A Cautionary Tale: My Experience Opening a BBVA Account

BBVA bank branch

In this article, I’ll share details of my experience opening a simple bank account at BBVA in Mexico, at a branch in Guadalajara’s Providencia neighborhood.

For those who haven’t yet read my previous post about shopping for a bank account in Mexico, it’s a good idea to start there to get the lay of the land. If you already did, then welcome back!

Few realize that you can open a bank account at BBVA online. However, you’ll still have to visit a branch to get your ATM (debit) card, so I recommend doing the whole thing in person.

It’s easier to ask questions and verify that everything’s working when you’re there in person. And it provides peace of mind before you hand over your money.

 

The Process to Open an Account at BBVA

I returned to the same BBVA branch in Providencia where I’d vetted account options.

Before visiting, I’d sent Victor Sandoval (the banker I’d been working with) a Whatapp message to confirm he’d be there.

On a Monday afternoon, I arrived back at the branch. After parking the car (they have free parking under the office in this super busy neighborhood) I headed inside and told the greeter I had an appointment with Victor.

It wasn’t busy and I was soon escorted over to his desk.

Credentials You Must Present

The first step in opening an account is verifying your credentials.

Victor asked to see my passport and my comprobante de domicilio (proof of address), both required items. I shared a recent CFE bill. Keep in mind that some banks may require the proof of address to be a bill from the past 3 months.

What you need to open a bank account in Mexico

The CFE bill is in my husband’s name. This is not a problem, even though the account was being set up in my name only.

For awareness, “joint” bank accounts don’t seem to be a thing in Mexico, perhaps due to the security features most banks place on personal accounts these days, e.g. biometrics data.

I shared my Residente Temporal visa and a copy of my RFC information from SAT. The latter two things aren’t required, but nice to have.

Victor asked a few questions about whether I or anyone in my family worked in politics (no) and whether I worked at all.

He then asked me to provide a Mexican phone number as it’s required to register yourself on the mobile app. Foreign numbers will not work.

As a side note, if relying on a mobile app to manage your Mexican bank account doesn’t appeal to you, then you will probably hate banking at BBVA. To me, it was a selling point.

Next, you should be asked to confirm that everything has been set up correctly. The banker turned his computer screen towards me to eyeball the entries, as nothing gets printed for customer review.

Signing the Agreement

If everything is in order, you’ll be asked to sign the account agreement electronically.

What’s unsettling is that you’re not given any documents to review first. It’s just a signature box overlaying an electronic document.

Opening a bank account in Mexico

BBVA’s m.o. appears to be… The bank knows the terms and conditions the customer is being asked to sign, but the customer does not.

If you ask to see those documents in an attempt to understand what you’re signing, they get impatient and do whatever they can to keep things moving. (but they will likely accommodate it)

After e-signing, a more senior banker came over (probably the branch director) to do the final enablement in their system.

Receiving an ATM Card & Depositing Funds

Following e-signing of the agreement, I was given a generic ATM card and escorted to the lobby to configure it.

The card is initially operable with a default pin (printed on the paper that the card is issued with). Victor then walked me through changing it, stepping away and turning his back when it was time to create a new pin.

BBVA debit card

After my card was configured, I retrieved it from the machine and started a second transaction. Victor guided me through the steps to deposit a few thousand pesos via the ATM.

Bankers do not seem empowered to take customers’ money for this purpose, and that’s probably a good thing.

Once my funds were deposited, we returned to Victor’s desk and he confirmed on his computer that the funds had been credited to my account balance. He shared his screen again so that I could see it.

 

Next, a Mystery Product

I was now satisfied that my new account was enabled and operable. Thinking we were about to wrap up, Victor put two more papers in front of me and asked me to sign them.

This time the documents were on actual paper. He said nothing about what they were for and just sat there studying me.

I was getting anxious to leave and not expecting any more paperwork. As I was about to sign them, the contents of the first page began to sink in and gave me pause.

