Opening a Bank Account in Mexico as an Expat

“Why would you open a Mexican bank account?” “I’ve already have my American credit cards so why would I get a Mexican debit card?” “I’m so curious as to why someone would need a bank account in Mexico if you have a US bank account and can use an ATM without fees.”

These are just a few questions and comments that other expats in Mexico asked me when I inquired about which banks to use in Mexico. Yes, it’s true that you can easily live here without having a Mexican bank account, but having one opens more doors for opportunities. I’ll go over a few reasons later in this article.

But first things first: your immigration status. In order to open a bank account in Mexico, you’re technically supposed to have residency here (e.g., temporary, permanent). I’ve heard of cases where people have managed to open a bank account in Mexico while on a tourist visa, but (1) that’s few and far between and (2) this is a blog for those wanting to reside in Mexico for a duration of time, so I won’t be focusing on how that could possibly be pulled off.

Reasons for having a Mexican bank account

Again, living in Mexico without a bank account based in the country can easily be done; however, I strongly believe that the effort it takes to get one makes it very well worth it. Listed below are some of the major benefits of having a Mexican bank account.

Easy retrieval of transfers within Mexico

This is probably the biggest factor for me when it comes to opening a Mexican bank account, but it’s easy to overlook it until you find yourself in this situation. I have found myself in situations where it’s difficult receiving money from Mexican nationals. For instance, when receiving large cash amounts from others within Mexico, it’s much easier to complete a transfer from someone’s Mexican bank account to yours, as opposed to withdrawing the cash and carrying it around. One case for why you might find yourself in this scenario is when a landlord needs to wire the security deposits back to you after you’ve left the apartment. Or perhaps you’ve bought property in Mexico and need to have your tenant(s) wire you the security deposit. Either way, having a Mexican bank account makes those transfers a lot easier (and safer).

Ability to use MercadoLibre

What is MercadoLibre? Think Amazon Prime but cheaper and with more options compared to Amazon – Mexico. MercadoLibre is popular throughout Mexico and Latin America, and based on my experience (and others), it requires a card that’s based in the country that you’re ordering from. For example, a Mexican card if you’re using MercadoLibre in Mexico. Or a Brazilian card if you’re using it within Brazil.

Easily replace your card if needed

Replacing a US debit and/or credit card is a bit challenging as some won’t ship cards outside of the US. In fact, I still have a credit card sitting at my parents place from six months ago. Having a Mexican bank account allows you to obtain a card through them, and getting one replaced is very easy. Additionally, in cases where the card might have been stolen, having a Mexican bank account adds a buffer layer between the bulk of your assets and fraud.

No ATM fees for withdrawals

A popular US-based card among expats is Charles Schwab. If you happen to have your hands on one – which reimburses ATM fees regardless of where you are – then you may think that this scenario doesn’t apply to you. However, I’ve come across people who have had their account closed due to little or no activity within their brokerage account, which many theorize is how Charles Schwab actually makes their profit. Having a Mexican card is a nice backup plan, even if you end up not needing it.

Additionally, as mentioned before, getting a US debit/credit card replaced outside of the country is challenging, including Charles Schwab. And for those that aren’t able to get their hands on a Charles Schwab debit card, particularly those outside of the United States, having a Mexican debit card eliminates ATM fees for withdrawals, which is a nice perk.

The above are just a few reasons to get a bank account with Mexico, which provide lots of benefits for those living within Mexico, whether they’re staying just for a few months at a time or living full-time for more than 10 years.

Money transfers

Okay, you’ve decided on a US bank to use and a Mexican bank to use. Now what? There are generally two main approaches for transferring money from the US account to the Mexican account, which I’ll go over below.

Direct transfer between the US bank account and the Mexican bank account

If you’ve got an American bank and a Mexican bank that play nicely with each other, transferring money is easy, quick and usually free between them. Some of the bank combinations that provide quick transfers between accounts are shown below:

  • Citi (United States) and Banamex (Mexico)
  • HSBC Premier* (United States) and HSBC Premier* (Mexico)
  • Wells Fargo (United States) and BBVA Bancomer (Mexico)

One major complaint I heard about transferring money directly between both bank accounts is the currency conversion rate. Most expats resort to another method for completing transfers, which leads me to the next (and more popular) option.

* Keep in mind that with the HSBC Premier account, you must meet a hefty financial requirement. This includes monthly deposits, total savings, etc.

TransferWise

If you haven’t heard of TransferWise, it’s an online money transfer service that supports numerous currency transfer routes globally. After talking with expats, it turns out that most of them use this option, even if they have the ability to send free transfers between their US and Mexican bank accounts. Why? TransferWise has very good conversion rates and only a small fee per transfer. In order to get the most out of it, expats do few but large lump sum transfers. Lastly, with TransferWise, it doesn’t matter which banks you end up with, as long as they’re able to work with the platform.

Summary

Opening a Mexican bank account provides expats with a lot of value. However, this does not mean that you should stop using your bank account in the country where the majority of your assets live. Instead, schedule transfers to your account in Mexico on a recurring basis so that you can leverage the benefits that the Mexican bank account can provide you.

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