YOU ASKED, WE ANSWERED: Can a foreigner who doesn’t have residency open a bank account in Nicaragua?
For no particular reason, other than being able to share our experience with you, we recently opened a bank account here in Nicaragua. Although relatively straightforward the process to do so was a little long and drawn out.
With a smile on my face, a pocketful of patience and the required documentation in hand (see below for the detailed list) I arrived at our local Banco Lafise Bancentro branch here in San Juan del Sur.
The time was approximately 12:45 pm.
At 3:30 pm, a little less than 3 hours after arriving, I walked out the door with my account number in hand and instructions to return in one week’s time to pick up my debit card.
One week later, as promised, my debit card was ready for pickup.
When I returned to Bancentro to pick up my card the representative that helped set up my account greeted me with a, “Buenos dias, Don Gordon” and one hour later I had debit card in hand with online banking and fraud protection setup.
The task of opening a bank account in Nicaragua without having residency was officially complete.
Other than a $2.50 USD service charge for optional fraud protection we do not incur monthly fees to have this account.
Since opening our account I have successfully completed a wire transfer. It took a few days for the funds to show up, but overall the transaction went very smoothly. I was impressed that I received an email from the bank notifying me that a deposit had been made to my account.
WHAT YOU NEED TO OPEN AN ACCOUNT
Foreigners who wish to set up a bank account with Lafise Bancentro are required to present the following:
- Copy of your passport
- Copy of your driver’s license or government issued ID
- Copy of last year’s income tax statement
- Reference letter from your home country bank
- Bank statement from your home country showing your current account balance
- Two reference letters from Nicaraguan citizens
- Rental home agreement or proof of home ownership (in Nicaragua)
- Copy of your beneficiary’s passport
- Minimum $50 USD to deposit
This may seem like a long list, but in order to alleviate money laundering, banks worldwide — including those in Nicaragua — want to know where your money is coming from.
IS A NICARAGUAN BANK ACCOUNT REALLY NEEDED?
For the past four years we’ve managed just fine without a Nicaraguan bank account. During this time we’ve always just used our Canadian debit card to withdraw funds from our account at an ATM.
In fact, since moving here there has only been one instance when we we felt it would have been beneficial to have a local account. That was in 2012 when we purchased our truck.
I still say we don’t really need this account, but at the same time it does add a level of convenience to our day to day life. Just like in Canada I can use my bank account to pay bills online. I can also add minutes to my cell phone. I can even transfer money to friends that also have Bancentro accounts.
Last night I noticed a sign at a local restaurant offering a 20% discount if I used my debit card to pay my bill.
For the first time in four years I used my Visa debit card, instead of cash, to pay for groceries. This felt a little odd, yet somehow familiar to life back in Canada.
We have an updated post for this topic. Click here to view.
Although Elisha and I have lived in Nicaragua for more than a year now we have not yet applied for residency. Compared to many countries the process is relatively easy and inexpensive. That being said, there are still numerous hoops to jump through to obtain residency in Nicaragua.
Elisha and I are currently living in Nicaragua on a tourist visa that we are required to renew every 90 days. This 90-day visa can actually be extended for an additional 90 days at most immigration offices in the country. The cost is approximately $60 USD.
Just before our visas expire we leave the country and re-enter. This restarts our 90 day clock. Luckily for us we live less than an hour from the Costa Rican border, so renewal is only a small inconvenience.
We get a lot of questions regarding tourist visa renewal and border crossing so we decided to document the details of our most recent “border run” so that we could share it with you.
The time line below summarizes a typical border run for us. Well, kind of…
This particular time we took a little longer than usual because Elisha took approximately one hundred photos and jotted down about three pages of notes. I too held up the process a little trying to decide on my alcohol purchase from the Duty Free store.
We left home with our itineraries in hand. Costa Rican immigration requires that you show proof of onward travel from their country; so it’s important to have proof of onward travel.
Gas tank topped up. Check! Windshield washed. Check! Fluid levels checked. Check!
Our Hyundai Galloper is safely parked just 50 meters outside the border entrance at Comedor Mayra. The dude shown in the picture below will hang around and watch your vehicle for you for a small fee. For a few extra cordobas, he’ll even wash it!
It’s a short stroll to the first gate. If you’d like can get a meal or do a little shopping on the way.
We pass through the first gate. A Nicaraguan immigration officer looks at our passports to check the date of our last entry into Nicaragua, then we are on our way to the Nicaraguan immigration office.
On the way to the immigration office we must stop and pay $1.00 USD for tax to the city of Peñas Blancas.
With our tax paid we enter the immigration area and get in line and fill out our customs forms. An agent checks our passport and forms and then keys some information into the computer. At this gate we paid a $3 USD exit fee. The friendly agent stamps our passports and we’re off.
We are officially stamped out of Nicaragua and approaching “No Man’s Land” as we like to call it. We are now walking between the two countries.
Yet another check point. This photo friendly agent was checking for the stamp that showed our exit out of Nicaragua.
We are now entering Costa Rica. It’s about a 200 meter walk from the Nicaraguan Immigration office to the Costa Rican equivalent.
We enter a line up for the Costa Rica immigration office. Thankfully we arrived just before of a group of 60+ people who were traveling on a Tica bus.
After a short wait we enter the immigration office with our completed customs forms and itineraries in hand ready to show the immigration official.
Not suprisingly the agent asks for our boleta (ticket) showing proof of onward travel out of Costa Rica. This is a fairly new practice and seen by many as a money grab.
To avoid hassle most expats simply purchase a $25 open-ended bus ticket – which is good for one year – but never actually use it.
Unlike Nicaragua, Costa Rica does not charge an entrance or exit fee. However, it seems to us that the government is trying to compensate for that revenue by requiring you to purchase the bus ticket.
We start walking back the way we just came from and get in line on the opposite side of the immigration building.
We enter the building that we just left and fill out another immigration form. This time it’s to leave Costa Rica.
Our passports now have three stamps and we are out of Costa Rica and on our way back into Nicaragua.
There is a misconception that you must leave Nicaragua for a period of three days before you can re-enter and renew your tourist visa. This is not the case at all. There is no law indicating how long you must be out of the country before you may re-enter.
In fact, on this particular border run we were only in Costa Rica for a period of 16 minutes.
On the other hand, if you are living in Costa Rica on a tourist visa you are required to leave the country for a minimum of three days prior to entry back in.
Check point back into Nicaraguan frontera.
We are back at the Nicaraguan immigration office and pay a $1 USD tax to the city for the second time that day.
Entrance forms are completed. We pay $12 USD for our 90-day tourist visa and entrance back into Nicaragua.
Since we are here we might as well get some cheap duty free treats. We haven’t actually left long enough to qualify, but no one ever cares or even checks to see if you have duty free.
The shops are setup after you clear customs and are right next to where we park the truck. In truth you wouldn’t even need to leave the country to shop at the the duty free store. In fact, we have friends that own a bar and they used to shop there regularly.
We are good to go for another 90 days and ready for a snack before making our way to a Rivas for some shopping.
We pay our parking attendant C$40 cordobas for his services. He’s happy and so are we!