Banking in Honduras

People often ask us how we get money for our daily travels. For the last year and one half we have been able to get money from an ATM using a debit card. While there is not one in every town through out Central America we have been able to plan ahead and get enough money for a week or two or more of travel. Sometimes I feel awkward because I can just go into one of the ATM booths, bypassing the long lines waiting to go into the bank. I just go into one of the private booths, slip my plastic card into a machine and get a couple hundred dollars worth if the local currency.

This is how we have been able get our money until we reached. Gracias, Honduras. We miscalculated our available Lempiras, the Honduran currency, partly due to a hotel clerk in Copan Ruinas going through our bags as we explored the area and removing a few things from our bag including our stashed reserve. We we did not notice the cash being gone until we got low on money. So of course we go looking for an ATM which turned out to be non-existent in the town of Gracias. I went to all three banks to see if I could use my debit card as a Visa and with draw money. It turned out I could at one bank but the system was down and I needed to come back two hours later. I was curious to see I could use my debit card at another bank and since I had a couple of hours to wait anyway I gave it a shot.

What I found at the other bank which is true of all the banks is there is always one or two uniformed guards standing at the entrance with guns that look like sawed-off shotguns. I was asked upon entering if I had a cell phone which I did not. There are two separate lines. The first type of line is labeled to be used by those person who are older then 60, the pregnant and the disabled. The other type of line is for all the other people. Well the shortest line was the first so I queued up there. I had plenty of tine to wait and I amused my self that the other people would have to figure out if I was older then 60, pregnant or disabled. Or perhaps I was all of the above. I justified my standing in the shorter line as thinking that the teller would be more compassionate to my broken Spanish and that qualified me for being disabled. But I do have tinges of gray hair so they would not not how old I am. I an a foreigner with light complexion and perhaps we all look the same, yet my stomach has been upset for a couple of weeks perhaps I am pregnant. I had plenty of time to think this over as I stood in that stupid line. But when I finally got up to the teller she said that they bank had no system to help me and sent me to the only bank in town that had one. I still had 45 minutes to wait until the system was back online at the other bank. I had indeed been in the right line.

At the appointed time I returned to Banco Atlantica to withdraw Lempiras with my plastic card. The bank manager took care of me in a matter of minutes. The charge to my bank account happened within 5 minutes of when I entered the door, past the guards with the guns and into the special office with the credit card reader. I was so excited how fast this all happened. This was the good news. The bad news is I had to go stand in the only line in this bank, the one for the cashier. They even had a sign above one of the tellers that said it was for the old, the pregnant and the disabled but this bank just ignored that formality and all people were created equal.

So I stood in line for 45 minutes trying to entertain myself. I noticed that the fatter ladies brought their children with them so the children stood in line for them while they sat in the chairs along the wall. The lady in front of me must have no children at this time so she just went and sat down. When we got close to the teller she just got back in her place in front of me. How did she know I would hold her place? She did not even ask but I guess I have one of those faces that she knew she could pull this and I would let her resume her place in line.

As I finally got got close to my turn with bank teller, the system went down. Oh, this was bad news. The bank closed in ten minutes and every one was getting anxious. The atnosphere in the bank had changed. The few remaining people in front of me wanted to deposit their money. The women started taking out their money hidden in their brassieres and trying to get a place in front of a teller. They needed to deposit their money. As for me, I also wanted my money that had already been charged to my account. I did not know what I would have done if they said no system, no money. But I got my money and headed back to the hotel with a story of how complicated getting money out of banks can be if there is no ATM machines,.

We are luck in so many areas. We have enough money to have an ATM card. We do not have to stand in long lines and wait to be processed. Having resources is a grand thing. As I travel, I learn that life is very different for people in so many ways. So the next time you get cash out of a machine or go to a teller when you have to wait 2 minutes think of all the people that have to wait hours in one day to be able to do their banking.