A bank lineup in Mexico A bank lineup overflows on to the sidewalk.

Banking in MX can be a complex business

Long lineups don't mean they're giving away bags of money

When I moved to Mexico I refrained from opening a Mexican bank account for several reasons, one of which was that every time I looked into a local bank the size of the crowd and the length of the lines made me think that they must be giving away large bags of money.

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Needless to say, the massive presence of the banking public dampened my enthusiasm for establishing a financial footprint in Mexico.

However, I started helping some gringos with their Mexican construction projects and realized a local account was a very necessary part of the process. So, the account I opened was with HSBC because my Canadian friend is with the same bank in Calgary and we thought this would simplify the wire transfer process.

This was before I found out that all banks in Mexico are not created equal.

The couple of times I have tagged along with a Mexican friend to Bancomer, the withdrawal process was a straightforward transaction preformed at a teller’s window. Present your ID and a bank card and, voila, you get money.

So when I tried the same thing at my new bank, I was stunned to discover the process is quite different at HSBC. The teller was not about to satisfy my fiduciary needs with simply an ID and a bank card.

I was told that the line I had been standing in for the last 20 minutes was not the correct place to initiate the withdrawal process. I needed to go stand in the line in front of the five desks that had two overworked people slowly servicing the waiting crowd.

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After 20 minutes of waiting my turn, I was finally seated in front of an older woman with a pleasant smile. When I told her I needed to withdraw funds she handed me a form and pointed to four of the 20-odd little boxes on the sheet and told me to fill in the appropriate information.

After my third attempt to fill out this form in exactly the correct manor required by the bank, she quickly filled out the fourth one and had me sign the damn thing. She then closely scrutinized the finite differences between my signature on the form and the one on my FM3.

She informed me that the two signatures did not look unerringly alike. After looking closely at both my signatures, I had to admit that no, one did not look precisely like the other. My signature is a scrawly mass of looping lines with a few squiggles thrown in, so each rendition is ever so slightly unique in its own way.

My ex-wife was the only one that could ever reproduce my signature perfectly each time; I should have brought her to the bank.

After signing my name several times on the back of the envelope that contained my banking papers, she seemed convinced that the gringo before her was totally incapable of producing a perfectly consistent signature and was not trying to perpetrate a fraud.

She then signed one of the little boxes at the bottom of the form, clipped a photocopy of my FM3 to it and told me to go back to the teller line. This bank thing was beginning to eat into my day.

After a surprisingly short 15-minute wait, I was at the window presenting the two pages required for the withdrawal. The teller looked at the form and then spent an inordinate amount of time focused on the photocopy of my FM3 as if it were a steamy piece of erotica.

He then shared some revelation with the teller next to him and they both laughed, probably at my expense. He filled out a form of his own, applied several officious looking stamps and had me sign a small slip of paper that had been run through the time stamp machine.

After putting both of these papers in their proper pigeon holes, he pulled out a bank check and ran it through an imprint machine three times, in three different directions. He handed me the check and told me to go back to the person at the desk and have her sign this hopefully negotiable instrument.

At this point I did not bother with the line; I walked right to the lady with the pleasant smile and handed her this critical link to my slowly devaluating pesos. She signed the check and I returned to the teller’s window, hoping that this would be my last walk across the bank.

The teller had me sign the back of the check, which he then ran through the time stamp machine and smacked it with a bright red stamp. When he opened the cash drawer and started pulling out stacks of pesos, I knew I was tantalizingly close to the final act of this protracted transaction.

What I assumed to be a simple withdraw generated five pieces of paper all with some type of stamp and several computer entries, required three signatures and an hour’s worth of time. I really did not mind the time, after all this is Mexico, but the cumbersome procedure for a simple withdrawal was incomprehensible.

In the years since that first encounter with HSBC, I have discovered that any Mexican bureaucracy can take the simplest of actions and generate mountains of paper, miles of steps and a sea of colorful stamps while sucking up my time like a black hole.

But what the hell, the beer is cold, the weather is warm and life in general is great.

