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Do you start your day off with a list of things to get done?

When you live in Mexcio, you learn to narrow down that list to avoid getting frustrated.  There are many reasons that life here is interesting or exciting.  One is that anything you try to do takes longer than you think.  Second is that even if things look promising to get crossed off the list -something will come up to interfere with that.  And thirdly, there is always something unexpected that comes up and needs attention.  You will learn to “plan” for the unexpected.

A general piece of advice you’ll here is “In Mexico, plan on just getting one thing done each day”.   Zoinks!  One thing a DAY?!?  I’m such a multi-tasker, I’m used to doing more than one thing at a time!  😉

While credit cards are starting to catch on here, they are really more the exception than the rule.  Most transactions are done in person, with cash.  WalMart does take credit cards but most places don’t.  Even the Pemex gas stations owned by the government of Mexico are just starting to accept them.

So a problem you need to solve once down here is HOW to get pesos.  You cannot use dollars anywhere. Because of the government trying to fight the drug cartels it is nearly impossible to convert cash dollars into pesos.

There are ATM machines around, but they are far and few between.  We usually drive 30 minutes to the ATM where we get cash.

The problem is not the distance you need to travel, but the FEES you are charged.  When I used my Sovereign bank Debit card, I paid a $25 fee to take out $1000 in pesos. Zoinks!  If you take out $250 you get charged $7 or $8.  Those fees REALLY add up.

Even where you can use your credit card, there are additional fees for that too.  We use a Capital One credit card which is one of the few which does not charge “foreign exchange fees”.

So the solution?

After talking with a bunch of people, we figured the best solution was to open a local Mexican bank account.  Then once a month deposit a check from your USA account. We went with Bancomer which is the 2nd largest bank in Mexico.  We then use our Bancomer debit card to withdraw money from Bancomer ATMs. We are now enjoying no fees.  You are required to keep a minimum balance of $300 for checking accounts, or $100 for savings accounts or you’ll start getting hit by some fees.

We were told by people you needed to have either residency  (FM2 or FM3 Visa). WRONG! We had just a tourist visa.

We were told you had to have at least one bill in your name. WRONG!  I just brought a copy of our rental contract.

The weird thing is this…

When you need to make a deposit, you have to wait in line to see the bank customer service rep.  You then hand him the check, he signs the front, holds on to the check, and hands you a receipt. You then wait in line for a bank teller. She goes and grabs the paperwork that the service rep put through a slot.  She then processes it like a regular deposit and hands you a new receipt.  I think this method is to prevent drug money from getting in the banks.

It’s not as easy as hitting the bank drive through, in fact due to lack of parking spaces Camille normally stays in the van while I make the 15-20 minute transaction. The bank we use (our only choice within 30 minutes) is right in the town square. Very busy place and usually there is a line ranging from 2 – 8 people waiting for the ATM machine.

It took three separate trips to get our bank account setup, and to get online access setup.  On our first visit we found the people in line had already been waiting nearly an hour.  (you learn to get used to waiting and enjoy nice conversations)  My english speaking customer rep Beto (Alberto) is a fantastic guy, very busy, and very helpful.  He seems to be non-stop all day, usually having 2 or 3 people waiting for his attention.  But he’s always cheerful and a pleasure to deal with.

One thing we suggest if you’re ever going to move to any foreign country is to have someone back home you can ask to deposit checks into your USA bank and pay the odd bill that comes along that has to be paid by check.

For example, our Swansea tax bills have to be paid by check. You can’t pay over the phone with credit card.

So once a month we have our mail sent to a mailing address for a Mail Boxes etc.. in Laredo Texas. Then they bring it down to our local place which happens to be right across the street from our housing community. So for example, when our last batch came in we had a bill for Swansea tax.  I ended up scanning it into a PDF file, emailing it to Elly, our super helpful friend and tenant, and she paid it with her own personal check. We then deduct the amount from her rent.

Beside that most of our other transactions are all electronic, so we can handle that with the computer.

So we have our ATM card, so all is good right?

Hmmmm…. not really.

First we have to drive 30 minutes to our ATM. This is in the opposite direction than we normally go for our meetings.

Once you get there, several things can happen.

1) You can get your money.

2) The machine can be out of order.

3) The ATM can be out of money, or running low. Seriously, I wanted 6000 pesos ($500 USD), and the machine said on the screen in Spanish something that looked like “beyond the maximum”. So I tried 5000 / 4000 and same warning. Finally I received 3000 pesos paid out using 30  100 peso bills. I later found out from my bank rep that the machine had run out of 500 peso notes so it could only fit a maximum of 30 100peso notes through the slot.  Makes sense.

4) Then usually you can get your money!  🙂

Side point. I also like that the ATM is across the parking lot from the Bar-Barbershop. It’s a bar and a barbershop in one. Sweet… More info on that in a new blog post.

OK.  Now we have an account and everything is clear sailing, right?  Well, kind of.  When we need an ATM -keep in mind that everything we do here is in cash so no credit cards or checks- we drive 30 minutes (sometimes 40) to the ATM.  Once there we might go right in, get our cash, walk out.  Or we might…

find the ATM is not working

the line is 3-5 people deep

it is only giving small amounts of money this day (say I would like 1000 pesos but it’s only giving out 500)

We are adjusting and just like so many other things we are learning that this is just the way it is and it’s not worth getting upset about.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Sabrina March 5, 2011, 7:15 am

    wow!! i feel for you although it wasn’t as complicated here in PR to get our banking straightened out. buuuuuttttt: do you have a fishing tackle store combined with a tourist shop combined with a bar that has live music at night??? top that 🙂

    • admin March 5, 2011, 7:50 am

      oooh… that sounds fun. you win for that one! 🙂 nice to hear from you.

  • DAD March 5, 2011, 9:51 am


  • Ginnie March 7, 2011, 11:05 pm

    Hey guys, we have a bank of america account, which is partners with Santander and Scotiabank. We can use their atms for free to access our Bank of America accounts. Just fyi if it helps 🙂 It has worked out well for us in Torreon.

    • admin March 8, 2011, 7:44 am

      Thank Ginnie. Our US bank is partners with Santander too but Santander here says “no deal”. (maybe the bank managers here don’t know if you can or cannot) Plus, we cannot deposit checks at ATM. That was the original plan, but like many other things we needed a plan B. 🙂 Hi!

  • Karen Travers March 10, 2011, 12:16 pm

    Ginnie I was about to suggest the same thing. BofA does not charge a fee to use Banco Santander and/or ScotiaBank. They do charge 1% of the amount you withdrawal. Plus I heard they exchange rate is pretty good. 🙂

    • admin March 10, 2011, 5:52 pm

      hi karen. how was your trip? we just LOVE that Yucatan area.
      the banks might officially say one thing but there is much left to local interpretation. plus, the 1% evens out the exchange rate. it took us 40 minutes today to deposit a couple checks (mikee went in while i drove around because there is no parking) not counting the 30 minute drive each direction. it’s not terrible but just requires a bit of planning.
      it’s always a treat to find a comment on the blog. thanks! 🙂

  • Karen Travers March 11, 2011, 10:17 pm

    We had a blast in Playa Del Carmen area. The resort was beautiful and it was great just to relax and do nothing. Matt kept telling me I was among my “cousins”, lol.

    I wish you the best in your banking challenge. Keep us updated. Looks like you all are having a great time in Mexico. 🙂

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