In good standing

LOTS OF THINGS change when you move over the border.

Your trustworthiness, for example. If you had a superlative credit rating in the United States — as I did and do — you immediately lose it when you move south. It’s not that you lose it. It’s that Mexico pays it no mind.

One would think that with today’s global interconnectedness, especially in monetary matters, that a sterling credit rating would follow you, but it sometimes does not.

After about eight years with a checking account with Banamex, one of Mexico’s largest banks, I decided to ask them for a credit card. There had never been an overdraft or any problem whatsoever with that checking account.

First, a little background:

* * * *

In 2000 I moved over the Rio Bravo with four U.S. credit cards, two from the same institution. About three years later, I had to cancel the two from the same institution due to problems with skanky Sky TV. (Don’t ask.) That left me with two cards.

Flash forward a few more years. A renewal card, a Wells Fargo Mastercard, arrived in my local post office box. To activate it, however, Wells Fargo insisted that I go to any local bank and ask the manager to jump through an incredible series of hoops designed, in some mysterious way, to prove that I am who I am, not some Mexican crook.

dollarI knew that would be a major headache.

Cancel the freaking card, I told the surly Wells Fargo “fraud” rep who was giving me his best Mike Hammer impersonation on the phone.

That left me with just one credit card. Whoopsies!

Try to get a credit card from a U.S. bank, no matter how sterling your credit rating is, after you tell them you now live in Mexico. Might as well confess you’re in the Taliban.

The remaining credit card, a Visa I’ve had for 24 years, thinks I live in Miami. I have a mail service there. The renewal card goes to Miami, and I have it expressed to a DHL office in the nearby capital city where I pick it up at my leisure.

That’s it with the background.

* * * *

So I ask my Banamex for a Mexican credit card. The only thing they will give me is the most basic card with a 15,000-peso limit, a bit over 1,000 U.S. dollars. In contrast, my U.S. Visa card has a $25,000 limit. Banamex has higher-limit cards, but it won’t give one to me.

No way, José.

Why? I had no credit history in Mexico. Even though Banamex is owned by Citicorp, it seems they cannot or will not access my credit history above the border.

So I get the basic card, use it here and there and cancel it when the second year’s annual charge comes due. The first year was free. I’m back to just one credit card.

Then a light bulb ignites over my aging noodle. Banamex also has a branch in Los Angeles (BanamexUSA) where I have had a separate checking account since 1999.

I will ask them for a credit card, and since they live above the border, they will check my Gringo good credit rating. Surely, they will.

I apply. They say no way. Forget it. Why? I have no credit history in Mexico. Apparently, the one year with the basic card at Banamex in Mexico meant nothing, and they don’t check my credit rating in the United States.

I write a letter to the headman in Los Angeles politely pointing out the utter silliness of their system. And I get the credit card! Now I have two, which is enough.

A year ago, I left the minimum required in the Banamex account here, and moved a block south, opening two accounts at HSBC, where there are shorter lines and a better website. We moved a fat chunk of cash from investments above the border into my wife’s account, which made her qualify automatically for a credit card with a high limit and no annual fee.

A year ago, I signed on with the Mexican credit bureau, headquartered in Mexico City. For an annual charge of about 18 bucks you can keep track of your credit rating in Mexico. A year ago I had no score at all. Now I’m in the top 25 percent, credit-wise.

How that came to pass, I have no idea.

But we now have three credit cards between the two of us. One works best above the border. One works well on either side. And the third works best in my new nation.

All is well and good.

P.S. I use credit cards only online, 100 percent. I never carry one.

11 thoughts on “In good standing

  1. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason as to how the banks SOB operate. What was okay at one branch is nix at another. A lot of rules and policies are left up to the local manager and what kind of grease he needs on his palms. You have figured out how to work the system. It seems there is always some way to manipulate the outcome of pretty much anything you may want or need here.

    I tried for a few years to get a local credit card, same issue, but then I applied for the Costco credit card and after getting that one, they all started sending me invitations to get one.

