07 July 2008

Why Is It So Damn Hard to Open A Bank Account in Buenos Aires?

I realized that HSBC's Chicago branch has a trick phone menu:

--Press 0 to talk to a customer service representative. . .
I press 0 once, then twice. Nothing happens. Then I press it 20 more times.
--I'm sorry that is not a valid function for this menu.
Talk about getting attitude from a phone labyrinth!

Finally I gave up and called their 800 number where I found out that we need a CDI number and a valid passport to open up a banking account (cuenta corriente) even though we're American and HSBC isn't an Argentine bank, since all foreign banks have to follow Argentina's bizarre self-protecting banking laws. So now it's like, what's the point? We might as well open up a bank account with one of the local banks in Buenos Aires (e.g. Banco Nación, for example) since HSBC will charge us $200 just to open up a foreign bank account and we'd still need our Passport and a CDI. But here's the clincher: in order to get a CDI number, I need to go to the AFIP office first, the Argentine Tax Authority, but you can't get a CDI number without a certificado de domicilio. And to get that, we'll have to take a copy of our temporary lease and then proceed to the nearest police station. And from what I've gathered, they're not obligated to give us that form if they don't want to. I can practically smell the bribe a million miles away.

So here's my question: why in the world is it so damn difficult for us to give our money to an Argentine bank? I mean with the memory of economic collapse still lingering in their fiscal unconscious mind, you'd think they'd be giddy about getting a fistful of Benjamins. I understand why they've come up with a bunch of strange withdrawal rules to prevent bank run hysteria before it gets copy-catted, like capping the amount of money you take from an ATM in one day ($300 ARS) but what I don't understand is making it so damn difficult for foreigners to deposit their money into Argentine banks. I mean, it's in their interest to make it easy for us. The more money we give them, the more spending and lending power banks have. The question now is: is it even worth trying to open up a cuenta corriente in Buenos Aires or should we just stash our cash somewhere that's easy to find with our X-marks-the-spot treasure map? What are all the rest of you expats doing? We've considered just keeping our bank account here in the States but we don't want to pay $5-$10 bucks everytime we withdraw cash. Any ideas, thoughts or solutions to this dilema? Any experiences worth telling?


miss tango said...

I think you might actually mean DNI.
And you just may as well give up on the idea of opening a bank account; because, it ain´t gonna happen. You could join BA Newcomers on the Yahoo Groups, and first do a search on opening a bank account, and then if that doesn´t work post a question. Most Argentines believe the best place to keep your money is under the mattress ;)

Angela said...

I don't have a bank account here. I use my American Express card (because they don't charge a fee for foreign transactions) and pay it online. I also use my ATM to get cash (yes, only 300 pesos a day). And I always come back with a wad of cash (dollars) to convert as I need to. The main reason I didn't open one here was because it was too complicated. I would have always kept an account in the States though. And I've authorized my father to sign on that account in case I need him to send a check to someone. It's come in handy when I need to be paid by a US entity for work. They just send it direct deposit or send the check to my dad who deposits it for me.

Because I don't go home very often, I always get my dad to write a check to people who are coming to visit me so they can bring me some cash and I don't have to pay the ATM fees. My fee is only 75 cents though, not $3 - $5.

Getting the CDI is not that complicated once you're here. The certificate of domicile requires that you go to the police station nearest your apartment, leave your address with them, and pay 10 pesos. They'll come to your house the next day (to make sure you actually live there) and give you a piece of paper saying you live there. You don't even have to home when they come. You could have a neighbor or someone else get the paper, which makes it all seem sort of ridiculous.

Then with that certificate and a copy of your lease you can get a CDI. I haven't gone through the final steps... just got the certificate of domicile.

One thing to keep in mind is that whenever you need a copy of your passport for some official record, make sure you copy the first page with your name and picture, and the page that has the date you entered the country (the stamp from the airport). They always want both pages. Bring several copies. I can't tell you how many times they've said we need a copy of your passport and they really needed two.

I've learned to have a lot more patience than I used to during my year and a half here. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Just use ATMs to withdraw money. That's what many (most?) foreigners do. Once you are there for some time, you could investigate other options. I also have an HSBC NA account and they only charge USD 1.50 per withdrawal from non-HSBC ATMs. Non-HSBC ATMs do charge fees, but I don't recall them being as high as USD 5-10? Where did you get that figure from? In any case, it might just be a cost you just have to suck up -- consider it a way to pay tax to Argentina and stimulate the economy. :)

JACKSON BLISS @ 水と魂 said...

