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How to buy a car in Mexico with cash

I am a US citizen living in Mexico as a temporary resident, and after going through quite an ordeal trying to buy a vehicle here, I thought I would share what I learned in case someone else in a similar situation is about to go through the same process.

First of all, I use TransferWise to move money from my US bank account to my Mexican bank account, and when I found a vehicle I wanted to buy, I thought I had all my ducks in a row. I live in a fairly small town, so when I went to the big city to buy a car, I just located the nearest branch of my bank and told the seller to meet me there.

The long version (summary below)

I had opened my account with Santander several months before, since they are one of two banks that have ATMs in my hometown. The other is Banorte, but after getting fed up with them, I switched to Santander.

So what was the problem? It turns out that Santander has a withdrawal limit of $50,000 MXN per day if the branch you are withdrawing from is not your “home branch,” that is, the location where you opened your account. I just assumed that any Santander would give me my money since I had an account there, but I was wrong!

Of course I needed more than $50,000 MXN to make my purchase, and I really didn’t want to pull it out in several installments, as that would be even more risky (carrying around large amounts of cash in Mexico is not advisable). Neither could I just transfer it to a different account—Santander has a $90,000 MXN transfer limit if you’re not at your home branch.

I finally decided to ask them to change my home branch to be the one in the city where I was trying to buy the car. Two days later, the process was still pending. The day after that, the system said my home branch was changed, but the teller’s computer said otherwise, making the withdrawal impossible. However, I was able to transfer the amount to my girlfriend’s account in BanCoppel.

The balance was pending in her BanCoppel account until the next day, and when it cleared we went to try our luck there. They didn’t have enough cash on hand at that location, so they sent us to a different one, where we were finally able to withdraw the daily limit of $149,000 MXN (I had already pulled out the rest from an ATM). It was nerve-wracking walking through the store with huge wads of cash in my backpack (BanCoppel does not provide envelopes for withdrawals), but there were no mishaps, and at long last the vehicle was purchased, four days after my first attempt to withdraw the money from Santander.

What I would have done differently

So, looking back, what would I have done differently? First of all, I would have transferred $149,000 MXN via TransferWise directly to my girlfriend’s BanCoppel account instead of to Santander. Then it would have been ready and waiting for the vehicle purchase, and I could withdraw the extra from an ATM.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I were planning to spend more than what could be covered with an ATM withdrawal and a BanCoppel withdrawal. I guess I would have to research other banks and see what their out-of-town withdrawal policy is.

TL; DR

(Information accurate as of August 2020)

At Santander, unless you are withdrawing your money from the same branch where you opened your account, there is a daily withdrawal limit of $50,000 MXN. You can switch your home branch, but that takes at least 3 days and probably more. There is no withdrawal limit at your home branch.

At BanCoppel, you can withdraw money from any branch nationwide, but there is a daily limit of $149,000 MXN, and the branch you visit may not have enough cash on hand. Transfers to BanCoppel may take up to 48 hours to clear.

Wherever you open your account, find out beforehand what the withdrawal limits are, and whether there are out-of-town restrictions.

Hope this information helps someone, and saves some time and headaches!

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