Banco Nacional restricts ATM use

Banco Nacional has restricted the withdrawal of colons by those using foreign debit cards.

The restriction has been instituted over the last week at automatic tellers operated by the bank.

Now those who have a foreign debit card can withdraw just 50,000 colons (about $94) at a time, but they can do so four times in a 24-hour period, said a bank representative and a display on the automatic teller monitor.

Those who have Banco Nacional debit cards can withdraw up to 700,000 colons ( a bit more than $1,300) in a single day from their local account, the representative said.

The restriction comes on the heels of a decision by some other banks to prohibit the withdrawal in dollars of amounts more than $100. Banco Nacional has restricted dollar withdrawals for several year by those with foreign cards.

The bank said that those with foreign debit cards can present them to a teller to obtain greater amounts of money, but these transactions are expensive cash advances. The limits spell trouble for the tourist trade because a lot of visitors make trips to the local automatic teller machines.

As is usually the case, Banco Nacional made no announcement of the change. In the past, foreigners could withdraw in colons up to the equivalent of either $400 or $500 at one time, depending on the limit set by their home bank.

The automatic teller limits take place at the same time when dollars are becoming less plentiful. Many Costa Ricans have contracted debt in dollars, and imports, including petroleum, have to be paid in dollars.

The Banco Central has worked to freeze the exchange rate for more than a year. One way was by prohibiting non-bank entities from bidding on dollars at the daily money exchange market. That way Banco Central could basically fix the price of dollars.

However, with the U.S. