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For Those using Direct Express for their Social Security

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suzajourney75
5/20/2019 15:07 EST

I have discovered an enormous problem with the Direct Express MasterCard as it applies to Americans living in Mexico, because I was unable for 2 weeks to reach their advertized 24/7 customer service when I was unable to retrieve cash from any ATM in Puerto Escondido. I went to several banks in town for help as any showing the Mastercard Logo according to the Direct Express Website is supposed to allow a cash withdrawl. The Mexican bank's response was my Direct Express was a foreign card and they could not honor it. Unable go reach customer service on the international number in addition to a friend trying to reach them from his US phone, I was trapped without cash or help. Stores which are also supposed to give cash along with a purchase refused as well, saying my Direct Express was not Mexican. Direct Express is the guardian of Social Security direct deposits for many people who choose a pre-paid card rather than a bank account. For those of us in Mexico who can not have an account in our own name without being a resident, do not even have the choice, When I enrolled in Direct Express in the US several months before I moved to Mexico, I was assured it was safe, reliable and totally accessible. I aIso didn't imagine that Direct Express had no relationship with the banks here, despite the fact they both show the Mastercard logo. I also was outraged by the indifference and lack of customer service I experienced in the Mexican banks. I never imagined that once out of the country alone and in trouble with a card not working properly, I would have to have emergency money wired to me until I could even reach customer service. When I finally did after 2 weeks, I was lucky enough to speak with someone who realized the seriousness of the situation and got me to a level three supervisor who apparently is the only one who can deal with such issues. First I should mention that he was completely aware of the difficulty I had reaching customer service. He even told me that the last three days and first three days of the month were impossible times to get through and they had not yet found a solution. ( Perhaps they need to hire more people ) He told me he would "white list" my information and email a special department of Mastercard to free the card and within 4 days I should be able to get cash. I reached him on a Saturday and this special department only works Mon-Fri. I also told him my mobile app stopped working the same day I was unable to get cash and he said he would send a code by email to open the app. He was very sympathetic and I was grateful that finally someone seemed to care. However, the procedure failed to work, I never got an email with a code and I began calling Direct Express again every 30 minutes to get through to this supervisor. It took me nearly another week to make contact, an improvement over the first time, but for people who advertize 24/7 customer service access, totally unacceptable. I warned him that this was not the reasonable, polite and grateful person of a week ago. This was a furious American citizen, alone in Mexico, whose life and well being had been put in danger because something was wrong with their system preventing me from access to my own funds. I wanted something to happen immediately and I wanted him to call me since he would have no problem getting through to my phone. I also said that I was going to file a full report with anyone who would listen because I could not be the only victim and the seniors who where using their card deserved much better protection and access. It may even be true that they are working to improve the system, however no one should be in the dangerous and vulnerable position I was in , having to spend 3 weeks of my life listening to a busy signal on a customer service line, treated with indifference by the Mexican banks whose economy is greatly benefited by the American dollars we spend there, and then never called by the supervisor at Direct Express to follow up. I hope this reaches other people using Direct Express. I plan on filing a complete report with the company and copying Mastercard and Social Security as I have asked the supervisor to file his own report. The first thing they have to fix is immediate telephone access. No one needs to hear a busy signal from the people who handle their money for 2 weeks. It's an outrageous amount of stress for anyone but for seniors on social security, that stress is a dangerous health risk.

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YellowTail
5/20/2019 18:01 EST

I might respond if you could cut that post down to 2 or 3 short sentences...

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YellowTail
5/20/2019 18:55 EST

Sorry for my previous terse response. After rereading your post - often it is required to inform Visa/MC regarding your travel plans (for your security). Perhaps it is as simple as your needing to inform MC of your location in Mexico. Otherwise - I do not see anyone else you can blame.

Welcome to Mexico !

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hrlee7804
5/21/2019 10:33 EST

I always have a US cash stash when I am in Mexico. Most all I know here us the atm and a checking account in the US to draw from. Converting US currency to pesos in Mexico is not a good business plan but in an emergency it works. Currently about 17.5. Cash from an atm with your local home bank is about 19.4. My social security check gets deposited in my bank back home and I access my funds here. This system is tried and proven. I never try to reinvent the wheel, especially out of country. I have never heard of the card you spoke of but research prior to your travel may have been wise. On this site it has been spoken often about home banks and atm cash. Sorry you had a rough go.

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RVGRINGO
5/21/2019 11:52 EST

A credit card is often refused in Mexico, as it involves fees and delays for the merchant, especially if it is a foreign card. In this case, I have also never heard of Direct Express. It is certainly not the way to obtain cash.
You should be using a debit card from your bank. It will provide easy access to cash at ATMs. Naturally, you must have a "World" card, or notify your bank of your travel plans and dates. Othewise, your card may be flagged and disabled, which is probably what happened to you.
Frankly, I would get a credit card and a debit card from a major bank when you return to your home town in the USA.
Mexico still prefers cash, and the cash is in Mexican Pesos.

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YellowTail
5/21/2019 14:04 EST

I don't know - I had never heard of Direct Express MasterCard - but it certainly looks legit, endorsed by the US Treasury, providing services to federal employees, service people etc. I'm sure MC sets the exchange rate - with luck it is the same exchange rate they offer on all their products (which you can see daily online).

For comparison, BofA offers 4 or 5 credit cards. ALL but one is going to charge you 3% foreign transaction fee. That is the real question when it comes to this Direct Express MasterCard. Are there foreign transaction fees ? if not - it looks like a perfectly fine way to access monies in Mexico.

I use both Mexican and US credit/debit cards in Mexico. All of the big-box-stores accept them without issue. Only Sam's prices thing in cash or other form of payment - and the difference isn't that much. My local ferrateria would get a good chuckle if I offered him a piece of plastic for payment.

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YellowTail
5/21/2019 14:28 EST

Two other brief thoughts. I believe in the past Pemex does not like our US plastic. And there is the question of ATM fees.

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Cozumeldeb
5/21/2019 20:15 EST

We have a Charles Schwab Bank Acct, all foreign transaction fees refunded end of each mo. We've done this for several yrs, no issues. We bought in 2001 our MX lawyer told us never to open a MX bank acct. We never did, retired in 2010. We do go back and forth, 6+ mos in MX then back to Chicago. Retirement paradise = MX.

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mattoleriver
5/21/2019 20:35 EST

"I went to several banks in town for help as any showing the Mastercard Logo according to the Direct Express Website is supposed to allow a cash withdrawl. "

This may be the problem. Check sections 3.5 and 4.3 of the FAQs on the Direct Express website for the logos of in network ATMs. There are several identifying logos but the MasterCard logo on the front of the card is not among them. MasterCard ATM Alliance (the last of the 7 shown) may be the MC logo that will be displayed on in network ATMs.

https://www.usdirectexpress.com/faq.html

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rediskee
5/21/2019 21:42 EST

It’s worth reviewing the document which mentions purchases at “...US businesses,,," and also a $3 fee + 3% and whatever the ATM owner charges for ATM withdrawals.

I suggest a Charles Scwab account and have the money deposited there so you can use the ATM card with all fees refunded,

Good luck, Liz

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bigrio
5/21/2019 22:41 EST

If you live in Mexico – open a Mexican bank account – basic only – to access & transfer funds as needed; pay the electric bill, procure $40, etc.

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YellowTail
5/22/2019 10:03 EST

We opened our basic HSBC Mexico checking account in the US right around the time we visited the consulate for the first time and well before we ever visited INM.

I haven't tried it, but I suspect you can walk into an HSBC branch in Mexico with your passport and proof of address and open a simple, non-interest bearing checking account with debit card.

Every 3rd of the month the US Treasury puts my wife's social security monies into our HSBC Mexico checking account. It goes through Banixco which sets the excellent exchange rate and there are no fees involved.

After reading that FAQ for the card in question - it certainly does not seem to be a good way of accessing dollars in Mexico. I'm sure that 3% fee for foreign ATM withdrawals is the foreign transaction fee.

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suzajourney75
5/22/2019 13:04 EST

Thanks so much for your solid advice and your caring vibe. Much appreciated.

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suzajourney75
5/22/2019 16:07 EST

I was told only Mexican residents can get accounts, not EX Pats holding tourist .visas.

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YellowTail
5/22/2019 17:49 EST

Things change over time (I can't promise you the same results) - but I assure you we opened our (basic) HSBC Mexico (peso based) checking account sitting in a branch office in Florida - before we received any visa. When we got to Mexico and received our visas we then upgraded our accounts to include a credit card and investment accounts.

We were HSBC US account holders - but at one point I read that they offered the same service if you were not, for a fee. At one point I closed our HSBC US account but earlier this year I was talking with them about opening fresh US accounts with no US address - and they had no problem with that.

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