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.

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Western Union

was very reasonable for two transfers I made to Nicaragua recently. I'd always heard that Western Union was very expensive. I sent $200 and $300 and both transfers cost less than $12 each and were there almost instantaneously. Security and integrity were good: I didn't get the name quite right and the agent in Condega refused to disburse the money. It took me a half-hour to get the name changed, but I appreciated the careful attitude. The agent knew the recipient,, still wouldn't disburse the funds until the name matched his cedula.

Interestingly, doing the transfer online at the Western Union web site is EXPENSIVE. They wanted $27 for the $200, and $34 for $300 -way out of line. Odd that an agent's time would be less expensive. The advantage of Western Union is they have agents everywhere.

I don't know how much I could send for the $12,, and what the fees are for larger amounts, but I'm going to find out.

Originally, I assumed that I could give someone an ATM card linked to an account in the US and have them disburse funds that I would put into the account here, but I found out quickly that that doesn't work in Nicaragua.

Any money you hand to one Nicaraguan to give to another Nicaraguan immediately becomes the property of the first Nicaraguan. So, not only does Nicaraguan #2 think you are a deadbeat, but you pay your debt a second time. I only did it twice (slow learner). There were other downsides to the ATM card idea (overdraft fees damaging my relationship with my bank).

I have a healthy fear of keeping any large sum of money in a Nicaraguan bank. Hopefully, the Nicaragua system will eventually come on board with the rest of the world and we'll just log on and transfer money simply and inexpensively, like we do now in the US, Europe and Canada.

Western Union

Western Union's setup isn't intuitive nor is it easily to figure out using the www alone. The best though least convenient route, if you want to use WU, is to locate a large "store" offering the service walk-in. They tend to have the cheapest rates. For example, I can send up to $700 for $9.99 via Kmart in South Dakota, or $11.99 via Safeway. To send the same amount via all the banks and gas stations and other businesses that show up on the WU online directly, it can run $30-60. To do it online, as you note, is a rip-off, credit card or any other way. WU allows its representatives a crazy scale commission, which is passed onto the consumer. Another route is to xoom.com the money. If using that route note the advertising its low rates, which is true, but the fine print reveals the drawback: they scam you on the exchange rate making them more expensive than other options for larger amounts of money. The deposit and ATM route works fine in Honduras, and at certain ATMs (BanRed, Red24, etc., participators) is free, but a new Wells Fargo service with new lower fees is the cheapest non-ATM route, for Honduras anyway. Nicaragua is a possible destination, but I cannot comment on BanPro service, fees, etc. See here: https://www.wellsfargo.com/per/intl_remittance

thanks for the different price info..

i thought everyone would charge the same price..dont use W.U. often but will shop around next time..thanks

Why is it a rip-off?

They are all providing a service. No one is forced to use that service.

No one is forced to use Safeway or Kmart. No one is forcing anyone to use a wire transfer.

The users are paying to transfer funds in a secure manner and within a reasonable amount of time. As for using ATM's, the same applies. You pay for the convenience. Anyone complaining how much that costs deserves little sympathy. Since when are banks not supposed to make a profit? Who should decide how much profit?

Don't agree with how much they charge? Tear up the card!

Western Union is by far the most economical way to send funds securely and quickly. Many of my clients use it and I have yet to hear one of them complain about the fee.

ripoff

The fact that no ones makes someone use the WU service is hardly evidence of it not being a ripoff. I never claimed anyone was forced to use Kmart and such; that was my recommendation as to the cheapest route. It is a fact that it is the cheapest route. As noted, I dont pay ATM fees anywhere in C.A or S.A. except Nicaragua & Bolivia, so it is possible to offer that without a fee. It is a fact. The ripoff factor is tied to the commission system WU allows and their in-person and www directories that fail to reveal the actual fee/commission to potential customers or other pricing options. Sending the same $500 from here to there costs the following at the 6 closest WU reps to me: $10, $12, $38, $42, $44 & $50 - though no WU source will reveal these prices for comparison sake. Western Union is not the most economical way to send funds, certainly not to many countries. Again, I cannot comment per Nicaragua, but options like the posted Wells Fargo link undercut them greatly, as noted above (assuming you are a WF customer). It is a fact per many countries. WU is great if you get a rep using the $10-12 fee, and it sucks for anyone who does not have access to that or must rely on their grossly overpriced online service. For the latter it is a ripoff, and since these reps are providing a service, at those higher prices it is a ripoff service. If your clients never complain of the fee, most likely that is becuase they deal with a major rep, one with the low fee scale.

