Before leaving the States for Ecuador some years ago, I began to research the options for managing our modest finances. Essentially, it came down to continuing to have our funds deposited into a stateside bank or opening a local account once in Ecuador and having funds sent there.
Initially, we opted to choose a stateside bank to receive our electronic deposits thinking that we’d check out the options in Ecuador once there. I knew we needed a stateside bank that provided a good Internet interface for moving funds from account to account, electronic bill paying and debit cards that would work while overseas. After researching 5-6 options, I wound up selecting a monster bank that I despised for their role in the financial scandal that took down many families beginning in 2008. I truly hated this monster bank BUT…they did offer the most advanced Internet interface of all that I researched as well as all the other features I needed to feel comfortable that I could access our money when and how I wanted. I swallowed my pride and danced with the devil for the sake of our financial security…but I didn’t like it!
I also maintained a local, small Credit Union account in our old home town just so I wouldn’t have all our eggs in one monster-bank basket. I really wanted this small credit union to become my primary financial institution but unfortunately, their website at that time was not sophisticated enough to handle such things as International wire transfers, etc. Nevertheless, I moved funds from our big-bank to the small credit union from time to time and maintained an active account status with them…just in case!
I notified both the bank and the credit union that we’d be moving to Ecuador and wanted to be certain that their security departments would not block our cards once they saw transactions in South America, thinking they had been stolen and the thieves had taken off for Ecuador! Both institutions assured me there would be no problem.
Things went along pretty well for a couple of months. There were actually 2 ATM machines in our small town of San Vicente and when one was broken or out of money (a fairly frequent occurrence) the other was usually working. During power outages when both were down, we’d drive across the bay to Bahia de Caraquez where there were several banks and perhaps 5 ATM machines. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we always needed to keep some cash on hand at the house…much more that we would ordinarily keep in the states. Life in a developing nation can be unpredictable so best to be prepared.
Every time I stepped up to an ATM machine and inserted my card, I felt like I was in Vegas playing a slot machine. And when I got a “payout”, I really felt like I had won! The machines could, at any time, be out of money or not connected to the Internet or simply deny my card, claiming that there were insufficient funds in the bank. This always freaked me out at the time until I realized the message of insufficient funds was the default message machines often displayed for any malfunction. I’d seek another machine and usually was able to complete my transaction.
For normal daily living, having our funds deposited in a U.S. bank has served us well. On those occasions when we have bought cars (both in Ecuador and also here in Mexico) where multiple thousands of dollars needed to be transferred, I initiated a wire transfer from the monster bank. The last time, here in Mexico, where the funds were in excess of ten thousand dollars, I had to endure a security screening phone call before they would authorize the transfer. That was very intrusive and was clearly designed to ensure that I wasn’t involved with some drug dealings here. It took about 20 minutes before the woman begrudgingly agreed to approve the transfer. Bastards!
Also, the security department at the monster bank is a bit overzealous in my opinion. They have blocked my card perhaps 5 times in 6 months for normal purchases and I’ve had to call them each time to assure them that the card was in my possession and the purchases were authorized. At first, I appreciated their concern but after so many times, it has become a notable inconvenience. Nothing is perfect!
Both Diane and I have comfortable daily limits for cash withdrawals on our cards that permit life to proceed without issues. We can also “swipe” our cards at most retail stores and restaurants without having to worry about using cash.
We never opened a local bank account while in Ecuador and we don’t anticipate opening a local account here in Mexico. It’s been over 6 months and although I’ve had to deal with some card blockages from time to time maintaining our banking relationships in the U.S. has worked out for us. If there are advantages to having a local account, we’ve not yet discovered them and when I do have to deal with some banking issue, I can now deal with that issue in English, over the telephone, rather than Spanish, a language that I’m still learning every day.
Today, we’re headed to do our Thanksgiving shopping. Also may buy a juicer. The weather here today is kinda’ snotty; a good day to go shopping. Mall walking will have to take the place of my normal 5 mile morning jaunt.