You’re probably wondering how to open a bank account in Mexico if you plan on living and paying bills there. Navigating the banking system in Mexico is pretty straightforward, like in the U.S.
However, it can seem a little daunting not knowing where to start, or if you even need a bank account in Mexico at all. To help you consider if you need a bank account in Mexico, keep reading. Once you decide if you need one, I’ll cover how you open a bank account in Mexico.
Why You Need To Open A Bank Account in Mexico
Having a bank account in the U.S. or Canada won’t be a problem if you plan to live in Mexico. However, having a Mexican bank account can make things easier for you, especially if you plan to live in Mexico long-term. In Mexico, ATMS tend to run out of money and if you are paying your rent in cash it can be a problem and a nuisance.
Here are some benefits of having a bank account in Mexico:
- Being able to set up essential services like utilities, a cellphone plan, and internet.
- Some landlords will require payment through a local bank transfer. Paying cash may not be an option.
- Save money on international withdrawal fees from any ATMs you are withdrawing money from. (unless you have a bank account that doesn’t charge for international withdrawals)
- Many retailers only accept bank transfers or cash. So, you’ll either need to withdraw a large sum for expensive purchases or have a Mexican bank account. (You can’t always pay with your credit card.)
- Being able to buy things through MercadoLibre or Amazon Mexico.
- If you need to send yourself a large amount of money, you’ll need a reliable bank account to safely and economically do so. Sending yourself a large amount of money through services like Western Union will eat a large chunk of your cash in commission fees.
On the other hand, I know people pay with cash or their credit card for one or all of these services. They have never opened a bank account in Mexico and have zero fees for withdrawing money from an ATM in Mexico.
Most people who chose to keep their banks in their home country as their sole bank has found that they get a better exchange rate from their bank back home. Plus, it might be the best option for you if you don’t get charged on international ATMs or international transactions.
*tip: when withdrawing from an international ATM, check your home country’s exchange rate and the local bank exchange rate. If your home bank’s exchange rate is better, make sure you decline the local banks’ exchange rate.
However, if setting up services such as utilities and rent require it, then here is what you’ll need to know.
Documents You’ll Need To Open A Bank Account in Mexico
To open a bank account in Mexico, you’ll need to have temporary or permanent residence at the very least. And yes, I know that some people get away with opening a bank account on an FMM tourist visa. However, this is the exception and not the rule. Don’t assume you’ll automatically have such luck. In some cases, I have heard of tourists opening a Mexican bank account in San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta- both concentrated ex-pat communities.
Most banks have the same requirements, but it’s wise to check with your desired bank for a detailed list of documents you’ll need to bring.
Here’s what you’ll need to open an account at most Mexican banks:
- Temporary or Permanent Resident Card
- Proof of address (utility bill or internet bill with your name on it)
- at least MXN 1,000 (yes, it needs to be in pesos.)
- Translator (most banks only have paperwork in Spanish.)
(Interested in knowing the process of residency in Mexico? Read this article.)
Some banks may have an English speaking banker who can help translate some of the paperwork. However, I wouldn’t count on this. Come prepared to understand the paperwork you have to fill out. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, you should bring someone who can translate for you. One of the reasons why learning Spanish should be a priority for you when moving to Mexico.
Once you open your bank account, you’ll most likely be given a debit card on the spot. Ask your banker to provide you with details on how many withdrawals you can make without penalties. Make sure they explain what fees there are for withdrawals (if any) and how you can change your pin.
Is Your Money Protected?
In Mexico, the Instituto para la Protección al Ahorro Bancario (IPAB) is the deposit insurance set up by the country for account holders in Mexico. It insures up to 400,000 UDIs (Unidad de Inversión), the equivalent of $2,743,209.20 pesos for each account (as of July 2021).
One cautionary piece of advice is to be aware of your surroundings at all times when using ATMs in Mexico. As a general rule of thumb, don’t go to ATMs alone or at night.
It is not unusual for criminals to lurk around ATMs waiting for an opportunity. Most ATMs have a locking mechanism that only allows people with a debit card to enter the ATM area. If you see someone hanging out in this area without using an ATM, it is best to walk away.