Aren't they just splitting the commission with the client.

Looks like its 10%on $500 so if my WU franchise is a busy one, I can work on volume, like McDonalds.

Same as Realtor splitting his commission with a buyer, making the sale and getting 5% of $200 large rather than go for 10% and lose the sale and win zippo!.

Exactly my point!

Don't like it? Don't use it or go to another outlet.!

WU is convenient for both the sending and receiving party. If the agent closest to you charges more than the one across town if becomes a matter of choice.

My clients have the choice between WU and Wire transfer. If I have to charge them to drive to Rivas (1hr round trip) because they decide to send via Moneygram or some other less popular method, any advantage they may gain quickly disappears.

BAC

I have my main account in US , i withdraw my money using a BAC ATM. Till couple months ago i only have to pay $5 for each withdraw , now is a $3 charge from the BAC , plus the $5 from my bank, im paying $8 total for each extraction.

The little problem here, is that the ATM only give a maximum of $400 for transaction.

Using the teller inside the bank is more expensive.

Bac started this a couple months ago

You are paying the 1% visa fee to your US bank and BAC`s new Non-BAC card fee. Try your US card at another ATM--the other banks haven`t caught on to this-- yet .

Better still, deposit a check from your US account in BAC and 21 days later you can use the BAC card for Withdrawals without fees. BAC`s web site is good and user friendly. After you deposit your check it will be noted online and when it is disponible in 21 days this will also show.

"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point...is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog" --Edward Hoagland

Are you quoting minimum

Are you quoting minimum balances for cordoba or dollar accounts? Dollar based accounts require a much higher balance than cordoba accounts in all the banks that I looked at. I even see this at most US banks in the states. If you don't want to keep a minimum balance, they want to charge you for it. Nothing new here at all.

Juanno was definitely right about the origins of the rules they have here. It all starts with the USA. The federal government puts the pressure on all the home banks to thwart the money launderers and tax dodgers, and they in turn put the pressure on their member banks off shore. Even independents like BDF can't escape the pressure, since in order to do business directly with the USA and deal directly in dollars, they need to be an affiliate (I think I remember BDF being affiliated with Wachovia), and therefore are going to apply essentially the same rules.

As for "lending" them your money, do like the kid who didn't like the way the older kids played baseball. Take you bat and go home. keep it under your mattress. One thing that most people don't realize is that on an account with more than one or two transactions every month, they can't make enough on a $200.00 account to pay for the administration of it. So like I said, if the issues are so insurmountable, take your money and go home. Sorry, but that's the game.

BTW, I just opened an account with CitiBank. Two references (no big deal unless everyone hates you), my cedula, and a few forms. Actually, it was much, much less paper than with my BDF account (but neither of us had a cedula at the time), and about 3 hours less time. Easy, and relatively quick. I saw no evidence of any of the rules quoted above.

CitiBank

Are they seamless with the USA CitBank? For instance, can i put money in USA CitiBank and see/use on my account here?

Do you know if chase has NICA branches?ZZT

I doubt if it is completely

I doubt if it is completely seamless, but some of the fees are likely lower. I do know that it costs less to transfer money here from the USA (I also sometimes get deposits from Honduras) because there is no intermediate. I seem to recall someone telling me it used to be like going to the next branch down the street, but that they started charging for most services that involved off shore accounts. The only way to know for sure is to ask them. As for Chase, I vaguely remember seeing them somewhere, but I can't remember where.

i have my accts. with BAC..

to get away from the atm fees..i deposit usa checks in my acct,.i know it takes a couple of weeks for them to clear..but it beats the atm fees ..

Wire money

I wire money from my account in the states, it only cost's me seventy dollars to transfer nine thousand dollars, this work's well for me. To the Victor go the spoils.

