Two Months with a Mexican Bank Account

I was able to get a Mexican bank account with HSBC on September 27th. Frankly, I thought it was going to be a headache managing three bank accounts (two in Canada, one here), plus two PayPal accounts. So far, there’s been nothing but positives even if there is a lot of account juggling involved.

First of all, fees. HSBC only charges me about $40 ($35 + tax) per month for the account. The only other fee I’ve had so far was to do an initial cash deposit. So having the account is not a huge additional monthly expense.

Furthermore, I fund the account through transfers from PayPal. I have several semi-regular clients who pay me smallish amounts that I use for my Mexican budget. They pay directly into my PayPal account tied to my HSBC account. This way, I save one currency fee. Instead of having to go from USD to CAD to MXN, I go straight from USD to MXN. PayPal is less than transparent about currency fees so I have to do some digging to see how much I’m actually saving, but whatever it is, the amount will add up.

The hiccup is that I don’t yet trust that PayPal account. I’ve been getting some concerning messages about my transactions getting extra attention, probably because I have two PayPal accounts. This is because PayPal has to follow various banking laws around the world and can’t adequately serve a clientele that lives in different countries. They’re the ones who advised me to open the second account and are now being cagey about what’s up with those messages. It’s a shame — I’ve been using PayPal for a very long time and had nothing but praise for it, but it’s turning into one of those big corporations now where you can’t easily reach a real person.

So that’s why I only transfer in small amounts (less than 2,000 pesos). For anything really significant, I still send the money to my Scotiabank account to withdraw cash there. If a worst case scenario were to happen and I suddenly am no longer able to fund my HSBC account through PayPal, I’d go back to my old method of withdrawing cash at Scotiabank and then depositing it at HSBC for a reason that is explained below.

So what advantages do I get having a a Mexican bank account? I’ve identified a few so far and I’m sure more will come up.

The big one is I now have a debit card. Most stores here accept debit and that has been my preferred method of payment for decades because it makes it so much easier to keep track of my budget (no need to hang on to receipts — just check my statement at the end of the month).

I also don’t have to worry about carrying large amounts of cash, with both the fear of getting robbed or losing it and also of simply not having sufficient cash on hand when I need it. It happened once in Chelem that I was heading to Mérida when I realised that a) the fuel gauge was much lower than I remembered and b) I only had $200 on me. Instead of putting that $200 in the gas tank and then having to stop at a bank to get more cash and then go to another gas station, I was able to use my debit card to fill up.

The debit card also allows me to make online purchases. I have trouble with some sites (like TelCel) not consistently taking a foreign credit card, so that solves that issue.

(But TelCel has a new app now that lets you top up in a few much easier steps — if you have a PayPal account tied to a Mexican bank account!)

Another perk of having a debit card is that I can ask for a cash withdrawal at some store checkouts, saving me from having to find an ATM.

Unlike the Canadian Interac system, the debit card here works more like a credit card as it takes days for your transactions to post rather than having the money come straight out of your account. The amounts that are due to post are tallied up and except for upcoming PayPal withdrawals, your available balance is correct. So that’s not an issue for me.

The HSBC website is a bit of a pain to get through as it has three layers of security, but it works as expected. I have not been able to get into mobile banking and need to make a phone call to sort that out. This is going to have to be done because I can’t pay some things online without a code that I can only get from a functional mobile banking app.

Another useful feature of having the card is that people can make payments against it at many locations, including Oxxo convenience stores or right at HSBC. This is nowhere near as convenient as Canada’s Interac e-transfers, but it comes close. So whenever I start a business here, clients could, for example, pay me at an Oxxo or bank near them instead of coming to my house. Or let’s say I was selling something on the garage sale site but the buyer couldn’t come straight away to me or wanted me to deliver, they could pay me a deposit in advance.

Today, I discovered another perk of having my HSBC account. I went to pay my rent at a nearby branch and there was a long lineup for folks who weren’t clients of HSBC and no lineup for folks who are clients of HSBC. Being a client, I got out of there in record time!

Having a Mexican bank account was a huge piece of the puzzle that is slowly migrating myself over to Mexico and I definitely wouldn’t be without it now.