    Totally nuts.


    1. Tancho: It’s just part of the “magic” of Mexico! When my wife and I met, married, and she moved here from Mexico City, we went to the local Bancomer branch to close her Bancomer account that she had opened in Mexico City years earlier. Couldn’t do it, we were told. She would have to go all the way back to Mexico City to close the Bancomer account even though we were sitting in a Bancomer when we were told that.

      Your implication that one must bribe the managers, however, well, I don’t buy that. I have never been asked for a bribe anywhere in all my years here, and the one time I offered one, at a TelMex office, it was politely refused. No, they just have their rules, as you say.

      The CostCo credit card is not even a real credit card. It only works in CostCo.

      BanamexUSA in Los Angeles had been sending me credit card come-ons for years. I was “pre-approved” and all that baloney. Then I actually asked for one, and they refused … at first.

      Life here is always a laugh riot.


    2. Putting the credit card issue aside, the only real beef I have had with banks here is getting cards, be it debit or credit, into my actual hands. They won’t send them in snail mail. They only get sent by an express service. And you must be home when the delivery arrives. If you are not home, you never know they passed by because they leave no note, as they do in the U.S., saying they passed by and when they will pass by again, or giving you a phone number or some alternative procedure. If you’re not at home, too bad. You’re left in the dark with no clue that they tried to deliver the card.

      Both with Banamex and HSBC, I have had to send registered letters to the general directors in Mexico City to complain. And I had to do it with the boss at BanamexUSA in Los Angeles, too. When I do that, the card(s) come lickety-split.

      I have a theory about why express services, even the biggies like DHL, leave no clue that they knocked on your door. They are not equipped, either with paper or mentally, to leave a note because they never have had to leave a note because somebody is always present in a Mexican home. If it’s not mom or dad, it’s one of the 15 kids, or granny or auntie or sons-in-law or daughters-in-law or, barring all those, the servant.

      We have none of those folks in our house.


      1. By greasing their palms, what happened is my Mexican friend brought me into the branch across the street from the little plaza and had me bring a bottle of Don Julio with me in a plastic bag.

        He chitchatted with the guy and then introduced me to him. I said a few pleasantries to him and handed him the bag. After that, any time I walked into the bank, even if he was busy, he would run up and guide me to a teller in front of other people.

        It has been many years since that, and the manager is long gone (probably fired for taking too many gifts). I, in the meantime, switch banks to Bital which was more convenient to us, banking and location-wise.

        Thinking back, we also did that at some other places, and I can’t remember if it really did much good other than give my friend better relations.


  2. It sounds like your typical Mexican bureaucratic snafu. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious to everyone except the Mexicans why their economy isn’t bigger.

    As for people not being home, it’s pretty common in DF. I know lots of people there whose houses are empty during working hours. So it’s kind of weird that DHL and the like don’t leave sticky notes. But maybe they return the packages and then get to charge the sender twice.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we once spent quite a while on the phone with JP Morgan about refinancing our mortgage only to finally discover an hour into the conversation that we’d never meet their criteria, despite my desperately trying to establish this at the BEGINNING of the conversation. Talk about wasted time!


    1. Kim: More and more, I think, Mexican homes are becoming less occupied during the day. I think this is pretty much caused by the same reasons American homes are vacant: Both parents are working and there are fewer children.

      But I think the mindset remains that someone is always home.


  3. I have learned, to my cost, to never take my credit cards out of the house. They are useless in my village. And, even when I can use one (such as, in Puerto Vallarta or Guadalajara), cash works just as well. The problem, of course, is losing it and facing the bureaucratic goat rope of getting a new one.


    1. Steve: I never take a credit card out of the house except when we go on vacation, and even then I don’t carry it in my wallet. I never take a debit card out of the house either unless I’m taking money out of an ATM or going to the supermarket. When I get home, I take it out of my wallet again. As you well know, Mexico is still mostly a cash society, and that’s what I use almost always. Real money.

      And, of course, replacing a card is a major pain. Another reason not to tote it about.


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