For someone who does just about everything online, things were a little surprising when we first opened a bank account. The banking system is just different here. They don’t make it easy to open an account or use their website. They still seem to have some taboos against paying bills online, and the words “corruption” and “fraud” came up more than once during our initial set up of the account.
The benefits of having a local account do sort of outweigh the fees of constantly withdrawing from our US accounts, but just be aware that things may not go as smoothly as you expect. We opened an account about two weeks after we arrived, but as you will see, there were a few hiccups and speed bumps along the way.
OPENING AN ACCOUNT
Opening an account takes hours. We made an appointment to meet with a banker who could speak English. Very nice guy, and very helpful with the mound of paperwork that needed to be signed. We were there so long that the computer crashed, and we had to come back the next day to finish adding Tom to the account.
Here is what we needed:
Letter of temporary visa saying we were in the process of living there (because we did not have our temporary visas yet)
Mexican cell phone number (*must be a Mexican number)
Something with your address on it (water bill)
The banks are very cautious about foreigners opening accounts because of fraud, so much so that our banker drove us home that day to “verify” that we did in fact live at the address we provided.
At Santander, your password can ONLY be 8 characters long. If you forget it, resetting the password is an ordeal. The banker had to call a main branch representative to redo the password. I’m not sure if he just didn’t know how, we both kept doing it wrong, or he needed to vouch that it was really me that needed to change the password. Again, they are very concerned with fraud and corruption.
On your phone, you need your account number and password.
The ATM is the easiest to navigate. You just need your 4-digit pin. Your ATM card will be delivered to the bank in 7-10 days (usually 14 or more). You will have to come back to the bank to pick them up.
To sign in to the website, I need my account number to sign in, then my password after my chosen picture and phrase pops up, then figure out where to go. My computer automatically translates pages for me, but a lot of the choices do not translate.
To make wire transfers, you need your cell phone and a different 4-digit pin code to access the SuperToken (secret authentication number that changes every 30 seconds) in order to verify that it is you who is authorizing this transaction.
I have a feeling the US nuclear codes aren’t as difficult as this process.
The banker forgot to mention that the bank account isn’t active or “maintenance free” as they say for 4 business days, more or less (usually more) after you open the account. We found this out when we tried to transfer money, and the transfer company was not being able to deposit the cash until a week later.
We also found out that during holidays, your limit for withdrawal or transfer is 8000 pesos at a time. I had to make two transfers to pay the rent. Again, it was just another surprise speed bump.
We can transfer money through the bank to pay for our internet and house rent.
Big transfers (like paying for a car) can to be made through the bank.
Electric is paid through either the Bancomer ATMs (which we couldn’t figure out) or at the electric office kiosks.
We pay the water bill through OXXO which is similar to a 7-Eleven.
Gas is paid in cash when they come to your house and fill up your tank on the roof.
Here’s another eyebrow raiser: I hadn’t accessed my bank account in two weeks, not on the computer or at an ATM. I received a text from Santander with a weird message, so I Whatsapped my banker to ask him about it. He immediately responded to me saying “don’t access my account through the text. It could be hackers.”
The corruption paranoia is real.
Something New: Companies Do Not Issue Checks
We had a situation where we had to cancel one of our furniture orders. We had ordered a closet, and the salesperson told us it would be 40 days until it was delivered. Just after 40 days, I contacted them. They said it would be delivered in 3 days. We needed to be home to accept it between the hours of 8am and 8pm. Yes, an entire day.
The day came, and nothing was delivered. We didn’t even get a phone call. I called them back and arranged for a delivery the following week. This time they called the day before to make sure we would be home between the hours of 8am-8pm. Again, they did not show up. I went to the store, explained to the manager what had happened and cancelled the order. Two weeks later he was able to issue me a deposit slip (not a check) for the returned cash. I needed to go to the bank, give them this slip of paper and they would give me the money.
At the bank, I needed a copy of my visa with the deposit slip. The cashier could not figure out which was my last name on the visa, and I had to show her my passport. Some Spanish people have over 8 last names. I’m not sure why my first, middle and last were so difficult.
Would I recommend getting a bank account?
Yes, even with all the headaches we went through, it is easier to have money available locally for deposits and transfers. Some places do not take credit cards. If it’s a large sum of money like buying a car, they will not take cash on the spot. It has to be a bank transfer.
Everything is a learning process. Some things are inconvenient like having to go somewhere to pay for a bill. Maybe one day they will trust the internet enough to handle all transactions. For now, if I can remember my password for more than a week, I guess we are doing well.
Check out our post: 2nd Most Frustrating Thing About Living in Mexico: The Internet.