Thursday, October 13, 2016

punching for pesos

Getting pesos around here can be an adventure in itself.

A handful of my fellow expatriates have divested themselves of any northern banking connections. But, most of us, and probably all northern tourists, keep their money in non-Mexican banks. That makes discussions about ATMs a hot topic in these parts.

For eight years, I have been using ATMs in Melaque to perform the alchemy of turning dollars in my American bank into pesos in my hand. It is a marvelous convention. All of the nonsense of keeping a stack of Franklins under my mattress or struggling with traveler's checks is just a bad memory.

But even our digital age has its frustrations. Let's set aside the inconvenience of expiring debit cards and ATMs that simply refuse to read cards for a moment.

Earlier this summer, our big bank in town, Banamex, imposed a withdrawal limit of $6,000 (Mx). At the current exchange rate, the $500 (US) limit on my debit card should allow me to shake down the machine for about $9,400 (Mx).

Now, that is hardly a drastic restriction. After all, $6,000 (Mx) will pay quite a few days worth of expenses. It just means I need to return to the ATM more often. (This is the point where the local anti-bank rant usually begins. Not from me. I am happy to have the service we have, and I think I know the reason for the restriction. It is far more rational than nefarious.)

Yesterday I took a trip to Manzanillo to have my Escape serviced and my dental implant tightened. To kill the extra time, I walked about 10 miles around town. One of my stops was La Comer (formerly Comercial Mexicana, now owned by a former rival). Because I was on foot, I was simply perusing what was on offer.

Knowing I would need a wad of pesos to woo the Ford mechanics to release my Escape, I experimented with the HSBC ATM. One of my pleasures in Manzanillo is having options -- shopping, banking, entertainment. And I was not going to let this opportunity pass.

In went my card. I completed all the necessary punches. Up came the screen: "How much do you want to withdraw?" If I entered anything above $6,000 in Melaque, my card would be kicked back.

I checked the exchange application on my smartphone. For $500 (US), the machine should give me more that $9,400. I entered "$9,300." And, out came my money. Minus a very small transaction fee and the usual Mexican "sales" tax.

My trips to Manzanillo are not as frequent as when I first moved here. But, Barco has now given me a marvelous gift -- the freedom to travel.

Even if that travel is just far enough to get more pesos out of an ATM.

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