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Sometimes you have to accept that certain things are the way they are – at least for a specific moment in time. So while the Colombian banking system frustrates more than what I had been used to, you just have to deal with it.
However, depending on your circumstances and requirements, it is worth shopping around if you’re looking for a ‘safe’ place for your money here.
What’s more, reflecting the general lack of customer service in this country, banks don’t seem to care one iota if you decide to ‘take your money and run’, closing an existing account. A great business sense that, leaking clients at will. My ‘millions’ are better off in Ireland and the UK for now.
If you do, though, require a Colombian bank account, from my investigations, coming at it as an independent visa holder, without having to go to extraordinary lengths to prove your ‘importance’,* here’s the low-down on the lukewarm to the damn right cold:
Banking is Caring and Sharing: First place goes to Banco Caja Social or in its initialism form, BCS (hence the introduction, geddit?). They offer a standard savings account without any management fee, or so they say. 5,000 COP (Colombian pesos, roughly €1.90) is held in ‘bolsillo’ (‘pocket’) and taken from your account each month. However, it’s your money, not theirs; you can access it whenever you want, apparently. You’re allowed up to five free ATM withdrawals per month – in BCS’s own cash machines that is, of course (there is a fee to use those of other banks, the standard practice in Colombia).
Moreover, all you need is your Colombian immigration card (Cédula de Extranjería), and cash obviously, to open an account. That is to say, you don’t need to show a certified proof of income, a requirement in many of the other banks and something that can be a bit of a hassle to get as an independent, non-contracted worker.
On top of all this, in a case of what’s seldom is wonderful for this country, the guy I dealt with in the bank’s 19th Avenue, Fourth Street (Calle 19 with Carrera 4) branch was extremely friendly and helpful and seemed genuinely interested in having me as a customer (cheers Oscar!).
Worthy of mention: A much smaller bank than Caja Social, Bancoomeva’s standard savings account comes free of charges for the first six months. Thereafter, there is no standard monthly fee, but you pay for every transaction. At their own ATMs the fee is minimal; 1,300 COP for each of your first four monthly withdrawals, however, it’s more than double that if you withdraw from other banks. This could prove costly considering the current small size of their network nationwide.
A newcomer to the market, the Ecuadorian Banco Pichincha, has a monthly management fee of a not-too-excessive 6,900 COP. Like Caja Social, it’s simple to open an account, with no proof of income required. On the downside, like Bancoomeva, the network is small.
Banco de Bogotá’s monthly fee is 6,500 COP, which allows up to five cost-free ATM transactions per month. However, the paperwork required to open an account there is somewhat off-putting.
It’s relatively straightforward to open an account with Davivienda but the monthly fee of 9,500 COP is at the higher end of the scale. Plus, in one of its branches at least, employees could do with some intensive customer-service training.
Best avoided: With a total monthly fee of a whopping 18,000 COP, broken down as 10,000 COP for management plus an 8,000 COP administration charge for good measure, Banco Popular is certainly not popular with Wrong Way anyway.
Bancolombia charges 9,700 COP per month and requires proof of income. The Spanish bank BBVA is also one of the more expensive to do business with.
I have it on good authority that Citibank’s priority in Colombia is at the upper end of the market; fee-wise it’s at the upper end of things in any case.
It must be said that some banks such as Banco Av Villas, Banco Occidente and Banco Agrario failed to provide me with information as requested (and promised in a couple of cases). Also, if anyone knows of any other bank operating in Colombia that can trump Banco Caja Social – bearing in mind this little study is based on an independent visa holder or somebody without contracted employment – please do tell.
For now, though, it’s off to Caja Social I go.
*By ‘extraordinary lengths’ I mean having to write, in a strong manner, to branch managers and indeed company directors to get any sort of positive attention. Even that doesn’t guarantee any improvement in conditions.
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