Opening a bank account – Part I
Posted by urufish on June 22, 2007
For most banks in Uruguay, (with the exception of most local banks like the BROU), there is one set of rules for American residents and another for everyone else. For instance, you can NOT, EVER open a bank account in most international banks here if you are a US citizen, resident or resident alien. This isn’t an opinion or an observation. Its the law, as set by the DGI.
Most international banks in Uruguay shield all of their clients information with Uruguay’s bank secrecy laws. These laws allow the banks to deny inquiries for any information about their clients with the exclusion of a criminal warrant, given by the courts where there is proof of criminal behaviour, (eg. money laundering or fraud). Your information will not be released to a taxation agency like the IRS or CRA. When an international bank operates in a country where secrecy laws shield clients AND they elect to apply those laws to ALL clients, without exception, they sign an agreement with the IRS pledging to refuse to open accounts for anyone presenting a US passport or where their birth, citizenship or residency is listed on a different identity document, (eg. the back of the Cedula).
Furthermore, ALL clients are required to sign a W8 or W9. With the W8, you swear that you’re not any of the above, nor are you ‘fronting’ for someone who is, under pain of criminal prosecution for perjury. If you are one of the above, you sign a W9, which authorizes the bank to notify the IRS you opened an account here and allows the IRS to query the bank for all pertinent information about your account any time in the future they decide you’re a person of interest to them.
The process of opening an account in a foreign bank is not as simple as it is up north, but it’s not prohibitive. You need your proof of identity, (passport or cedula) and references from your old bank (or a ‘good word’ from a current client) and 5 references in Uruguay. (Dont be put off by that.. any one person in Uruguay can rustle up 4 other names for yo as a refernce). Then you sign several forms (see below), and you should make a small deosit in CASH, but yes, you CAN deposit a cheque. You may not want to do that, (see previous post), but yes, you can do it.
Most international banks will let you setup accounts in major currencies. I deal with the ABN Amro and highly recommend them. I was directed to them by my friend. He took me in and sliced through all the red tape in a few minutes. 30 years of banking experience can do that for you. Next week I’m opening up an account by myself and we’ll see how well I do :).
If you’re not fluent in Spanish, you must find a branch with a person fluent in English. Banking is just too important to leave to chance. The ABN in Pocitos on 21 de Setiembre is one. The Discount bank has fluent, english staff in Ciuded Vieja. My rep at ABN worked a few years in the Pacific North-West. Her English is perfect and, just as important, she understands how we do things up North. Whenever the bank’s policy here differs with what northerners are used to, she already knows its coming, explains why it’s different, explains it or apologizes for it.
At the ABN, (I assume this is true of all international banks), you can have multiple currencies. I keep 3 savings accounts; pesos, USD and CAD. The reason for the CAD is to be able to deposit cheques from home, (like income tax refunds), without having to change the money to pesos or USD.
Chequing accounts are also avaialble. The ABN wouldn’t give me one immediately, when I opened up the account. They said we needed to ‘prove’ ourselves first. After they see some account activity and how responsible we are as customers, after a number of months, we could apply for a checking account. Keep in mind, we originally opened the account as tourists–not as residents. This may have had an impact, but not necessarily. Banks here are very somber IN THE BEGINING. Once you’re a customer for a few months, you become family. Then you can kiss your account rep when you greet them, (yes, we really do that).
The following is all the pertinent pages from the rule booklet that include all the rules of the bank. I thought this was a booklet you get to keep as a reference. You certainly can ask for a copy to keep, but the one they give you includes a section for you to sign at the back (see last page below) and the entire booklet is kept in your file, to prove you read and agreed to the rules. Interesting eh?