you will have to show a passport.) You know, of course, that there is a hefty fee for this service. Unfortunately, ATMs in smaller towns always seem to be out of cash.
Check with your US bank before you leave. Some US banks no longer allow withdrawals through foreign ATM's. Some Mexican banks won't even change cash (dollars to pesos) for you unless you have a Mexican banking account with them.
I'm afraid that Canadian checks are still problematic to cash. Allen W. Lloyd has offered banking and investment services to foreigners for more years than I can remember and is a company I would recommend for assistance.
A nickel here, a dime there
As an expat, you will soon learn that Mexican banks (all of them) will nickel-and-dime you to death with incomprehensible service charges. You certainly don't want to borrow any money from them because interest rates, which vary, are currently around 20 percent! During the crisis of 1995, they were as high as 140 percent! Of course, the other side of that coin is that you can garner some hefty interest on your own shekels by getting a cuenta maestra, which pays you interest and allows you to write checks and use a debit card.
Certificates of deposit are called CETE's.
You can invest your money in CETEs, or twenty-eight-day certificates of deposit. The same as in your country, there are longer term certificates, up to 180 days. The days of 30 percent and higher returns on your money are gone, for now. You'll get a bit more than you would in the States or Canada at the moment, but who knows what the future holds. Mexico's central bank raises (or lowers) interest rates periodically, just as in any other country.
Traveler's Checks Ain't What They Used To Be
Verify this before you leave, as this courtesy could dry up at at any time. If you have an American Express card, you can go to any American Express office and get up to $500 in American Express traveler's checks. Unfortunately, that is about the only place you will be able to cash traveler's checks.