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Mexican Living Survival Tip #8- Credit and ATM Cards

Something too few tourists will ask before coming to Guanajuato, Mexico, for a visit is, “Can I use my ATM and credit card for everything or anything?” I have seen many a display of the Ugly American Syndrome in many restaurants and shops over this very issue.

So, to avoid the temptation of reinforcing the Ugly American Syndrome stereotype here in Guanajuato, let’s have a go at this topic.

The truth is that while you might be able to use your credit card in most of the ...

guanajuato,mexico,san miguel allende

Something too few tourists will ask before coming to Guanajuato, Mexico, for a visit is, “Can I use my ATM and credit card for everything or anything?” I have seen many a display of the Ugly American Syndrome in many restaurants and shops over this very issue.

So, to avoid the temptation of reinforcing the Ugly American Syndrome stereotype here in Guanajuato, let’s have a go at this topic.

The truth is that while you might be able to use your credit card in most of the typical tourist resort areas, I would not count on being able to use it here in Guanajuato. In some of the bigger, two-hundred-dollar a night hotels in this Colonial Mexican town, you can use your credit card. The hotels that have restaurants will usually take your credit card. However, outside the confines of your hotel, I wouldn’t bet the farm on being able to use your card.

The automatic teller machines are plentiful in Guanajauto and will dispense the local currency. You can get cash with different limits depending on the local bank. One of the banks will not dispense more than $3,000 pesos a day while others will dispense almost three times that amount.

There will be fees involved. Before traveling to Guanajuato, you need to check with the bank that issued your credit or ATM card to see what fees they charge. Some will charge for the use of foreign ATM or those outside their network. Make sure you tell them that you are going to be in Mexico and ask if your PIN will work in Mexico (some don’t work outside the USA). I would even go to your bank and talk with someone in person rather than call on the phone.

Banks in Mexico charge a fee for you to use their ATMs. So, you are going to have fees upon fees. Be sure you know this ahead of time to prevent yourself from going into shock. Currently, we are charged about 75 cents for using our American ATM card here in Mexico. We keep accounts in both the U.S. and Mexico.
You will be charged extra fees at any Mexican ATM. There is no avoiding it so be prepared and do not let something like this ruin your trip. You might be able to find banks in the U.S. that do not charge a fee for using an “alien” ATM in another country. Check around but this might be more of a hassle than it is worth.

Try to ask around to see what local Guanajuato banks will permit the biggest ATM withdrawls. Then, to avoid too many ATM fees, take out the maximum amount of pesos you can each day. This will keep you from incurring ATM fees each day.

In the state in which I live, but so far not in my city, there have been some ATM thieves that attach a false computer front to the ATM machine. It will have a slide mechanism for your card. This false front will tell you that there is no cash in the ATM while it recorded your account number and password.

Then these nasty characters clean out your account. The lesson is always go to the ATM’s where you have to insert rather than slide your card.

Local merchants, and there are very few, that do accept credit cards, seem very nervous when completing a transaction. This could be for several reasons. I always pay for everything in cash so as to avoid hassles. Even travelers checks are rarely accepted in the city. With your passport, you can go to most banks to cash these. But the banks have certain hours that they do this, so check before you get too low on cash.

A lot of gringos who want to see more of Mexico than the beach resorts have a difficult time adjusting to the differences. This credit and ATM card business seems radically different than it is in the coastal resorts. Too many fly into the costal resorts, spend a little time, then bus from the coast to central Mexico where one finds a different kind of tourism.

If the coastal areas take your credit card without a hitch, do not expect that in central Mexico. It is almost entirely a cash based society here. Pay with cash. It is so safe here compared with the resorts that you can walk around with larger sums of money than in other areas.

I’ve been in line in the bank when men, women, and children, yes kids, withdraw large sums of pesos. They fold it up, put it in a pocket or purse. They’re done.

You can do it too!

 

Mexican Survival Tip # 4 – Communication

If you want to communicate from Mexico to anywhere else in the world, do not use the Postal Service. If it is not the worst in the world, it has to be in the top ten. I have harangued and harangued about this in countless columns and articles. The Mexican feds have yet to do something about it. Are they listening?

