Sunday, January 11, 2009

#8 and #9 -- paper money and money paper

The little German, who lives in the back of my head, is constantly asking if my papers are in order. For the first time in my life, I am going to be able to answer yes.

Several of you have commented that I am making this move to Mexico a bigger deal than it needs to be -- that it sounds as if I am worrying myself to death. There may be some truth to the charge, but I certainly do not feel that way on this end. If anything, I suspect I may simply be twiddling my thumbs until I can jump in my truck and head south.

What I do know is that, for the first time in my life, I am actually giving some structured thought to both my finances and getting my travelling papers in order.

Retirement has a way of focusing the mind on finances. I have never seriously considering retiring. My family's notion of work is that it is simply what you do until you die. When we Cottons are born, laborare est orare is tattooed on our very souls.

I currently work at a job that has an extremely generous retirement plan. A plan so generous that people regularly retire at 58. In a nation where people choose to work into their 70s, it is a nice plan. And a tempting one -- a temptation to which I have surrendered.

Somewhere last year, I decided to request an estimated benefits calculation. When it arrived, I was surprised at how much I would receive if I retired right now. When I added that amount with my federal service pension that begins this month, I realized I could comfortably retire at any time.

And then the deaths began. Tim Russert. A friend in the Department of Justice. Another friend's father. All of them in their 50s. For about a year, I have found myself turning to the obituary column in our state bar association magazine. At least half of the listed attorneys are younger than I am. I knew it was time to go. Rather, it was time for me to leave work before it was time "to go."

As you know from one small step, I submitted my retirement application at the beginning of last week, with an effective retirement date of 1 April. I then start my life in Mexico on 1 May.

I wanted to be certain that both pension checks were making their way into my account before I left. Because it takes up to 90 days for my current job's retirement check to jump its bureaucratic hurdles, I will be in Mexico before I know what is happening with that payment.

I am not worried about that process. After all, that is why we have computer connections.

I have one concern about my bank, though. I rely on a credit union that does not regularly allow its credit or debit cards to be used in Mexico. I have never been able to get my debit card to work properly there. The credit union is willing to let me use that card on a regular basis by overriding the ban. But its security system may override that override. When Kim of Boston and I discussed this, he convinced me that I need to deal with a bank.

And this is where Michael Dickson rode in on his white horse. One of the first sites I ran across with financial tips in Mexico was his
La Vida Bougainvillea. He provides excellent advice on how to move to Mexico. The piece that caught my eye was opening an account with Citibank and Banamex for ease of access to funds with a debit card. As soon as my federal pension begins in a week, I will start that process rolling, and let all of you know how well it goes.

I then have to decide what to do with my deferred compensation. Michael has advice in this area -- and I intend to follow it. I will follow it because it was what I had intended to do for several years. Nothing like having one's own inclinations confirmed by someone else.

Once I get those papers in order, I need to tend to my travel documents. When I started this list, I was convinced that I would apply for my FM3 at the consulate in Portland before I left. However, I have received some very kind offers from people in the Melaque area to assist me in getting an FM3 after I enter Mexico on an FMT. The odds are very good that I will take that option.

But in the process of gathering documents I thought I would need for my FM3, I happened to open up my passport and discovered that I have less than a year remaining on it. That is something I can resolve before I leave, but I need to hop on it right now. Have any of you used the new passport card? It appears to have a rather limited utility. But I might get one, as well.

I am as excited about this adventure as I was during my last few months in England -- knowing that I was returning the States to enter law school. I almost feel as as I were 27 again. Looking forward to a great new adventure.


1st Mate said...

Steve - The ducks in your row are looking very tidily lined up.

Just steer clear of HSBC - guess you noticed, you can't deposit dollars there anymore.

Definitely get on that passport asap! I hear there are delays since everybody's trying to get one at once, and then it's going to have to be mailed to you in Mexico, which will take a while.

Steve Cotton said...

Melaque only has one bank --Banamex. I am certain it will have its own eccentricities, but I have not heard of it doing what you and Islagringo have reported on. What a bizarre policy! The rumor is that HSBC is trying to cut down on money laundering -- as if other currencies will not step into the breach.

I need to get my passport in the mail on Monday. I may use the express service for peace of mind.

Larry Prater said...

Steve, please keep in mind that the only connection with Citibank in the US and Banamex in Mexico in reality is through Citibank (Banamex USA) in Los Angeles. Their web site is . I first thought that an account in any Citibank would work, but it will not. You can open at account there by mail, and after you have a Banamex account, you have to sign a short form and fax it to LA to link your two accounts so that you can transfer money in dollars in LA to your account in Mexico in pesos. You can do these transfers by internet (daily limit $1000 USD) or by phone (daily limit $10,000).
It is also fairly easy to renew your US passport at the US Embassy in Mexico City, if you should ever need to do that.

ken kushnir said...