I'm soon moving to Matagalpa

I'm soon moving to Matagalpa from the US where I'll work for a US company. I'm planning to have the US company pay me via direct deposit to a US bank account (I want an FDIC covered account). To avoid the ATM fees, I planned to simply move money from the US account to a local Nica bank account using a paper check monthly or bi-monthly to cover my living expenses in Nica. I recently realized that this might set off money laundering alarms since a lot of drug trafficers try any method possible to move money out of the US (granted, probably not in $1000-$2000 amounts).

Has anyone encountered a problem with transferring money this way?

I suggest you get a letter from your payroll Dept.

If they are doing business here they may even be able to do it in Spanish. Simply have them outline your circumstances, confirm employment and your move to Nic. Identify the name of the institution and account it is deposited into in the USA. Then, when it gets transfered to the third party account, say Wichovia in Miami for example, and sent down here to your Nica bank, it all marries up and the paper trail on where the money is coming from is complete.

A secondary back up would be letter from that bank in the US confirming your account and the regular deposits. You will need a letter from that bank anyway, confirming that you are a customer, and bring copies of your last 3 statements or print them off your internet banking site.

monthly deposit

of a check for the same amount has proven to be the best way to move my pension down here.,other than standing in the long lines to deposit it. Since you work for a US company, your finances are pretty much blowing in the wind and easily documented, so I doubt you will have problems with any type of investigation.

Until you have your residency papers you will probably be stuck with BDF.

"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point...is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog" --Edward Hoagland

thats the way

i do it..been doing it for yrs. never had a problem..im with bac as a bank..and have nefer been ??good luck on the move

“They tried to circumvent the financial system” God Forbid...

http://www.laprensa.com.ni/2010/08/18/nacionales/34924

Two quotes from the story made me smile"

“Unable to justify the origin of a deposit to a bank for $ 407,000”

and

“last January he opened a savings account at another bank in U.S. dollars and between 11 and January 19, 2010 made five deposits to the same account amounting to a little over a million dollars”

I guess in Estelli or anywhere in Nicaragua, or coming to think of it, even on 5th Avenue New York, you just might stick out a little bit!!

I guess as long as stunts like these are pulled, rules will not get easier. Rules which I still believe are very much US based. i.e. "If you want to play on our pitch, these are the rules. I don't think its coming from within the country.

Posts on this site and the different stories about bank accounts are only out numbered by, dare I say, Residency questions.

And Daddy-Yo, lets hope they at the bank don't read your bio, where it says: "Not retired, but don't seek 'work'. How we can afford to live is none of your business. I am a chemist." They may not get the humor in that, in fact, I'm not sure I do.

BUSTED

. . . by NL Security Chief Juanno, for failure to give a fully-justifiable and lucid disclosure in my NL bio, and for a rank breach of NL etiquette (whaaaaaaa?? It's a Canadian thing: for daring to post, not having read & studied all prior NL postings on said subject).

So now I am to live in fear that the blog-police will report me (yo-the-father) to the clandestine Nicaraguan banking officials who sit in judgment of my virtual economic viability here in paradise. Alas, poor yo...

Is an Interpol dossier forthcoming?

Banks are banks and people are different.

I have opened a dozen bank accounts in Nicaragua since 1991. Never has it been a problem, you have a identification, some cases 2 letters from anybody and 25$ and you are in business.

When you have your account, your DEBIT card and SOMETIME your credit card, bring your friend - wife or whoever and ask if they can be added to your account, I never had a problem, but again this might be another story in different parts of the country where you are located.

This bank account story has now been a subject since ever I became a member here and it kind of never stop, just try to open a account, it's simple.

Tomorrow a couple from Cayman Island is flying in, they want to open a bank account, no problem anywhere.

If there is you would know. Hardly think so.

I personally don't recognize the above story, but again, depend on where you are.

Ditto

BAC. Two accounts. EZ open (1year ago). No problems in and out. For foreign transfers it takes a while, just a sit does in the USA. I too do not recognize any of the story above. ZZT

Bdf is a pain

they have a high turnover and the people doing the work have no authority to do their jobs. As you sit there for hours, they are constantly leaving the room or calling Managua. they have crappy atm 's that they don'y bother to put money in on weekends, holidays, or before the bank opens anyday. Typical customer service for the north. BAC is considerably better.

