Banking on Roatan
Opening a new bank account on Roatan requires patience and an understanding that in general, the service ethos is very different here than in other countries. Most of the banks act as though it is pain that you actually want to come in and deposit your money with them. With a few notable exceptions.
To open a bank account you require two letters from existing account owners or people of repute in the community and also to be a permanent resident of the country. The general policy of the Central (Government) Bank of Honduras restrains the private banks from opening Accounts to Foreigners that do not have a Residency Permit.
The letters are simple and basically have to say "I have known this person for x number of years and they are of good character." It must have the full name of the person(s) who want the account and the ID they are using; passport or residency card. If the person who is recommending you has an account there it does not hurt to put the account number on the letter either. The letter must have the address, telephone number, and the ID number of the person doing the recommendation as well. It of course needs to be signed and dated.
As always since you are in Honduras you often don't need any of those required items but do not be surprised if you are asked for them.
Without a Residency card, there are only two banks that I know of that will currently allow you to open an account: Banco Davianda and BANPAIS. This, of course, changes all the time, and if you get rejected the first time you walk into the bank take my standard advice. Come back another day and try with a different banker. Rules here are so open to interpretation and unfortunately misinterpretation.
All banks will offer you two accounts. One in US dollars and one in Lempira. You should take both without question as you need them. The minimum deposit is usually $100 for the dollar account and 500 Lempira for the other. As always for the USD only bills that have no rips and are in good condition will be accepted. You will be given a paper bank book for each account do not lose them otherwise you will need to pay to get new ones and spend a good amount of time replacing them. You need them every time you do something in the bank itself.
Honduran banks allow you to transfer money between them using ACH transfers basically their national clearinghouse. It is great for paying bills or sending money to other Honduran accounts and there is only a small fee.
Most banks only allow account holders to do currency exchanges it is not a service offered to the general public. Also, the Limperia one usually gives you a high-interest rate while the dollar one, if it does, is negligible. Your accounts (cuentas) are usually savings (ahorra) and unless you are opening a business account there is no need to have any other ones. With these types of accounts, you can normally do all the things you need if you have the right bank.
Depositing money can either be done in person at the bank, or you can give them a US check but that can take 2 to 4 weeks to clear depending on the bank's policies. You can also wire in money of course but that is usually only for large sums as both the originating bank and the receiving bank charge fees.
Some banks have connections with international banks. I believe if you have a Bank of America account then you can easily transfer money to a BAC account by listing them as a payee in your US account. If anyone knows of other connections please let me know.
Withdrawals and Deposits
Normally this would not even be a topic for discussion you just put in money and then you can take it out later. Ah, the simple life of the 1st world. Due to the prevalence of narco-trafficking in central American countries, the USA is always putting pressure on their governments to limit cash flow in a futile attempt to win the drug war. Completely useless and it makes banking with cash a pain. You will find there are limits on how much money you can deposit and how much money you can withdraw especially if you are using US dollars. The limits are not large so If you are planning a big purchase like a car it is best to talk to your bank first to make sure understand the best (safest) way to do it. Often you may have to withdraw the money over a couple of days and keep the cash at home. Not ideal.
As always when depositing US dollars they must be as new. If there is the slightest tear at the edge, tape on them, or any kind of writing they will be rejected and you will have to find a tourist to exchange them for a better quality bill.
The two banks I personally suggest are BAC Credomatic and. Banco DAVIVIENDA. I currently bank with BAC and opening an account with them was pure joy. It only took 2 to 3 hours and I left with online banking access, my bank books, and a debit card. Two days totally unexpectedly a VISA debit card was delivered to my home address. I was totally shocked at the speed and professionalism. I was with my previous bank for 2 years and even after many complaints never received my card. Their customer service is excellent and they can be reached online or via Whatsapp. I hardly ever have to go into a branch but if I do they have enough tellers that the wait is not too long.
