How Banking in Mexico is Done
First and most importantly, no matter what you may think or have heard, Banking in Mexico is not difficult. It can be as simple as using your ATM card in an ATM machine, making wire transfers to a local bank, cashing a check at a local exchange house (you will need to establish an account first), or making deposits in a U.S. bank which are then transferred to a local ‘Investment House’ or ‘Bank’ (again, after you establish an account). In each case, the fees and exchange rates vary so it basically comes down to personal choice. It is important to mention that most of the smaller shops, stores, restaurants or service providers in the Lake Chapala area (and other areas in Mexico) do not accept checks or credit cards, so be prepared to pay with cash. Major credit cards are accepted in the larger department stores, grocery chains and organizations, while cash is the order of the day in the small mom and pop shops known as ‘tiendas.’
In Mexico only a few PEMEX Gas Stations take credit cards. We do have one gas station in Ajijic that takes credit cards, but if you are driving down or living in Lake Chapala and want to travel over to the coast or to Mexico City, make sure you have sufficient pesos on hand to pay for the gas and the tolls along the way. However, you will find out that there is a universal ATM network spread across the country and rarely will you have to search far to find an ATM to get cash.
There are numerous banks in the area, most with a significant ownership interest by foreign banks. (U.S., Canadian, Brazilian, Spanish and English). Each bank offers ATM services and accepts ‘Cirrus,' ‘Plus’ and ‘Red’ systems as well as Visa and MasterCard. These banks also offer personal checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, wire transfer services, bill-paying services, exchange foreign currency and traveler’s checks.
On the other hand, you can get a ‘no-fee’ ATM card in a Mexican Bank and avoid banking fees by maintaining a minimum balance.
To open a Mexican bank account, you will need to provide:
- An Residente Temporal or Residente Permanente Visa
- Proof of residency (a bill with your address on it)
- Two references who can vouch for your financial stability.
For the most part, banks in the Lake Chapala area only offer ‘Peso’ accounts. There are situations where you can open U.S. Dollar accounts, and you will learn what circumstances you can do this on our Focus on Mexico Programs. It is also possible to open an "offshore" account through the offshore branches or affiliates of a Mexican bank (usually for high net-worth people).