Any Nic bank you deal with that has a correspondent bank in the US or Europe is directly tied to the IRS and other government agencies. One way around this is to find or start a bank that only has correspondent banks in North Korea or Iran or someplace. Great opportunity here for someone.

The last time I opened a bank account in the states I was denied an account because somebody with the same first initial and same last name in LA was a crook. When I finally came back with more ID they let me sign the 10 papers to open a savings account. Nic is about the same , except they will not give you fotocopies of all the crap you sign.

I have noticed the fees creeping in and may close my bdf account for this. just like I closed a B of A account when they started charging for walking in the door more than twice a month. and yes BAC is now charging a fee for foreign debit card use in their ATM,s, which is a nuisance when I travel but I will just have to plan on putting enough money in my BAC account for the trip instead of sucking it directly from the states.

What I really don't like about Nic banks is they do not offer the services I had in the states, where I did everything online. If I got a stray check in the mail I could drop it in the night deposit box at 6am on the way somewhere else. Likewise. I could do deposits of cash or checks at the ATM. Never saw a bank line for years.

When you go to open an account in BAC, be prepared to prove in writing in Spanish your source of income. Luckily, I had a copy of my translated pension letter from immigration and they accepted that.

"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point...is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog" --Edward Hoagland

Still Don't Understand

the fascination of a Nicaraguan bank account with all the attendant hassles and lousy service? Not to mention the very real risk of losing your money . . .

If you have a business there, and need to write checks to vendors, maybe, but otherwise, I just don't see it. I read these posts about banking in Nicaragua carefully; am I missing something?

You CAN carry large sums of money to Nicaragua legally, you just have to declare it on your customs form. I did this when I bought my farm, seemed the simplest way to accomplish the task. I counted out $100 bills in front of the seller and the abogada. Made for a quick, confident transaction. The seller nodded, the abogada smiled, we signed the documents, and we were all celebrating in less than an hour. I carried my escritura to the registro in Somoto the next day.

Ongoing, even if you need a lot of money, it seems like an ATM withdrawal from your US or European account @ $5 / per $400 is a sensible way to go. If you're living the luxus life with wine, women and song at $4K /month, that's only $50. I plan on getting by on a quarter of that.

The account that receives my social security deposit requires no maintenance, does not have a monthly fee, and is managed on-line.

What am I missing here?

Missing nothing

I used to get by on no ATM fees, but now have to pay so can do that is a pinch if need money. As you say, not a great big fee for the convience. I just bring money in when I go to states or when someone comes to visit I get them money from my USA account and they bring in. Means keeping case on me or in the house, but given the spend level here, not all that much. I do have a BAC account and am going to start trying to transfer some money into it from the states so I can use CC here and not pay fees...plus there are some big discounts on stuff when you use BAC card. We shall see what happens with that. ZZT

Harbor Freight

has inexpensive digital safes, as I remember about $20 for the smaller one ( holds passport, other important papers and lots of cash), and a larger one that would accommodate cameras, side arm, external HD backup. I remember about $40. They are surprisingly sturdy for the price.

They can be bolted to a structure and are probably as safe as the structure they are bolted to. Clearly a trade off here between convenience and security.

I have two in the house plus a larger, fireproof safe. The Harbor Freight units are not fireproof, but are very convenient, open in a couple of seconds. The fireproof safe is a combination safe that is well hidden and hence inconvenient to access. $100 or so at Costco.

Once you get used to the digital safes they are very convenient and easy to use, and will deter the casual thief. Since we lost some expensive jewelry to a cleaning person, my wife keeps all her jewelry locked up.

Plus, with this system, you always know where your wallet is in the morning . And it only takes a key, key, key, key BEEP to put your hands on it. ... :)

Actually, they have more safes than I was aware of:

http://www.google.com/products?as_sitesearch=harborfreight.com&hl=en&cli...

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Let anyone in the community know you have no bank account and presumably keep large amounts of cash in the house and YOU ARE DEAD MEAT.

