Banking, Mexico-style

As my driver’s license was expiring recently and had to be renewed, my bank debit card was in the same boat. Today, I went to the nearest branch to renew, something that should have been simple, right? In a sane nation, yes, but not where I am. Latinos.

My bank is BBVA, one of the largest banks in Mexico, but it’s a global bank headquartered in Spain. I’ve had accounts over the years in a variety of banks below the border: Santander, HSBC, Banamex, Banco Azteca and, of course, BBVA.

On entering the bank, I was told to go to a teller, and he would give me a new debit card. That sounded great! This won’t take long, I thought. I handed over the card to the young fellow who also requested an ID, logically. All going fine so far.

He asked me to put my index finger atop one of those fingerprint readers. Uh oh, I thought. Those things do not like me, and today was no exception. After about 10 failed attempts, he handed my debit card and ID back to me, and pointed me to a bank officer.

On sitting at her desk, she requested the ID again. I gave her my Mexican voter ID, which is the most frequently used ID. She asked if I had additional IDs. I handed over my driver’s license and the old-folks’ discount card, which is a government-issued ID.

So she had three government-issued IDs and the debit card, which still had not expired. She tried to do the fingerprint thing again with a fancier gizmo than the teller had. No dice.

Clearly, I could be a hit man for the mob, and would never be convicted. Some crooks sandpaper their fingertips. I just got old.

She asked if I had credit cards. Yes, I said, but they were at home. She said she needed four methods to nail down that I was not some shady shyster. She did not phrase it that way, of course, but that was what she was getting at.

I pointed out that she had my voter ID, my driver’s license, my old-folks’ discount card and my BBVA debit card which was good till the end of the month. Four things.

Ah, but the debit card had been canceled by the teller before he realized my fingerprints balked at the machine. So the debit card in her hand with my name on it, that had worked for years, was useless since about five minutes previously because of the teller.

You’ll need to bring one of the credit cards, she said.

So I drove home, got both credit cards — considered bringing my Mexican passport too, maybe my birth certificate — and returned to the bank. Thankfully, she had told me it would not be necessary to wait again, that I could jump the line directly to her, which I did.

At last I have a new debit card. It’s good till January 2027. I will be 82 and could be dead by then. At least I won’t have to renew the card.

Abandoning America

I left America on January 19, 2000.

I did it on an airplane from Atlanta with just two suitcases. The future was an open book I had yet to read or write. A murder mystery, a romance, an historical tome? I had no clear notion. But I was sick of the past, and that can make even a cliff look sweet.

Most Americans who relocate south, from what I read on the internet, do it halfway. They return often, and their minds remain up there, which is understandable. Most arrive in Mexico as the un-young, having already packed one mode of perception into their hearts and heads over a near-lifetime.

I have slowly chipped away at my American connections. Today, I have almost none.

First, in 2002, I married a Mexican who does not speak English. I quit speaking English almost entirely. Then, in 2005, I became a Mexican citizen and won a Mexican passport.

More on passports down the line. In 2009, I made my last trip above the border. I don’t anticipate making another.

Financial institutions

In 2014, my U.S. bank — Banamex USA in Los Angeles, an outpost of Mexico’s Banamex, an account I opened before leaving Houston — abruptly dumped me due to Obama-era legislation called FATCA.*

My sole bank now is Spain’s BBVA, previously Bancomer BBVA. When I arrived in Mexico, I had four U.S. credit cards. They have fallen by the way due to various problems. My credit cards now are BBVA.**

Though I no longer had a U.S. bank, I had IRAs at the U.S. investment firm Vanguard, which had no issue with my living in Mexico, but with the advent of FATCA, that abruptly changed.

I quickly switched my address to a Miami mail drop so Vanguard would not cancel me like Banamex USA did.

I opened an account at Actinver, a Mexican investment firm, and put it in my wife’s name. In 2014, I began slowly moving Vanguard money to Actinver. Moving it slowly reduced the annual tax bite. I finished the switch just this year, so I closed the Vanguard account.

I have no financial accounts now in the United States.

Paypal

I had a PayPal U.S. account but, yet again, things started getting dicey due to FATCA. I canceled my PayPal U.S. account and opened a PayPal Mexico account using my Mexican passport and linked to my BBVA account and credit cards. Works great.

Passports

In 2016, my U.S. passport expired. I considered not renewing, but I did it for some goofy reason. I am now good till 2026, when I’ll be 82. I will not renew it at that time, so bye-bye U.S. passport. My Mexican passport will take me anywhere except the United States.

Amazon

I read a lot, entirely on my Amazon Kindle. When Amazon opened a Mexican outpost a few years back, I opened an account there too, but with a different registration. I continued buying my books at the U.S. site because there were few English books available on Amazon Mexico. That has now changed. There are thousands.

All too often, BBVA takes issue with my credit card on Amazon USA, and I have to phone the bank to straighten it out, which is very complicated due to Mexican banks’ hysteria on security issues. They are so hysterical that they inconvenience their customers more than the fraudsters. BBVA is not alone in this.

The bank did it again last week. Oddly, I buy things with the same credit card on Amazon Mexico with never a hitch, so I reset my Kindle and registered it with Amazon Mexico on Sunday. I lost some books in that process, but I’ve purchased three more.