I have held several bank accounts over the years and can tell you some horror stories. Some of the banks if you do not use the account for 3 months will lock the account and then you have to see the bank manager to unlock them. Absolutely ridiculous and huge waste of your time especially when the bank manager always seems to be at a very long lunch
Special note about Banco Atlatida. It is one of the largest private banks in Honduras and many people have businesses bank with it. Usually, they have no choice as it was the only way for them to get credit card services or other commercial services. Stay away from it. If you want to know why just swing by the bank at opening time. The line often stretches on and on. I have known people who are just paid to go and do bank work as they spend all their day waiting in lines. Around the first and 15th of the month avoid going to the bank if possible as around paydays the lines are beyond belief.
The banks on the island are located here but you can easily find them on google maps.
Banpais (no residency no problem)
West End and Coxen Hole
BAC Credomatic (yay)
Coxen and French Harbor
Coxen and French Harbor
Banco Azteca the Mexican bank that sells Honduran legal paper (???)
Banco LaFise (just don't)
Financiera Insular S.A. (FINISA)
Coperativa Sagrada Familia
Banco DAVIVIENDA (no residency)
Coxen Hole and Mount Plesent.
ATMs on Roatan
Whichever bank you choose the branches will be very busy on paydays and the days before and after national holidays. It is a really good idea to have all the Honduran holidays added to your calendar as there are a lot of them. These days most banks have Facebook pages that let you know when and if they are open. To avoid contact with banks use ATMs and their online services whenever possible.
You can find ATMs throughout the island. ATMs are now located in French Harbour at Eldon’s Supermarket, MegaPlaza Mall Banks - Banco Continental, BAC Credomatic, Banpais, Banco Atlantida all have ATM's. Texaco and HSBC in Jackson Plaza. The airport has 2 ATMs, Coxen Hole has ATMs at each bank location. West End and West Bay have several more ATMs to access your accounts. West Bay has two at least one in West Bay Mall and one in the Infinity Bay hotel.
At an ATM you can only withdraw money in Lempira. Though it can be from either your dollar or your Limperia account. The maximum withdrawal for each transaction is usually 5000 LPS. Which is currently about $208 USD with the fee. However, if your card allows it you can do multiple withdrawals on the same day. A big issue is that depending on the bank card you are using hefty fees will be added. If I use my BAC card at a BAC ATM I pay no fees. If I use my Wells Fargo card with a fee at the ATM and a lovely fee from Wells Fargo It ends up costing me $216 for my $208. Almost 5% in fees so be careful and plan ahead.
ATM fraud is a problem every now and then. I once took out some money in West End and mysteriously that night I spent a great deal in some Jamaican bars. Now I am no stranger to forgetting the previous night's spending but I am at loss to know how I got home from Jamacia so quickly. So to avoid that I use only ATMs that are under 24-hour guard. The ATMs in the gas stations, in the airports, or the banks themselves are the most reliable.
Of course, always check any discrepancy and report any issues to your bank immediately but that is not a common occurrence. Some people on holiday use ATM cards that can only access available cash and just transfer money to them as needed.
Credit cards and Debit cards
Most large shops accept electronic payment as do most restaurants but always ask at bars and restaurants before ordering. Also, ask if there is an additional fee. There shouldn't be but there can be one added to compensate for the fee they pay the bank. You don't need the hassle of not having enough cash to pay the bill and the accompanying police walk. Some bars and restaurants even accept PayPal.
Small stalls and shops (tiendas and bodegas) will only accept cash though they don't care if it is dollars or Lempira though if your bill is too large they may not have change for a small purchase. By large I mean a $20 bill or 500 lempira bill. $50 and $100 are difficult to get rid of unless you go to large stores or the gas station. The gas station attendants will usually help if you ask nicely.,
It is always good to carry change on you. If you take a taxi ride from West End to Coxen hole 40 Lps "collectivo" (shared) there is a good chance they can't change a 500.
How to use an ATM
To use the ATM, it helps to know Spanish. Here are some words to help you if the ATM won't go into English mode.
"Ahorra" savings and the default for most Honduran accounts
"Cuenta corriente" current account is usually the one you should choose
Swipe or put your card in. If it has a chip you will need to put it back in if you swiped.