For those who don’t know me, I spent the early part of my career working as an equity analyst for investment banks. I also studied in the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program, where candidates are expected to master equities, fixed income, derivatives, foreign currencies, portfolio management, and more to prepare for the rigorous exams.

Opening a bank account in Mexico

Being familiar with financial products, I could see that the documents Victor put in front of me had nothing to do with a debit account. They showed a payment schedule stretching out six years. Six years!

At the top of the page, I saw the words “Meta Segura” and “dotación.” I knew that seguro meant insurance (The product is a play on words, as segura means safe), while a quick search on my phone showed that dotación meant endowment.

For those who read my previous post about shopping for an account, you’ll recall that I’d asked Victor multiple times about obligatory insurance– in person and on WhatsApp. He’d repeatedly assured me there was no requirement to buy insurance.

Was Victor nonetheless attempting to get me into an unwanted insurance policy?

After about a minute of staring at the papers, I said “This is insurance,” to which he lied, “No it’s not.”

Next, he launched into a description of it as a sort of “savings” account (ahorro obligatorio), where the owner must deposit $1,400 pesos every month, and has the ability to cancel this thing after six months if they don’t want it any longer.

There were no payments on the schedule for at least the first four months. After that, they escalated sharply.

The money a customer puts into this “product” earns no interest. As such there was no obvious benefit to you, the owner, unless you think having a bank lock up your savings so that you can’t spend or invest it is some sort of benefit.

And that’s before the fees kick in.

After another brief pause, I said simply “No lo quiero” (I don’t want it) and pushed the papers back to him.

At this point, Victor seemed visibly annoyed. He informed me my new BBVA account wouldn’t be a Libreton Premium after all. Instead, it would be a basic, digital account with a deposit cap of $23,000 pesos (about $1,350 USD) per month.

“No es una problema” I said.

Surprised by my account downgrade, I asked if it would have minimum balance requirements and monthly maintenance fees. Again, Victor said there were none.

To be clear, he did not present the insurance as a mandatory product bundle for foreigners who wish to open a premium savings account. An explicit connection like that would have been illegal under Mexican banking law.

 

How to Avoid Getting Tricked into Accepting “Meta Segura”

Customers’ lack of familiarity with the process of opening a new BBVA account is the bankers’ “secret sauce.”

Add in cultural differences and language struggles, and many expats are reluctant to challenge the process (even if it doesn’t feel right). This is unfortunately their downfall.

opening a bank account in Mexico

Because the paperwork is slipped in at the end of the meeting and isn’t highlighted as something separate from account creation, many new clients get duped.

The allusion to Meta Segura being a savings vehicle is nothing more than marketing subterfuge.

Most likely, the bankers are financially incentivized to sell this product and have been trained to foist it on foreigners as the easiest target, due to language and cultural differences, and lower expectations of banking fraud.

I think it’s fair to say that BBVA has designed this deception to extract more fees from its foreign clients, come hell or high water.

However, unlike in the past when BBVA bankers adamantly refused to allow foreigners to open bank accounts if they declined the insurance, now (as a result of lost court cases) they mandate basic accounts for them with the potential for more fees.

While foreigners may not encounter this tactic in all BBVA Mexico branches, the high number of incidents I’m aware of from the past 12 months suggests it’s still widespread. I learned of another one in Guadalajara just two days ago.

Know your rightsyou can decline the bogus insurance. Doing so may result in your account being downgraded, but it won’t be disabled or closed.

The experience left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was relieved I’d dodged a bullet. I was resigned to continuing my BBVA “experiment.” The account downgrade meant it would be nothing more than a place for petty cash.

 

What You Need To Do Once Your Account Is Open

Before leaving the bank, I asked Victor for my Clabe number (the unique number tied to your account that’s needed to set up electronic money transfers) and was told I’d have to register myself on the BBVA mobile app to get it.

It’s an odd way of working that may be challenging for older and/or less tech-savvy clients. The mobile app is also where you obtain your account number.

Until you’ve registered on the app, BBVA essentially “holds the car keys” and you are unable to do anything other than use the ATM machine.