Types of Bank Accounts in Mexico
As a foreigner, you will most likely open either a checking account or a savings account. However, there are other types of bank accounts available. Make sure you know what kind of bank account you are opening when you go to the bank.
Checking Account aka Cuenta de Cheques
At some banks like Santander, there are two types of checking accounts. For a basic checking account, your monthly deposits must be less than MXN 18,000 (approx $900), and you get the benefit of having a smaller minimum balance requirement to avoid fees. At the same bank, there is an additional checking account for deposits larger than MXN 18,000. The benefit of this type of account is you don’t have a limit on monthly withdrawals.
They’ll ask for a minimum deposit of MXN 1,000 to open a checking account at most Mexican banks. Depending on the type of account, a minimum balance needs to be available for you to avoid fees. ATM withdrawals are usually free of charge if your withdrawing from your bank’s ATM. (however, some banks have a maximum number of withdrawals a month. Make sure you ask) Otherwise, withdrawals are allowed from other ATMs at an additional charge.
Savings Account aka Cuenta de Ahorros
Cuenta de Ahorros or Savings Accounts in Mexico work very much like a savings account in the U.S. Most banks limit how many withdrawals you can make a month. At some banks, your money must remain fully in a savings account for a grace period. Check with your bank before opening a bank account, as this could mean you will not have access to your cash. The plus side of this account is the higher interest rate paid out to you.
Intercam Is The Winner for Expats
Mexico is a country where bureaucracy meets paperwork. And banks are no exception. But why do I bring that up? Well, many banks in Mexico like Bancomer, BBVA, Santander and the like give expats a hard time to open their bank accounts. For example, some banks want you to be a permanent resident or national. Some banks allow both temporary and permanent residents.
Some banks don’t allow joint bank accounts.
However, there’s one bank that stands out amongst the rest as the one with the least amount of hassles and the easiest to open a bank account in.
This is Intercam.
The only downside to Intercam that I know of is that they don’t have locations and ATMs all over Mexico like the other popular banks do. But if you do all of your transferring online, it’s one of the best options.
Banks in Mexico with American Affiliates
If you bank with one of these banks in the U.S. or Canada- However this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to automatically open up a bank account in Mexico if you have one of these in your home country. Even though they are affiliated, they are different entities. But they may have some similar banking options.
These are a few of the ones I know of:
- Bank of America in the U.S. is affiliated with Scotiabank in Mexico.
- HSBC in the U.S. is affiliated with HSBC Mexico
- Santander, in the U.S., is affiliated with Santander Mexico.
What If You Don’t Have A Mexican Bank Account?
But what if you’re just spending a few days or weeks in Mexico, and you don’t want to open a bank account? How do you access a large amount of money then?
I’ve mentioned in this previous blog about a widely popular service known as Wise.com. If you have a bank account in the U.S. and need to send money to Mexico, using a service like Wise.com is a safe and reliable platform with some of the best exchange rates and charges some of the lowest fees.
It is extremely easy to use. You can even transfer money from an app on your phone, and you can check the exchange rate before you commit to initiating a transfer. What I love about Wise is its transparency. They’ll give you a side-by-side comparison of their exchange rates, and fees compared to other money transfer services. In some cases, Wise may not be the cheapest option, and they’ll let you know that upfront if it’s the case.
Every time I have sent money to Mexico from my U.S. bank account, I have access to it within 24-48 hours. Very important to know in case of an emergency!
Need a Facilitator To Help You Open A Bank Account?
I know this dance all too well. You have all your paperwork in order, you go to the bank and you’re still denied a bank account. Your basic Spanish and the banker’s basic English makes it even harder for you to fully communicate what it is you need.
That’s why I recommend hiring a facilitator who is local, speaks the language, understands the culture and can accompany you to open a bank account. Especially in less popular expat towns where the banker may not be used to dealing with foreigners on a daily basis.
In our Complete Mexico Relocation Guide you’ll get a directory of facilitators in the most popular cities who can help you to open a bank account, among other things.