Banking in Nicaragua, from the ground
To open an bank account in Nicaragua, checking or savings, is like applying for a loan. The 'applicant' must supply personal references. Giving them your money to hold, showing proper ID, an address, is not enough. All expats who have lived here, even a short while, realize they're on a different banking planet. But the poor, the dispossessed are shafted, ignored. The bank personnel call those listed as references, at a 'conventional' telephone number, please, for "verification" of your character, whether you're worthy enough to let them keep your money. BAC requires that $200 minimum be maintained to use their 'services'; should your account fall below that they fine you $10. Citibank wants $500 minimum, with a $5 fine if you drop below that. BanCentro is more reasonable for this poor country, asking that one only keep at least $50 in the account. But BanCentro requires much more 'proof' of income &/or assets, for the privilege of loaning them your money. This gringo has trouble wrapping his neurons around the whole idea, but when in Rome ...
A few years ago my Nica wife & I jumped through all of BDF's hoops so she could have an account with a debit card. Then, they only asked $10 minimum be maintained. No sweat. But then, without notification, they raised the minimum required to $50, and started fining her $5 for every month under. We only notice because I scrutinized her passbook and insisted on know what those mystery charges were for. It was an education, for us both. After learning from a teller, we sat down in the bank and waited to complain to a clerk, dressed in a bank uniform (tight pants-shirt-vest), seated (temporarily) behind an important-looking desk. Her hands & mouth were locked; only the manager could refund some of what they stole, even after our agreeing to their new requirement, with my becoming a major nuisance. Still pissed at being screwed, we closed the account, that cost us so much aggravation to open. I felt sorry for all the dumb Nicas like us who could not understand why their poor accounts were being strip-mined.
When in this land of lakes & volcanoes, I had always been able to withdraw cash, cordovas or dollars, from an ATM here at no charge. So I opened another account with ATM card linked to my State-side account for my wife to use. No problema. Instant transfers, same-day access. Until BAC started charging $3 per withdrawal some 2-3 months ago. This month BanCentro began charging a fee against foreign ATM cards; as BanPro had been doing for a while. It leaves only BDF here in León for charge-free ATM cash. I don’t feel comfortable. Are Nicaraguan banks throwing up walls to international banks because of the changing political climate here? Rather than wanting an answer to my own question, I seek to financially protect my little Nica family. Friends in Ecuador had lost all their savings in banks that simply closed their doors a few years ago during hyperinflation, before the country accepted dollars as their 'new' currency. (Their current president is a US-educated economist.) There were no guaranteed deposits, no FDIC. Likewise, nothing here is guaranteed; it’s “buyer beware“ all the way.
So I began asking about direct transfers from my account in a USA bank to one here. Fees, levied here, vary. Though costly, Western Union, MoneyGram &c. may still be the best deal for sending a few hundred dollars, beyond paying the ATM fees. BanCentro charges $15 for up to $1000 transferred directly into an account with them. Citibank gets $20 for anything up to $10k; BAC $25. The bang per buck is graduated, being cheaper for the next $50k, $100k &c., if you’re so inclined to ‘invest’ in Nicaraguan real estate or the current & perpetual administration, as may be the case. For example, there’s no additional charge with any amount beyond $200k with BAC -- good news?
Because of my account with Bank of America, I asked for more details at BAC. You must be a resident here to have an account at BAC. OK, the wife. Beyond the $25 fee, they sit on the transferred money at least 3 days, maximum 5 days. Seas of money moving in a flash around the globe nearly bankrupted the very biggest world banks, but they wish us to imagine dedicated burros hauling it as gold across the American isthmus. OK, let ‘em have their game. But then I asked what turned out to be one question too many. The reason for the transfer must be “justified” to unknown parties there in BAC-León. So I asked, suppose I send $5k and say it’s for “living expenses”? Not good enough, I was told. Receipts must be shown. What the hell? So I asked, suppose the reasons I give are not accepted, is the money returned to my account in the States? No, it’s confiscated. Whoa, baby. I stayed there at BAC for some 15 minutes, incredulous, repeating my questions to neat, uniformed Jilma Alvarez to make sure I understood all correctly. She went somewhere briefly to get a clarification. That’s how it is.
Tough banking practices.