In Mexico, the retail banking process is fairly straightforward, even for expats. There are numerous financial institutions across the country catering to local and foreign customers. The banking system offers a wide range of services to individuals as well as commercial entities. However, many of their services can only be utilized by residents. For many foreigners, interaction with a Mexican bank is limited to the use of an ATM.
Like in most other countries, banks in Mexico offer current accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, debit cards, direct debits, credit services, personal loans, and overdraft facilities. The local banks will also accept payments for utility bills as well as taxes (local, state, and federal).
Foreign residents in this country can choose to hold one of these three account types:
Peso-denominated checking account: Investors of all nationalities are offered a wide range of interest-bearing and regular accounts, which allow them to manage their money and earn an income. The minimum opening deposit for these accounts could range anywhere between US$500 and US$1,000 depending upon the account type.
US Dollar checking account: These accounts are usually only offered to American and Canadian nationals as well as corporations. The interest rates for these accounts are much lower to the US. The minimum opening balance for these checking accounts varies.
Certificate of deposit: Such accounts are regarded as instruments that give the investor the best returns in the market and are guaranteed by the issuing bank. These are offered only in Pesos. The minimum opening deposit for these accounts is higher.
There is a considerable difference in the fees and services for each of these accounts. Expats should, therefore, look at all possible options before deciding on which account to open.
While the dollar checking account is only for Americans and Canadians, expats of all nationalities can access the money in their overseas accounts through a Mexican ATM as long as they have an international debit card. The downside is that there is an additional fee levied on all withdrawals from these accounts. Expats who plan to use their accounts for daily transactions should, therefore, open a checking account that uses only pesos.
In order to open a local bank account, an individual must provide:
• Residence visa
• Address proof (local)
• Two references
• The minimum deposit
For years now, the banks in Mexico have been infamous for three things: excessively high (not to mention complex) charges, high borrowing rates coupled with low rates on deposits, and poor customer service. Fortunately, this is undergoing a change as international banks have come into the picture.
The largest and most popular local banks in Mexico include Banamex, Banco Santander, Banorte, and Bancomer. International banking organizations like Barclays, HSBC, and Scotia have also gained popularity, especially with the expat population.
If you’re planning to live in Mexico full or part-time or planning to buy a home here, sooner or later you will need to set up a Mexican bank account.
Mexico’s banking infrastructure has been transformed in the last two decades following banking crises in the early 1980’s and again in the mid-1990’s which left people jobless, wiped-out savings, and forced thousands of businesses to fold. Reforms introduced after the Tequila Crisis in 1994-95 set in place a foundation that has left Mexican banks in good shape. During this period most Mexican banks were sold-off to foreign investment houses including banking giants Citibank and HSBC.
Foreign investment brought recapitalization, new technology, and improved services for bank customers–including a wider choice of products, better customer service, and longer opening hours to name a few. However, despite new ownership, Mexico’s retail banks continue to be characterized by some old nuisances including bureaucracy, high charges and commissions, and high interest on credit cards. Note also that Mexico’s sales tax is added to loan interest, banking charges and commissions here, adding to the cost of unsecured loans.
When you approach a bank in Mexico, you’ll find they offer a range of financial services including checking accounts, deposit accounts, credit cards, personal loans (loans for new cars are especially prevalent), a plethora of insurance services, and AFOREs – tax-efficient saving investment funds. All of Mexico’s principal banks offer internet banking for their clients. Paying bills and transferring money between accounts electronically saves having to join the lines at the bank, which are especially long on pay-day quincenas (every 15 days).
Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, recently announced a detailed plan to tackle the lack of real competition in the telecommunications and banking sectors as a centerpiece of his administration’s objectives, citing that these needed ‘more effective competition’ in order to help Mexico reach its ambitious economic growth targets and create the many new jobs its relatively young population needs. Time will tell how that policy manifests itself in the marketplace.
Exchanging Dollars for Pesos in Mexico
In the past, travelers to Mexico could use US dollars for most transactions, and many people didn’t even bother to exchange their currency into pesos, paying for goods and services with dollars. With laws in effect since September 2010, however, restrictions have been placed on the use of US dollars in cash for making purchases, and the amount you may exchange at banks and currency exchange booths is also restricted; there are limits on how much you can change per day and per month.
These measures were brought into effect to combat money laundering and organized crime; unfortunately, tourists and legitimate businesses have also been affected.
Exchanging Dollars for Pesos
According to the new regulations, casas de cambio (currency exchange booths), banks and hotels may exchange a maximum of $1500 USD in cash per person per month into Mexican pesos. Many financial institutions are limiting this to exchange up to $300 USD in a single transaction.
It is also required to present an official identification with photo (preferably a passport) when exchanging dollars for pesos.
Paying for Goods and Services
Businesses may accept a maximum of $100 USD in cash per transaction, with no restriction on the number of transactions per customer. However, many businesses are choosing to not accept US dollars at all. Likewise, many airlines within Mexico will only accept Mexican pesos and credit cards for payment of fees (such as baggage fees). The most convenient way to pay for purchases is to use a credit card or withdraw Mexican pesos from an ATM. It is not advisable to carry large amounts of cash.
Exchanging Other Currencies
It is important to note that these new regulations regarding currency exchange do not apply to other foreign currencies such as Euros and Canadian dollars and forms of payment other than cash such as credit cards and traveler’s checks, are not affected by these measures.
If possible, exchange a small amount of currency to Mexican pesos before your departure. Take enough pesos to cover your expenses on arrival (tips to baggage handlers, taxi, etc.)
Pay with a credit card when possible.
Take a credit card or debit card for ATM cash withdrawals.
Before you travel, advise your bank that you will be in Mexico, so they will expect transactions from outside of the country. (In order to prevent credit card fraud, occasionally banks will put a hold on a card that has transactions that are different from usual. Alerting the bank ahead of time will avoid this.)