Have a local bank account and make sure everyone knows that you have to know in advance of all charges so that you can go to the bank ( even if you have the cash in your pocket when you are talking to the person). It's like my auto shop teacher said: "Always, always put distilled water in your customers' battery, even if you have to get it out of the tap".

When I was building the house, I told the mason, in front of his crew, that I needed 1 day notice to buy any materials because I had to swing by the atm first. I also told him that the atm had a daily limit. The mason was a neighbor who I had no particular distrust of but loose lips do sink ships and construction laborers are a "suspect" group.

Bac doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a US bank but they are worth dealing with. Their website even has an English button. Nic bank accounts are guaranteed by somebody up to 10 K. Keep the rest of your dough in whatever country you feel is safe.

The safes from Pricemart or elsewhere are good for incidentals, such as cameras, passport, etc. They help you "maid and guest proof" your house.

"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point...is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog" --Edward Hoagland

Sound advice Billy Bob, sound advice.

I hope people read an understand your advice.

Even the street vendors coming to the house. All they get to see is the contents of my change pocket as I count out 10 or 20 cords for my purchase. The last thing I am going to do is say hang on a minute and come back to the porch with money.

It would make a good section. "50 things to do and 50 things not to do that will stop you from being a victim".

I'll start with the "Softball Wallet". Get rid of it, leave it in the safe. Get used to getting your stuff together for the purpose of the day ahead of you. You don't need your VA card, Zellers or Boston Main Library card. You may not need your credit card or even your ATM.

If you are running on a US account, that ATM card is your new "most expensive item on you". Not easy to replace.

Last week in SJdS, a gringa tourist was on the beach at 1am with her boyfriend, $500 in mixed currency, passport, two credit cards and her only ATM card. Two guys held a machete to her neck, boyfriend backed off, (quire rightly) and she lost everything. I would bet good money that she "flashed the cash" earlier that evening in some bar or an another.

So, we do need to mention these things every now and again because "victims, like accidents are waiting to happen". (and like a lot of accidents they can be avoided).

Done

That's a good idea Juanno. I've been really uncomfortable with all the money talk on a public website. I'll find an appropriate place for "How Not To Be A Victim".

Really Good Advice

about not letting anyone think that you have large amounts of cash. A couple of bottles of agua diente, and the local gringo becomes a convenient target (for the funds to buy the next two bottles). Unfortunately, they will assume, that as a Gringo, you will always have enough cash for at least two more bottles . . You could just give them the money but then every drunk in town will be coming by to beg a bottle.

If someone REALLY wants to steal from you, they will find a way. All you can do is make it as inconvenient and painful as possible. But, the idea of serious cash will attract the more professional thief who is sober, resourceful and dangerous.

Shelley and I stayed at the Finisterra in Cabo San Lucas way back in the day when there were only two 4-star hotels there, the Finisterra and the Solimar. We left some valuables in a drawer in our room (assuming that the help in a place that upscale would be honest. Remember, that was a long time ago, before all the drug money built up Cabo to the shit hole it is today). I had a thick book of $100 traveler's checks that was inconvenient to carry, and someone at the hotel was peeling off the checks but from the BACK OF THE BOOK! If they had been a little less greedy, I might not have noticed until I got through all the checks. How many guests never noticed?

American Express made them good, so it was just an interesting lesson.

Guest-proof is also a good point. Everyone has a backpacker story to tell. French seem to be the worst. My Spanish teacher in Lagartillo told me that a couple of French backpackers stole some stuff from her (and what can you steal from someone who lives in Lagartillo??)

We used to have a saying in the yachting community: "An American sailor outfits his boat to sail the world, the Frenchman sails the world to outfit his boat".

I have a bad habit of picking up hitch-hikers (when my wife is not with me). I've had nothing but good experiences (and some extraordinary ones) but I know my day is coming . .

hitchikers

I never pick them up in Esteli/. In the country I pick them up only if they are burdened with packages and they ride in the back of the truck. Younf men (under50! ) had better be heavily burdened by baggage to get a ride from me, especially with the bolo problem . I don't talk to drunks. the most they get is "no gracias "and no eye contact.

My wife seems to have no problem telling everyone I'm a pensionado, not a millionario. Glad she does.

"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point...is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog" --Edward Hoagland