Bodie Kellogg describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time on the west coast of Mexico with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at buscardero@yahoo.com.

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  • 101st

    Actually, I’ve been w/Bancomer for 8 years and don’t find it much different than a US bank. The only odd issue is I need a manager’s signature when I go to deposit a USD check, but this has never taken me longer than 10 minutes.

    • Allen Tompkins

      he clearly stated Bancomer was very simple to deal with BUT HSBC NOT Bancomer was the problem

  • Güerito

    Left out the most important info about banks in Mexico:

    Never, ever, even think about approaching a Mexican bank on the 15th or the 16th of the month. Or on the last day of the month or the first couple days of the following month.

  • JG

    Psst a FM-3 has not existed for 6 years.

    • ch

      Psst, he wrote this about an experience way back when

      • JG

        Then why write about something that is so far out of date.

        • G.b. Adams

          …because it hasn’t gotten any better? Still the same crap. It’s part of the full employment program.

  • I bank with Banamex, Bancomer and Santander, but my preference is Bancomer. The service at Banamex is terrible.

  • Playapapa

    My experiences with HSBC started in 2010 when I bought my house in Playa del Carmen. The seller wanted US dollars. I was told that I could open a US dollar account at HSBC, GREAT! I transferred the funds from my US dollar account at my HSBC bank in British Columbia. The dollars were converted to pesos. I spent days, not hours, waiting in the branch to get this sorted out. Finally, I got my US dollars, minus just over $6,000.00 lost in transaction fees.

    I emailed HSBC, head office in London, to tell them the issue. Their response was; it is not our problem. I then contacted the Canadian head office and eventually got a deposit in my account for the the transaction fees.

    Today, I am waiting for my new debit card from HSBC, Mexico, that was to have been mailed to me six months ago.

    I never got my replacement card. I called and they said they would send another. One month later I called inquiring about my card. According to them, the second card was delivered to my address, in Canada, and had been signed for by someone named Luz. There is no one in my house named Luz. I asked if they could have made a mistake and sent it the country of Columbia. The honest reply shocked me. He said “maybe!”

    I suggested sending it to my address in Playa: I will be there in a few weeks. No can do. The new card can only be sent to the address used to open the account. A third card is on it’s way and they promised I would have it by November 4.

    I leave on November7!

    • Sharon

      So why are you still doing business with HSBC – people in Canada had issues with them as well. Switch to CIBanco if they have one near you – no problems of any sort.

      • Playapapa

        That’s the plan. I must admit that there were some advantages over the last six years, but now that I am much more familiar with the system; I will make the switch after the Navidad rush.

  • TioDon

    I bank with CIBanco here in Playa. They’re wonderful. I never have a long wait and any transaction goes quickly and smoothly. My contact, Betty, is wonderful and always meets me there to make sure every transaction is done correctly and quickly. She even notifies me when the exchange rate is particularly high.

    “I have discovered that any Mexican bureaucracy can take the simplest of actions and generate mountains of paper, miles of steps and a sea of colorful stamps while sucking up my time like a black hole.” Sorry, not true, Bodie, you just picked the wrong bank. Change to CIBanco if there’s one where you live.

  • Bodie Kellogg

    Most people I know, that have been in Mexico longer than 15 minutes, have a banking story. Some are funny, some frighting and all are bewildering.

  • Sharon

    We have an account with CIBanco and have no such issues. The only time extra ID is required is when we need to withdraw more than 6000 pesos. All we do is show our passport and ATM card and away we go. They are very efficient at transferring money from our account in Canada – usually takes 24 hours, and we get a slightly higher rate than the daily posted rate. When we phone the bank, there is always someone ready to help us, and when we walk in the bank all the staff greet us, unless they are busy with other customers. We had Banamex before and the service was awful and no one spoke English. We are so happy and grateful to have CIBanco in our town.

  • I have accounts at both HSBC and Bancomer. Bancomer is 1,000 times better than HSBC.

    But you already know that.

    I had an account with Banamex for years. Not recommended at all.