Identical books often cost more on the Amazon Mexico website, but I don’t care. Bye, bye, Amazon USA.

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Do I miss America?

Considering the idiocy happening up there, not much.

When I think fondly of my American past, it usually focuses on my youth and adolescence on our family’s farm in southwest Georgia. I lived there fulltime until I was 7, and I continued to visit often into my early 30s when my parents sold it all.

The best memories, however, come from early on, walking through cornfields, looking across vast vistas of peanuts and cotton on the 540-acre farm, paddling the rowboat on Wavering Pond amid tall cypress trees, the walk down the field in front of the house to a narrow creek hidden among trees, the red-clay roads, my grandfather’s Ford pickup truck and gray tractors, the goldfish pond in the yard.

My grandmother’s 15 or so cats, and the dog named Pepper. The general store three miles down the dirt road where everyone was nice.

Frigid, winter mornings before the blazing, kitchen fireplace, eating eggs, grits, fried cornbread and redeye gravy. The main meal at noon with lemonade or iced tea beside vegetables and beef or chicken grown and raised just beyond the screened-porch door.

Willie the maid, Cap the bourbon-boozing handyman, and my pistol-packing grandmother’s real-life ghost stories.

But you know what Thomas Wolf said, and it is so.

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*FATCA is a law passed during the Obama Administration that purports to crack down on money-laundering. What it does primarily, however, is to clobber Americans living abroad by placing onerous paperwork on financial institutions with American customers with foreign addresses. The financial institutions often choose to just cancel those accounts.

**Interestingly, your credit history does not cross the border, so you must start fresh here. Whether you were a deadbeat or a stellar risk above the border, it means squat in Mexico. When you get a credit card from a Mexican bank, it will begin with a very low limit, and you take it from there. My limits now have been raised far higher than I need. Mexico has a credit bureau.

Credit cards & corruption

Just back from the exercise walk today on a lovely morning.

When I arrived on the south side of the Rio Bravo these many years ago, I came with two credit cards, one from Wells Fargo, the other from a bank I now forget. I used the latter in 2003 to make monthly payments automatically for a Sky TV service. Sky almost immediately started to hose me, overcharging the card.

Oddly, the bank would not let me block future charges, so I had to cancel the card, leaving me with just one, the Wells Fargo. A year or two later, when I received a renewal card in the mail from up north, the fraud department wanted me to jump through so many hoops to activate it that I canceled it too. So, no credit card.

I started using a debit card online, which is a dreadful idea. I had two banks at that point, a Mexican account at Banamex, and a U.S. account at Banamex USA in Los Angeles. I finally obtained a Visa card from the Banamex account. It had a very low limit, the peso equivalent of about $150 U.S, so rule out a European splurge.

It was the same sort of starter card they offer campesinos.

My credit card history above the border was stellar, but credit history does not travel across the Rio Bravo. Down here, you start from scratch. Mexico has a credit bureau.

In 2014, due to the nincompoop FATCA legislation from the Obama Administration, Banamex USA closed my account with little warning, leaving me just the Mexican bank account with its almost useless credit card.

I was mad at Banamex in general, so I opened another Mexican account at HSBC only to learn it would not give me a credit card, in part due to my age. You read that right. HSBC is a nightmare bank. Avoid it. And I had canceled the Banamex account.

I then opened an account at BBVA Bancomer to have a fallback. After a wait of about three months, they gave me a Visa credit card with a free additional with my wife’s name on it. I have since requested a second one which also came with a free spouse card, plus the two have digital cards connected. So, all told, I have six Mexican credit cards.

BBVA Bancomer is an excellent bank. It has dropped the Bancomer name, and is just BBVA now. I have also tried out and found wanting accounts at Banco Santander and Banco Azteca. I investigated opening an account once at Banorte, but the woman with whom I was dealing briefly was so surly, I decided against it.

And I dumped the HSBC account. BBVA now serves all my needs nicely.

I have the BBVA app on my Motorola cell, and I check it daily. On two or three occasions, I found fraudulent charges. Since the cards never leave home, I wonder how that’s done. I suspect it’s bank employees. No matter, a phone call to the bank gets the matter resolved, the card in question cancelled, and a replacement rapidly arrives at my door.

Fraudulent charges, quite a lot, appeared on one of my cards just last week. Someone was having a field day purchasing goodies from Mercado Libre. A replacement card is en route. I’m a big fan of BBVA even though I do think it’s bank employees who occasionally buy stuff with my card. Let’s just call them bad apples.

From what I see on internet forums, lots, probably most, Gringos who move to Mexico live here for years without Mexican bank accounts and without Mexican credit cards, relying totally on their accounts up north. This often gets them into binds.

If you’re gonna live in Mexico, you need a Mexican bank and credit cards.


Now let’s turn to politics, always fun.

Have you heard about last week’s revelations in the New York Post that Hunter Biden, in cahoots with his creepy dad, aka The Big Guy, were selling access to the White House when Sleepy Joe was vice president?

Have you read about Facebook and Twitter censoring mentions of the scandal? And how that censoring is blowing up in their partisan faces? If you know little or nothing about these things, that means you get your “news” from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, the Houston Chronicle and others of their ilk in the mainstream media.

All for now, amigos. Vote for Trump.