Dear Miss Tango & Angela from San Telmo, thank you so much, both of you. I read online that Banco Nación will open a cuenta corriente if you show them a certificado de domicilio, a cdi and a valid passport, so that might be an option. But on the other hand, miss tango might have a point. Maybe we should just put our money in a shoebox and save it for a rainy day. It's certainly an easy solution. The other idea we had was: ask Erika's Argentine cousin to open up an account FOR us, and then just ask for 2 ATM cards afterwards. The advantage there is that we wouldn't have to worry about someone breaking into our apartment or getting mugged with our pockets full of greenbacks. The disadvantage is that without a checkbook, paying rent would a pain in the ass.

So my next question is: how do you guys pay your rent every month? And do you know whether Argentines can cash American/Canadian cheques? What about traveler's cheques? Damn, there's so many options.

Angela, thanks for your detailed explanation. You seem to have your own system worked out!

Angela said...

I have to pay my rent in cash (dollars). I got a deal by offering to pay in dollars and in cash. Now you know why I'm always getting people to bring me greenbacks when they visit.

As far as whether Argentines can accept foreign checks or not, it depends on the type of account they have. I rent out an apartment that I partially own with some Argentine friends. A French guy was renting it for a few months and wanted to wire the Euros or dollars to my colleagues account here. My friend doesn't have a dollar account here so it was very costly and way complicated. American banks pretty much take anyone's money and any currency. It's not that way here.

But another friend visited and had surgery here. She paid for her entire surgery (in dollars) through wire transfer. Because the doctor had a dollar account, it was a piece of cake and she didn't lose a penny. I don't know what it cost him.

Hope that helps. Can't give any advice on traveler's checks. But if you're paying rent in pesos, you can exchange your traveler's checks at the bank. That's a lot safer than keeping a shoebox of dough.

But seriously, getting the CDI is not that complicated once you're here. You can probably open your own account (in pesos or in dollars).

JACKSON BLISS @ 水と魂 said...

Dear Angela and Anonimo (next time, leave your name!), Thanks so much both of you. I appreciate your stories and advice. I think Erika and I have come up with a solution: we're going to have her mom open up a Citibank account here in Chicago and then request for 2 debit cards with our names on them. The benefits are: 1. This way we won't have to pay ATM fees when we withdraw from Citibank ATM's since there's lots of them in Buenos Aires. 2. With our terrible credit, defaulted school loans and recent bankruptcy, since this account will be under her mom's name, we don't have to worry about our cash getting siphoned by the IRS. 3. If we're in an emergency, it will be easy for her mom to deposit money for us. 4. I'll be able to enter book/short story contests as long as I have an American credit card. 5. According to a few sources, Citibank ATM's are the only ones in Buenos Aires that let you withdraw up to several THOUSAND Argentine pesos in one day, which will be handy for paying rent. 6. We can avoid all of the bureaucracy of opening a cuenta corriente altogether.

In any case, I just want to thank all of you for your advice and suggestions. You guyz are awesome.

Jeff said...

I opened a citibank account and have just been using that. If you withdraw from the blue citibank ATMs (NOT the banelco ATMs that are also in the citibank lobbies), then I know that you can get at least 1,500 pesos at a time without a problem. I've never needed to withdraw more than that, though I've heard somewhere the limit is 2,500 pesos a day.

We do have a Santander Rio account (in the name of my Argentine girlfriend) but we rarely use it. A major hassle. You even have to pay a fee to deposit money into your own account. Wiring money into that account was also a pain.

I wouldn't worry about having a local account. Just use an ATM and, if after a few months, you feel the need for a local account then you could pursue that.

Elin said...

Hey, I've just found your blog...! A bit late in the day, but from the dates you might be needing a new stamp on your passport and a load of cash for rent soon, so it might still be useful: if you go over on the boat to Uruguay you can take out dollars, and as many as you like, from the ATM and bring it back with you. Saves having to take out as many pesos as you can over several days and then having to exchange back into dollars.