By Bill Martinelli • C470 Commodore Report
Our C470 Voyager has been out of the U.S. for more than eight years now. We return to the states at least twice a year, but Voyager stays in Mexico waiting for us like the family cat. The family cat that’s glad when you return but doesn’t want you to know it for a while, then warms up to you again. We generally bring gifts back to her to keep her happy and after a few days of grooming all is well again.
The following suggestions will help you to have a smooth cruise abroad, and are easiest to complete before you sail out of the country. When we left on the Baja Ha-ha Rally in 2010 we had not planned to stay away from home for very long, so we did these things over an extended period of time.
Make sure any and all bank and financial accounts are linked together so you can transfer funds online. For ongoing bills, set them up for auto payment. (This of course is more common now than in 2010.) If possible, pay by credit card, and then have that credit card auto paid by your bank. Use that one card for only auto payments and nothing else; then there’s less chance of it being hacked. You really really do not want to have to contact all your vendors and change the auto payment info. Even though many billers want you to go paperless and use auto pay, their web sites often hide where to do it.
Obtain a few extra credit cards if you don’t already have them. Since we arrived in Mexico we’ve not had a card compromised here (versus a few times in the U.S. in the same time period). Choose bank and credit card companies that don’t charge an international exchange fee. The best banks will also reimburse ATM fees incurred for using a foreign bank.
Many credit cards give reward points for each dollar spent, some give one point per dollar spent and some give two. Some cards charge an annual fee and some do not. This means some really boring investigative reading and note taking before committing.
Our favorite right now is a Capital One credit card that gives two points for each dollar spent and costs $60 a year. There’s no fee for international purchases. The point balance can be applied against your outstanding balance to reduce your bill at the end of the month. BUT! Don’t do that! What you want to do is use reward points to purchase gift cards that don’t have expiration dates. Instead of 5,000 points converted to $50 in cash or credit against an outstanding balance, you can receive a gift card (numerous choices of vendors including AMAZON) with a value of $100. Yep, you read that right, double the amount!
Another thing to watch for is the special offers credit card companies give for opening a new account. The last account we opened offered 50,000 miles/points for spending $3,000 in the first 90 days of receiving the card. That was easy since we pay every bill we possibly can with credit cards. Also it took only something like 10-12 minutes online for the card application and approval.
Have debit cards for a least two if not three different bank accounts to visit ATMs for local currency. There are lots of places in Mexico that take credit cards, but for smaller purchases, payment in the local currency may be required, much appreciated, or you might get a better price for cash.
In Mexico, ATMs are at banks of course but also at many of the large super mercados (large grocery stores). Most are branded/operated by major banks here, as opposed to off-brand companies you have never heard of.
It took us a while to realize the large differences in the exchange rates the different banks offered. We found one bank charged close to ten percent of the going exchange rate for an ATM withdrawal! To clarify, the official exchange rate was 20 pesos to the dollar, but we paid 18 pesos. OUCH! For the bank (Banco Azteca) we presently use, if the official rate is 20 they pay something like 19.75 to the dollar.
Also Mexican banks charge an ATM service fee; we have seen charges from about 30 to 75 pesos. Our preferred bank charges just 20 pesos. We don’t have to pay attention to these as our US bank reimburses these fees, but it’s interesting to note how some banks get you every way they can.
So do some homework before your departure and the money you save every month will buy a couple of cervezas or even a really nice dinner.