  • Doug Batchelder

    I applied to Bancomer ten years ago for an account. Eight years ago they went online. I do my internet banking from Canada when not in Mexico. There have been some issues but getting my money out easily has always been a Benifit of banking at Bancomer. I use Forex to transfer Canadian funds from Canada to Bancomer in Mazatlan with no snags. I use my bank card to get cash just like the TD in Canada.

  • doximom

    I’ve been with Bancomer for several years now with no complaints. They have always been quick and efficient. A few months ago, an ATM machine ate my card. I walked into Bancomer, told them what happened and within 10 minutes I was on my way with a brand new card! (When the same thing happened with my U.S. bank card, it took 3 weeks to get a new one!)

  • Happygirl

    There is a HSBC bank in Progreso Yucatan that regularly rips off ATM customers, I and many of my friends have had their machines spit out a receipt but no cash. It takes up to three weeks to be compensated by your bank plus the pain of a phone call. HSBC just shrugs and says not their problem. Progreso is a cruise ship port and US passengers use their machines, thereby earning the bank extra pesos and disgruntled customers. HSBC has a terrible reputation world-wide for corruption so why should Mexico be any different? I would never even consider opening an account with them.

  • pedrochapala

    after living here 10+ years we recently opened an account with intercam,ajijic which is a full service bank now. i go to the window at about 11am when there is nobody or only a few there i show the teller my permenante and my acct. # ,tell her the amount i want. i sign a 2 part receipt,get my pesos in any cambio i want[not a whack of 500p bills] which took about 2 minutes. faster than it used to be with the scotia atm which is the reason we opened this account because the damn thing was down for over 2 months and scotia replaced it with a grabber that can eat your card at any time. the other thing[gasp] is that intercam gives us interest on our chequeing acct. balance monthly. scotia gave us nada.

  • Three score and ten

    After 17 years in Mexico dealing with a lot of banks and 10 years with a Bancomer account, I find this commentary mostly fabricated and very insulting. I’m not saying that there aren’t some strange procedures to deal with in Mexico, but propagating a story like this is EXACTLY why so many Americans hold a distorted and demeaning view of Mexico.

    • Henry Wilson

      no, .the reason we have that attitude is based upon real experience if you say it does not exist you are a liar or have a personal relationship with carlos slim or the owners of the banks.

    • Allen Tompkins

      he clearly stated Bancomer was very simple to deal with BUT HSBC NOT Bancomer was the problem so your ten years with bancomer is irrelevant..might be time to up some of you dosages on your meds

  • Michael C

    Pleased to read all of these endorsements of Bancomer, as I am preparing to go open my first bank account here in Puebla!

  • Henry Wilson

    Great article. My response exactly. I laughed the first time I saw those lines and commented to Mexican friends that we have long lines of Mexicans also in the US but all of them are at the Western Union office. Our banks were isolated lonely places in comparison. I learned two things: 1. in dealing with any public institution in Mexico you will be dealing with a person who if possible will make life miserable for you. 2. If a Mexican public employee can possibly say no to you he or she will do so. Try establishing telephone or electrical or water service sometime. Guaranteed to make a grown man cry. Vive Mexico!!

  • Alex Double

    Never had any problem withdrawing money from my Mexican HSBC account as long as I go with my debit card and ID. Sums up to 7,000pesos are easily withdrawn from any atm. So what’s the problem? I think the article is totally inaccurate and unrepresentative of the current situation.

  • notfromhere

    FM3? How old is article?

    • Allen Tompkins

      it clearly states at the top Saturday, October 29, 2016

  • Howard Roark

    I have only used ATM’s to withdraw cash and deposit to a landlord’s account. BBVA Bancomer has 2 ATMS for deposits only which speeds things up. There are Bancomer ATM’s in the major chain stores so you don’t have to wait in long lines at the bank.

  • tek man

    I also just use the ATM’s at the airports when I land. They charge a small fee in Pesos. The exchange is great these days, makes me want to fly to Merida as the Progresso beach is great.

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