The most recent mishap was that it took a check from my wife’s parents more than eight weeks to reach us. When we endorsed it and sent back via airmail, it took ...

guanajuato,mexico,move to mexico,retire to mexico,live in guanajuato,retirement in mexico,mexican

If you want to communicate from Mexico to anywhere else in the world, do not use the Postal Service. If it is not the worst in the world, it has to be in the top ten. I have harangued and harangued about this in countless columns and articles. The Mexican feds have yet to do something about it. Are they listening?

The most recent mishap was that it took a check from my wife’s parents more than eight weeks to reach us. When we endorsed it and sent back via airmail, it took more than a month to reach our bank. We spent more than $2.50 USD to send it and it still took that long.

If you want to live in Mexico, you will have to contend with the issue of communication. How to do it, when do it, and what is going to work the day you need it to function.

The mail system sucks. There is no other way to describe it. Actually, there is another way but I don’t think my editors would like me to use that kind of language. There are times when you will elect to use the postal service. Be prepared for the worst.

It currently costs more than $2.00 USD to send a first-class letter to the United States. There a less than 50% chance that it will ever reach its destination. The same goes for mail coming into Mexico from America. It is a crap shoot at best. Always be prepared for the worst when using the postal service.

If you have a really important document, you have to use DHL. But, keep in mind that this is Mexican DHL. The Mexican cultural affectations that affect every single thing in this country do not stop just because you are now dealing with an international business.

I have a friend who is a translator. He routinely sends and receives documents from his international clients. Once, because some client did not dot an “i” or cross a “t” correctly, the DHL people simply threw the package into the undeliverable bin. Now, mind you they had his phone number on the shipping invoice and could have called him to verify his address. They didn’t. That’s how life is here.

Another friend was trying to send a baby’s dress via DHL to a niece who had recently given birth. She wrapped it up and sent it DHL to America. When it arrived, the dress was gone but they delivered the empty package. This is so typical.

Any letter or package that you need to send out of the country, or to another Mexican town for that matter, will be at the mercy of a culture that really does not care if your package gets delivered or not. Before you think me too harsh, let me throw this at you.

Here in Guanajuato, the local mail service is so bad that the utility companies do not dare deliver monthly bills via the postal service. They have guys who hand deliver the utility bills to your house. That’s how little the residents of Guanajuato trust the Mexican Postal Service.

If at all possible, email or fax documents. I do this as often as I can when I send articles and even entire books to agents or editors. However, not all American publishers comprehend the expense and danger of sending valuable documents out of Mexico and demand you use the postal service.

To demonstrate even further how bad it is, listen to this.

Decades ago, expats would “mule” their mail out of Mexico. What this means is that the expat communities were so close that when someone was heading back to the U.S. they would send along mail with him or her.

Now, there are mail services. You can actually obtain a street address in the U.S. where all your mail will be delivered. Then it will be trucked privately into stations in Mexican storefronts where you go pick it up. The problem is that Guanajuato does not have this, yet.

Phone service is fairly reliable when it stays connected. If you have DSL Internet then you can use one of the many services, like Vonage, where you can call back and forth to the U.S. for virtually nothing.

So, fax or email documents if you can. If you just have to courier them out of the country, use DHL. But, be prepared for a high failure rate even with them.

 

Mexican Survival Tip # 5 – Transportation

When my wife and I first visited the city in Mexico where we eventually chose to settle, we had a conversation along these lines:

Me: “Do you know what I am thinking, my sweet darling dove?”

Wife: “No, my hard hunk of a man. What are you thinking?”

Me: “ I think we could live here in Guanajuato and never have to drive!”

Wife: “You mean, do you really mean, that we could dump that car we are forced to drive by Mr. Urban Sprawl and stop destroying the environment?” ...

guanajuato,mexico,move to mexico,retire to mexico,live in guanajuato,retirement in mexico,mexican

When my wife and I first visited the city in Mexico where we eventually chose to settle, we had a conversation along these lines:

Me: “Do you know what I am thinking, my sweet darling dove?”

Wife: “No, my hard hunk of a man. What are you thinking?”

Me: “ I think we could live here in Guanajuato and never have to drive!”

Wife: “You mean, do you really mean, that we could dump that car we are forced to drive by Mr. Urban Sprawl and stop destroying the environment?”
Me: “Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh yes indeed. And not only that but we would stop getting fat-induced illnesses that are the result of never walking anywhere in America.”
Wife: “You forgot to say that we would lose weight and keep it off as a result.”