Steve, check out Capital One, the are one of the few companies that do not charge for foreign ATM charges. You still have to pay the local banks fee, but that's not a big deal. They are one of the few ones that do this for no charge. You can open the account on line, and transfer funds to it from your credit unit on line also. You could also apply for a CC with them if you like, and presently they are paying about 2+% on the account, which is much better than most CD's at his point. Good luck.

Bob Mrotek said...

I renewed my Passport at the American Consulate office in San Miguel de Allende. It was quite painless and only took about a week or so. It was probably a lot easier than doing it in the states. Unless things have changed recently I wouldn't fret about it. Don't worry, you won't get trapped here :)

aighmeigh said...

Steve, your excitement helps me remember how excited I was to move... which helps me remember to try to see this as an adventure... and relax! :)

American Mommy in Mexico said...

Not saying you should not go this route but Wall Street articles suggest Citibank will start selling off pieces. Latest information says Banamex will NOT be sold - more likely Smith Barney. Just another thing to keep in mind with US banking in turmoil.

Beth said...

Steve! Congratulations of the retirement portion of your life. Sounds like you've got things pretty much in order. You must be getting anxious to start driving south!


Calypso said...

I can't recall anyone I have read that was better prepared or pondered as many issue as you amigo.

I am dizzy just reading your list.

I suppose this has something to do with being an attorney or???

I know not.

I do have a Citi bank card - it works and I don't

Steve Cotton said...

Larry -- Thanks for the reminder. Michael Dickson sets out the Citibank-Banamex connection on his web site, as does Don Adams in his book on moving to Mexico. I am not eligible for the Armistad account until this coming Wednesday. I will do my best to set up the account from Oregon, but I understand a trip to Los Angeles may be required.

Ken -- Thanks for the Capital One information. Another possible contender. However, I like the option of having an account with Banamex in Melaque.

Bob -- I think the closest consul to Melaque is in Guadalajara. I will leave that open as an option if I do not get my passport renewed before I leave.

Aighmeigh -- Thanks for the reminders. Even though it may not seem that way, I am relaxed. Perhaps, far too relaxed.

AMM -- A good reminder. I am the trustee of trusts currently with Smith Barney, and I have been considering moving them before I head south. Fortunately, the accounts are not invested in CitiBank stock.

Beth -- I honestly wish I could jump in the truck today and be gone. But there are a few projects at work I need to accomplish before I pull up anchor.

Calypso -- If I am prepared, it is because of the good advice I have received from other bloggers (and a couple of Mexico move books). The best thing I have learned is that no matter how many lists I make and how many plans I have made, nothing is going to happen the way I think it will, And that is fine with me. This is supposed to be an adeventure, not a business takeover.

Babs said...

I just left my WAMU and Bk of America accts as is. I have debit cards for both and access them twice a month for funds. No problems, no fuss no muss! If you use Santander, there is no ATM charge for Bk of America......Simple.

Steve Cotton said...

Babs -- I have been told that the Manzanillo INM office prefers statements in Spanish from a Mexican bank. Of course, everything is subject to change and whim.

Brenda said...

I think the passport card is only good for crossing the border by land. Not any good for air travel as far as I know, so definately has limited usability. May as well just use a passport for everything rather than paying for both.

Larry Lambert said...

Steve - Follow up on Babs' suggestion. Find out which US banks are affiliated with which Mexican banks. We use BofA, and like Babs said, using their debit card at a Santander machine invokes no charges of any kind, either end. And they use the current exchange rate. We also discovered that not all US bank people know of these arrangements.

Larry Lambert

Steve Cotton said...

Brenda -- I came to the same conclusion about the card. It seems to have little utility -- and I do not anticipate making that many crossings.

Larry -- I will check in to the various bank relationships. I suspect no free toasters are a stake here.

Larry Lambert said...

Steve - No free toasters, but the bank charges can really add up if you aren't careful. I guess you buy them several toasters. If you don't use an affiliated bank, they tag you twice; once by your US bank and again for a feed-through charge from the Mexican bank. And they sometimes stick you with the exchange rate as well. Using an affiliated bank's ATM makes that all go away.

And then there are the extra fees the US banks charge for credit card purchases down here. A good reason for going with the local custom of cash transactions.

Larry Lambert

Steve Cotton said...

Larry -- I have this vision of pushing shopping carts of pesos across the border. I remember when the banks trained us to use ATMs rather than tellers to save administrative chages. Strange, isn't it, that the teller charge is now an ATM charge -- times two? I'm going to see if I can find that old tin can my grandfather used to bury in the back yard.

Glenn said...

Your insight into the early deaths of our friends, and of the necessity of taking action before it's to late shows that you are truly a wise man. Enjoy Mexico!

Steve Cotton said...

The sad thing, of course, is that untimely deaths could just as easily happen anywhere. But life is far more than the desk where I work.