Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Banking Troubles in Guatemala

I wanted to update everyone with my experience and to warn people.

On November 16th, 2016, I used the Banco de AmĂ©rica Central, BAC, "red lion" bank machine on Santander to attempt to withdraw Q2000 for our trip to Tikal. The machine froze and then said it couldn't complete the transaction. I did not receive any cash. However, the bank had debited the money from my account. Of course, when I went into the bank that's in the plaza just behind the ATM, they said they couldn't help me.

I contacted my bank in Canada and they filed a dispute. My bank at home in Canada is President's Choice Financial, a division of CIBC. (I love them!) They said it could take "up to 90 business days". When I didn't hear anything after about a month, I called and they assured me they were working on it. Another month, another call, another platitude.

Four months later... I just got an email from a manager saying they never received a response from the "foreign entity" regarding my money. HUH?? No response? What, are they just ignoring the request? I replied to her and asked her what else they can do. Another request? Contact someone higher up?
Well, it must be my lucky day because CIBC/President's Choice Financial is going to credit my account as a "one-time gesture of goodwill." YAY!! That was almost $400 Canadian. I mean, it's been gone so long, it's almost like it didn't exist anymore but it sure is awesome to get it back.

I must note that I've withdrawn money from bank machines in Guate a bazillion times without problems. However, having been screwed by several bank machines around town, I now exclusively use the ATMs in the Despensa. On one desperate occasion, I used the BI bank machine in the El Dorada Plaza and it worked. Whew!

This "red lion" BAC bank machine has ripped off other friends, plus the BI bank machine way down Santander by the computer store has ripped me off in the past. So avoid those machines!
BI bank machine ATM ABM cajero
BI bank machines are blue. 5B machines are yellow.
ATMs or ABMs are called cajeros in Spanish.
TIPS for using bank machines in Guatemala:

  • Try to stick to ATMs that are locked up at night so they are less likely to be tampered with. Avoid bank machines in little stores and on open streets.
  • Always inspect the machine, especially the part where your card goes in, to see if there's anything weird or flimsy, something that looks like it's been attached.
  • Cover the keypad with your hand when you enter your PIN in case someone is filming you.
  • Check your bank account online often. Alert your bank if you're traveling around a lot. 
  • Be alert! Watch for suspicious people before and after you use the ATM. 
  • If something goes wrong, be sure to get any printed receipts that come out. Take a picture of the screen, if you can. Go into the nearest local bank branch and talk to someone, even if it's just to get a business card and the number of the ATM. Contact your home branch immediately. Like really immediately!!

My PC bank card works only at BI bank machines. My TD Canada Trust bank card (with a Visa logo) works at almost every bank machine I've tried. The fees are higher on my TD bank at $5 per foreign ATM withdrawal, while PC bank is only $3.

Whenever I'm near bank machines here in Pana, I'm always on the lookout for tourists and foreigners frowning at the ATM. I've surprised quite a few people by offering to help. I'm sure one couple thought I was some sort of thief trying to steal their PIN or something but really I just wanted to make sure they got their money! Some bank machines have an English option and some don't, so it can be confusing. Not all machines accept chip cards, and even if they do, sometimes it takes a few swipes to get it to recognize it. Some ATMs just beep all the time. Some of them run out of money, especially on the weekends.

So good luck to all you travelers out there. May your transactions be low-fee and pain-free. 😉


  1. Hi there, We'll be there in a week and a half and I'm enjoying your blog. I took note of this post especially, so thanks for the heads up. Where is the Despensa that you speak of? Thanks in advance!

    1. The Despensa Familiar is the main grocery store in town. Here is a link to the Google map! https://goo.gl/maps/pRtszAkB4CP2