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:
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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.
I 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.
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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.