Can you imagine walking up to a teller window and trying to transact without knowing any of your account’s basic details? Good luck with that.

Validating Account Features & Registering on the Mobile App

That evening I tried to register on the mobile app and it crashed three times, timing out after I’d configured my password. Each time I tried to log in, the app said I needed to register again.

The next morning I tried a fourth time, and it succeeded. Maybe their database was under maintenance the night before?

I visited the BBVA website to learn more about the Libretón Básico Digital, as my account is called. The product page did indeed say there is no minimum balance or maintenance fee.

However, account holders may use their plastic ATM card no more than four times each month free of charge. After that, you are hit with fees. The workaround is using your mobile phone at the ATM (instead of the card) to transact. This bank does love its tech.

Next, I visited a different BBVA branch to re-test my ATM card, which worked as expected.

Satisfied that my account was fully operational, I set up an inbound transfer using Wise, and that went smoothly as well. If you’re not familiar with Wise, I recommend them as a safe, fast, and low-cost international money transfer specialist operating in 160 countries handling 40 different currencies.

To wrap up, my BBVA account is working as expected, except for the ridiculous deposit cap. That said, I’d advise any foreigner planning to bank in Mexico to limit their exposure, i.e. committing only what you could comfortably afford to lose.

Keep the rest in the U.S. or another country with strong banking protections for depositors. This ensures that any misfortune you experience with your Mexican bank is a minor tragedy, not a Greek tragedy.

Finally, whether you use BBVA or not, I recommend reviewing your bank statement every month for suspicious activity and unexpected fees. Visit your local bank branch immediately if you see anything fishy.

 

CONDUSEF: The Consumer Watchdog for Financial Services

In 2007 the federal government established CONDUSEF, a “watchdog” agency tasked with protecting and defending the rights of consumers of financial services in Mexico.

CONDUSEF sits under the Department of Finance and Public Credit and works to create “a culture of respect for financial services and operations” according to the nonprofit Center for Financial Inclusion.

It operates anElectronic Complaint Portalwhere consumers can file complaints online against Mexican financial institutions if they feel they’ve been wronged.

I cannot vouch for CONDUSEF’s effectiveness, but it’s a resource to leverage before taking any legal action against a Mexican bank at your own expense.

 

Obligations of U.S. Citizens Who Own Foreign Bank Account(s)

Under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, U.S. citizens are legally required to disclose their ownership of foreign bank accounts to the IRS. This typically requires filing an FBAR report separate from your federal tax return, as well as Form 8938 with your tax return by April 15.

For additional details visit this IRS page or contact your tax advisor.

Though there is a slightly higher chance of being audited when you have a foreign bank account, all else being equal, the IRS is increasingly strapped for cash thanks to Republicans in Congress, so your odds of this being an audit trigger are low.

Resources:

A Checklist of Questions To Ask a Banker Before You Sign Anything

  • What documents do I need to provide?
  • Do I need a residency visa to open an account, and if so, is temporary residency okay?
  • Am I required to provide a RFC number?
  • Do I need a Mexican (local) phone number for my account?
  • What is the Minimum balance required to avoid fees?
  • What is the monthly fee if my balance falls below the minimum?
  • Is there a limit on how much I can deposit per month?
  • Is there any penalty if my account is inactive for some time, like when I’m traveling?
  • Do you place any restrictions on my ability to access these funds?
  • Does the bank have a mobile app for account management?
  • If so, what type of security does it use?
  • Will I receive my ATM card immediately?
  • Can I use Wise (or other 3rd party application) to deposit funds into my account?

About Live Well Mexico

My name is Dawn Stoner. In 2022, my family sold our house and half of our possessions, then relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico. We now live here full-time.

Since then, we’ve learned how to navigate the real estate market, deal with the Mexican bureaucracy, and manage our finances as expats… all while having a pretty fine time!

I created this blog to help newcomers solve the everyday challenges of living in Mexico, because it isn’t easy figuring all this out for yourself.

Want articles like this delivered directly to your inbox?
Join our email list.