Generally, it asks you first if you want English or Spanish but not always.
Then asks you to put in your PIN (cover with your other hand.)
Then it asks what you want to do. "Retrios" to withdraw money.
Then it asks which account to use. The top right is usually the right one.
Then it asks how much you want in Lempira. Sometimes the ATM only has 100's and your wallet will look very happy.
Then it throws your card back before it gives you the money.
Moving money between countries
As many people retire here there is often a need to move their money down here regularly. There are several ways to move money and they all have their benefits and drawbacks.
The method that should be used for large movements of money such as buying property or cars boats etc. is international wires. If done correctly these are extremely efficient and the money can move and be available in 24 hours. Even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the case of buying houses. The benefit is there is no percentage taken when it is transferred and you get close to real money market rates on currency exchanges. It is better to go a dollar to a dollar account to avoid currency exchange. Great advice unless of course, you are not sending from the USA. The drawback is there is a lot of security and paperwork surrounding them. It is imperative and I cannot stress this enough that the forms are filled out correctly for the reasons explained below. There are also fixed fee costs involved with sending wires which is why the more you send the more sense it makes to use a wire.
Security. Some banks require you to actually go into a branch if you need to send the money to an account that you have never wired to before. Others may require notarized letters from you. So if you want to send a wire it is best to find out your bank's policies way in advance. Very few just let you do it online.
The forms. If the form is filled out correctly then the money will be there the same day or within 24 hours. If you fill it out badly it will get lost somewhere in the banking system. Not in your bank and not in the bank you wanted it to go to. I had one client who lost a wire in limbo for 4 weeks. Though when I saw the form and how they filled it in I was not surprised. What is a real problem is that the bank had checked the form for them and signed off on it. So it was not really my client's fault. Most tellers do not send wire transfers regularly so they may not know how to fill a form out. Yet they do it anyway. For that reason, I always ask to see the form for my clients and try to fill it out for them in advance. Explaining what I know would take a long time so just be careful and always ask even if you are sure!
The cost. There are minimum fees for sending and receiving wires. What your bank charges you depends on your relationship with them but $50 is usual. Then you also have to pay a $50 fee to the receiving bank. So it is a fixed cost of about $100 to send a wire. So there is no point in sending small amounts. I knew a person who went on Facebook and tried to slam a bank for taking $100 of $300 she sent to her gardener. Ignorance is not a reason to slam a business. However, one hundred dollars is a very cheap way to send large amounts securely.
The dollar account can be used to deposit monthly income checks from a U.S. checking account with some banks. Again check beforehand before you pick your bank. Expect up to 28 days for it to clear. This is a great way to get the required deposit proof for retirement residency.
Most of these methods below require you to create accounts and start with low amounts. If you have personal experience in sending money any other way please let me know as I would love to add the information.
Xoom allows you to pick up cash from Davivenda and it could be up to $999 USD. The most you can transfer at one time is 10.000 USD. The fee is $36 on $10k.
You also have the option of Western Union, "direct to bank account" the service is an easy and convenient way to send funds directly to a receiver's bank account. It may take 3 to 5 days for your money to be available. If you need money to be there in minutes, you can use SOFORT banking as your payment method.
You can also Western Union money to yourself and pick at some of the banks here. Just be careful as Western Union can be very picky about having your name exactly as it is on your ID.
I have heard contradictory stories about people being able to open local PayPal accounts and local banks. I think again it depends on your bank.
Note all these companies to my knowledge charge less money in fees but you often lose on a bad exchange rate. So at the end of the day, you have to evaluate both to see if it is a method that is good for you.
Foreign currencies (That is not USD or Lempira)
US dollars and Honduran money are accepted interchangeably on the island. No other currency is and you will not be able to change your currency at banks nor is there a foreign exchange bureau at the airport. So don't bring it. Important note. The US dollar is acceptable ONLY on Roatan if you go to the mainland you can only use Honduran currency. Try and use a US dollar and you will get blank and maybe angry stares.
As always these methods are constantly changing and if you have some real and recent experience I would love to hear from you!