Money and Banking

Last Update 28 January 2014

Accessing your money from your USA bank can be easy or a bit complicated depending upon your needs and your bank's rules/charges.  Many people retiring to México have found that ATMs meet their needs for access to their money.  Others, including me, have found benefits in having a bank account in México.  There are pros and cons to each.  Cashing a check at a Casa de Cambio is a third option.

ATMs are common all over México.  You’ll find them in every bank and most large grocery stores.  They also offer a good exchange rate for converting dollars from your home bank into pesos out of the machine.  Here are a few things you need to know:

1.  Your daily withdrawal limit is set by your home bank, not by the ATM you are using although some machines have a built in limit per transaction of around 4000 to 5000 pesos.

2.  Your card should have a 4-digit PIN.  

3.  The Mexican banking rules say that if an ATM retains your card for any reason, the card will not be returned to you; it will be destroyed by the bank.  It is, therefore, wise to bring two cards.

México is still largely a cash society.  Almost everyone pays their bills (power, water, telephone, internet, etc) in cash in person.  Cable or satellite service is usually paid by credit card, although cash is acceptable.  On-line bill paying is just beginning in México.  You can pay your power bill on line if your Spanish is good enough to deal with the process.  I find it much easier to pay at the office.  I pay the phone + internet bill at the grocery store.

The down side of using an ATM card is the fee charged by many banks for using their ATM card at a foreign bank.  You should shop around to find a bank that does not charge a fee for foreign withdrawals – they do exist. Almost all banks in México are now charging about 7 pesos to use their ATM machine if you do not have an account in that bank.

There are a few banks that offer free ATM usage in México.  Bank of America has arrangements with two banks in México where you can use a BofA card with no fee -- Scotiabank and Santrader-Serfin.   HSBC is a part owner of Bitel Bank in México, so you can use your HSBC card at Bitel without paying a foreign fee.  HSBC also has its own branches in México. 

Check with your bank or credit union because there are other banks and credit unions that have a no-fee policy for folks in México.  One of them, is Banamex USA (formerly California Commerce Bank) issues an ATM card (ATM only, not a debit card) that can be used at any Banamex branch in México without a fee.  However, Banamex pays a less attractive exchange rate than Bank of America.

There are banks in other countries that allow their ATM cards to be used at Scotiabank and Santrader-Serfin without a fee.  You can find details here.

There is another US bank owned by a Mexican bank that offers free ATM, check cashing and check depositing bi-directionally, that is you can move dollars from the USA to pesos in México and pesos from México to dollars in the USA.  The banks are Inter National Bank (INB) in Texas and Banorte in México.  Look here:  An account with INB can be opened through Banorte. I was told by a representative at Banorte that when one opens an account with Banorte, one can also opt for an account with Inter National Bank without going there and without the need for a USA address. I have not tried it, so I can't verify that it really works that way.

A Mexican bank account:   Back home you probably had a bank account to make billing paying easy.  But in México you may not want to have an account for this purpose because so few businesses will accept a personal check.  While you can pay some utility bills by check, you will still want to do so in person – you should NEVER entrust anything of value to the Mexican postal service.

You can have your US Social Security check direct deposited to your bank account in México, but you cannot have your IRA or company pension check direct-deposited to a Mexican account.  Since the big money laundering scandal a few years ago, Mexican banking rules have gotten very strict.  Except for your SS check, you can deposit money in a Mexican bank in only two ways:  a cash deposit or a bank-to-bank wire transfer.  Wire transfers are expensive, and many US banks make them hard to use.  Sometimes a known, well established customer may be allow to deposit a personal check drawn on a foreign bank, but the deposit will be held for two or more weeks to be sure the check clears.

If you want a Mexican bank account, here are some things you will need to do.

1.   Choose a bank. 

2.  Go to the bank to get an application.  If your Spanish is not good, take a translator with you. 

3.  You will need to show your visa and some form of proof of residency.  This is usually a utility bill in your name at your address or a letter from your landlord.  In most (all?) banks you cannot open an account with a Visitante.

4.   You will need two government issued ID numbers, CURP and RFC.  If the bank does not get these number for you, you will need to get them yourself.  Instructions here.

5.  You may be asked for names and addresses of two references.  Usually the bank will contact your references.  This is supposed to weed out drug dealers.

Casa de Cambio:  There is another option for moving your money to México.  Many Casas de Cambio will cash your check drawn on a foreign bank.  You will need to show them your FM3, proof of residency, etc. to establish an account. 

If you use this service, you should be very sure the check will not bounce.  México is even more strict on hot checks than the USA -- you'll surely end up in jail.

Changing foreign currency to pesos:  At this writing (June 2010) the Mexican government has ordered banks to stop accepting foreign currency.  This is supposed to be to stop the laundering of drug money.  Casas de Cambio are still changing foreign currency.  No one knows how long this restriction on the banks will last, so don't plan on using foreign currency.

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