A very important consideration when relocating to a new country, either full or part-time, is "How do I handle my financial affairs?"
The simple answer is not a lot different than in U.S. or Canada. You can literally do all your bill paying over the internet and once you set it up it is a breeze and very convenient, especially if you are traveling.
BANKS in the Lakeside area - Santander-Serfin (affiliated with Bank of America), Banamex (affiliated with CitiBank), and Bancomer at Lakeside are full-service banks. Chapala has four banks, Ajijic has two, and Jocotepec one. Non-banks offering financial services include investment firms such as Actinver Lloyd (Chapala and Ajijic) and Multivalores (Ajijic), and various casas de cambio. The latter will do currency exchange and cash travelers checks.
Because of the Internet, managing your finances in Mexico has become easier than even ten years ago, but it still requires a little more effort than you might be used to in your hometown. Online banking has an incredible advantage in handling your stocks and managing your online banking accounts.
However, if you are coming from Canada, please be aware that most businesses will not accept Canadian traveler's checks and even Canadian cash is very difficult to exchange.
You can actually open an account in Mexico using your FMT documents, and it’s not a bad idea to have income in a local bank. There are also some banks in the United States and Canada that have a business relationship with Mexican banks…for instance, Banamex in Mexico and Citibank in the United States. This makes it easier to move funds.
Once you make the decision to move to Mexico, you’ll want to get a few of your money matters squared away. First of all, don’t get rid of your hometown bank account. With online banking, your funds are just an ATM away.
It’s even possible to set up automatic bill payments for your bills, which can save you a lot of headaches. Mail service in Mexico is getting better, but it is still snail mail! You don't want to ruin your credit by having any of your bills paid late.
Be sure to bring an ATM/debit card from your bank when you go abroad. These cards, such as the Visa Check Card and MasterCard Money, are linked to a cardholder's checking account and can be used for purchases and to withdraw money from foreign ATMs. It’s not a bad idea to get an ATM card even if you already have a debit card. Your ATM card doesn’t expire, and it will be useful if a new debit card isn’t forthcoming as quickly as it should be from your financial institution.
For Americans, it’s also convenient to have your Social Security check deposited in a U.S. bank account. You can then withdraw your check in pesos from an ATM in the Lakeside area.
Don’t forget foreign exchange and fees: The exchange rates secured by Visa and MasterCard for debit card and credit card customers are based on wholesale rates offered to large banks and corporations rather than the retail rate offered to consumers. So…when possible, it’s not a bad idea to use your credit cards. Of course, remember that the Lakeside area is mostly a peso economy. However, Walmart and Soriana both accept debit cards and many of the major shops in Guadalajara accept major credit cards.
Some things to remember:
- If you're flying in, exchange at least $100 U.S. before you leave home. This will be enough to cover your taxi from the airport to your B&B or hotel (about $30 from the airport to Chapala or Ajijic) and food and incidentals for the first day or two until you get your bearings.
- Definitely bring your ATM card and use the local machines here...there are plenty at Lakeside and at the airport. You do get the best exchange rate from the ATMs and you don't have to carry large amounts of cash or try to exchange your traveler's checks at a casa de cambio. Check with your bank to see how much your daily limit is. However, most of the ATMs in the Lakeside area will only let you withdraw $3000 pesos per day (approximately $300).
- And, please, if you're even thinking that you're coming to purchase a home, or even if you're planning on securing a long-term rental while you're here on an 8-Day Focus on Mexico educational program (or you're on vacation), bring your checkbook. For a home purchase, you'll need it to write a check for the deposit; and if you're planning on renting, you'll have to pay the first and last month's rent and the deposit (usually equal to a month's rent) in order to hold your rental for you.