How To Open A Bank Account In Puerto Rico:
The federal government considers us bonafied residents of Puerto Rico, the local government considers us “residentes permanentes” or “residentes anuales”, and the natives just call us “local gringos”.
Sooooo….now that we had earned all these designations, it was time for us to open a bank account in Puerto Rico.
We thought about it quite a bit and waffled on whether we actually needed to do it but ultimately we decided to go ahead. Here were some things we considered:
- Local Banking – purchasing power, credit, etc
- Easy access (i.e. ATMs) to cash – this was a must-have for us
- Depositing Checks – also a necessity because we still get checks for our business
- Banks in Puerto Rico – what we chose and why
- Federal Deposit Insurance (via FDIC) – is our money safe?
- Lessons Learned about banking in Puerto Rico
- Opening An Account – the process
OK, let me take these one at a time..
1. Local Banking
We already had a bank in the States that we were happy with and had been doing business with them for many years. We had both personal and business accounts through them and wanted to continue our relationship with them. So, why would we want to consider opening a local bank account in Puerto Rico?[ezcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=””]
This is a bit of a complicated topic but aside of the normal “we want to be able to buy stuff in Puerto Rico”, there was one main reason: we learned that our mainland banking history and our good credit standing is meaningless in Puerto Rico.
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Even though Puerto Rico is a territory, when we moved here we basically started from scratch on credit history, loan/purchasing power, etc.. This seemed odd to us but it turned out that Puerto Rico depends on its own credit reporting and unless we started a local account, as far as credit was concerned, we didn’t exist.
There is a “branch” of TransUnion, “TransUnion Puerto Rico” and it is completely independent of the USA’s TransUnion. When we went to open a local account, the account manager told us that all the local banks check against this Puerto Rico based agency and although there is some overlap, the credit ratings to not port over.
Why would this be important to us? Well, if we wanted to buy a condo or a new car, unless we wanted to pay cash, we could not do it without local credit. So, basically we decided that we needed to establish credit in Puerto Rico.
2. Easy Access To Cash
Although you can find ATMs everywhere through out the island, our US bank did not have any affiliates nearby – the closest one was 30 minutes away. So, this meant that we could either drive the distance each time we wanted to withdraw cash or pay the fees in the nearby ATMs. The fees were anywhere from $3-5/transaction. That’s not a lot of money but if we were withdrawing weekly, it would add up quickly.
Sure, we could get an extra $20 withdrawal here and there in a grocery store but we wanted to be able to have access to cash easily and on the go. So, opening an account, in a bank that has a presence throughout the island, made sense to us
3. Depositing Checks
In Puerto Rico, checks are not widely used but we run a business from home and we often still receive checks for payment and depositing them to our state-side bank became a royal pain in the a$#!
I mean really, they have an “app” but scanning them with the app via iPhone or Android phones (which we have but don’t regularly use) was ridiculous. We always had to scan and rescan and rescan again because the lighting wasn’t right or the check number wasn’t clear enough, or it simply didn’t like us and yada yada yada.
Enough! We had to do something different. So, again opening a local account where we can simply deposit checks here in Luquillo made more sense.
4. Banks in Puerto Rico
There are lots of banks in Puerto Rico (see list of banks) to choose from but, by far, the most popular with the locals is Banco Popular. Nearly 60% of all Puerto Ricans bank with Banco Popular. Unfortunately, right from the beginning we had bad experiences with this bank.
First we heard about the ability to open a Banco Popular online account – we thought that would be perfect because it would come with a local ATM card and an online checking account. I attempted to set up this account, not once, not twice, but a total of five (5) times with no luck.
Then we noticed that the closest branch to us had unbelievably long lines, pretty much any time of the day, and this included their ATMs. Then, we met some other North American’s that told us about how difficult it was to establish credit with them. So, we started doing more research and asking others and by far, everyone here agreed that Scotiabank (Canada-based bank) was most popular amongst the local gringos.
Scotiabank has branches just about everywhere on the island, they have ATMs even more places (including many gas stations and malls), and from what everyone tells us, they work with you on establishing local credit. SOLD! – that’s exactly what we were looking for.
So, after checking with FDIC, we went ahead an opened our first checking\savings bank account in Puerto Rico with the local Scotiabank Puerto Rico.
5. Federal Deposit Insurance (via FDIC)
The majority of banks in Puerto Rico are FDIC insured – this was great news to us because, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we are only moderately risk tolerant.
Before you open a bank account, you should really check with FDIC.gov to see if your bank deposits are insured and what the bank’s FDIC rating and financial health is.
For example, Scotiabank PR has a rating of 2 – which is “satisfactory” and all of their financial reports are available for your viewing – we liked that. Banco Popular has a rating of 2 as well, but none of their financial reports are available – we didn’t like that.
Check out FDIC’s website, there is a lot of good info there – you can even compare your bank to other institutions.
6. Lessons learned about banking in Puerto Rico
Since we opened account, we learned a few more things about banking in Puerto Rico:
- Transferring money between the banks is not always easy, even if you’re doing it online
- Best banking hours are end of the day – fewer crowds and smallest lines
- Developing a relationship with your local bank is much more important here than it is in the mainland
- Best way to deposit money is either via direct deposit or writing yourself a check from another institution
- Always do your research, had we opened an account with Banco Popular, I think we would be very unhappy now
7. Opening An Account
Finally, I want to say a few things about the process itself. Opening a bank account in Puerto Rico Scotiabank was actually pretty easy. Keeping in mind the points above, the best time to go to open one is about 3:30PM, when the rush of the day has died down.
We simply went in and asked at the accounts desk how to open one. They told us that all we needed were our driver licenses. This was not entirely true. You only need a driver’s license if the Transunion Puerto Rico has your information already – i.e. you are an established resident. But, if you’re new, or if you ever had a different name (i.e. you are a married woman), you better also bring your Social Security card with you.
Essentially when a bank account is opened, they register it against the credit reporting agency, and if the info is not there or it doesn’t match up, you have to show a SSN card to prove you are who you say you are. It’s really not a big deal and probably a good rule of thumb to always bring your SSN card whenever you conduct government or financial business because in Puerto Rico they ask for it everywhere!
Anyway, that is our tale of opening a bank account in Puerto Rico. Hope it is helpful to those that want to know and I’m curios about others, what type of experience did you have?