Me: “And what about getting rid of stress which also kills Americans who have to drive everywhere?”

Wife: “That stress as well as the fact that we would never have to make another car payment, buy insurance, get the car inspected, etc…”

Me: “Did you just say, ‘etc…’?”

Wife: “Never mind.”

We honestly had this conversation. Maybe not in those exact words but we did talk this over. This was one of the draws of living in Mexico.

We would never have to drive again.

And, that has been the case. We sold our car and flew here. We not only do not have a car but we never will have one. Why on earth you would want one when you do not have to have one totally escapes me!

However, Americans and Canadian expats in the millions have them. Americans would probably take cars with them to Europe if they could. I know of a lady who took an RV to Russia! Can you begin to fathom that?

Americans are so attached to their cars that it seems as though it is written into their DNA. They would never think of leaving their cars behind. The car is their source of identity. Cars define what Americans are.

Most of our friends, upon learning we were not driving our car into Mexico, nearly had strokes. So blinded are Americans to the fact that they can live with a car that none of my friends—not one of them—rejoiced that we would be able to:

• Stop contributing to the destruction of the already-fragile and probably irreparably-damaged environment.
• Walk everywhere, thus becoming healthier and extending our longevity.
• Increase the quality of our lives.
• Stop paying car insurance.
• Stop risking our lives each time we crawled behind the wheel of a car.

And the list goes on…

Have you ever thought how many people in America have died, either directly and indirectly, as the result of cars? The anti-gun lobbyists will scream night and day using this same argument. They will galvanize their forces to get rid of those evil people-killing guns as they mount the saddles of their gigantic, gas-guzzling SUV’s that kill people too.

Car wrecks, car jackings, car exhaust, accidents or suicides, and getting fat from constantly yielding to the temptation to drive rather than walk.

I know of people in the U.S. who would drive to mail a letter rather than walk the 20 minutes it would take to get back and forth to the Post Office. Americans drive everywhere and walk nowhere!

The too-often cited excuse is, “It is a convenience to drive to the store.”

A convenience for what? There you are, sitting on you ever-growing and swelling fundament,

Momma: “Daddy, get yourself down to the store and buy me something sweet.”
Papa: “Ok. Which gas guzzler should I take? The Ford SUV or the Chevy SUV?”

Momma: “Whatever. I don’t care.”

So, you get up from the living room. You put down the TV remote and the beer you’ve been drinking. And, rather than walking to get the ice cream (that will make you fatter still), you drive the SUV for the convenience of getting back to the house faster so you can more quickly get back to your living room chair, so you can eat the ice cream, drink more beer, and click away with the TV remote!

Is that the convenience Americans mean?

The American expats who go to all the bother to move to Mexico with their cars do the same thing!

I know of one lady who claims she likes the convenience of having the SUV, and yes an SUV, so she can be spared the length of time it takes to use the pubic transportation system.

For the most part, she, and a heck of a lot of other expats, sit on their butts in front of their satellite televisions watching American television. The only time they get out of the house is when they want “the convenience” of driving somewhere.

It is the same convenience, apparently, that they had in America. They want the convenience of getting to the store and buying their stuff so they can return more quickly to their expat hideouts in order to plop down in front of the television!

Only here is the joke! Where we live, in Guanajuato, it is quicker to walk somewhere than drive a car. In fact, at certain times of the day because of traffic congestion, you can out-walk the buses and taxis and reach your destination more quickly on foot.

What is certainly no joke is that too many Mexicans are buying into this uniquely American idea of “convenience”. The consequence is that too many cars are on the streets of Guanajuato. Mexicans and the few expats there are here are all vying for their driving space on streets not built for such nonsense.

The traffic jams in this little Colonial City, where car ownership is absolutely not necessary, defies logic! Or, perhaps I should say that the massive car ownership in this town is what defies logic.

The American expats of San Miguel de Allende have ruined that town, which is actually smaller than Guanajuato, with their cars. You really should see this hideous phenomenon for yourself.

Another result you will see of too many cars here is that many locals walk around with masks on their faces. You know, the kind surgeons wear during an operation. Every single Mexican I asked, “¿Por qué lleva la mascara?”, told me that it is because the car exhaust makes them sick!

Need I say another word on this subject?




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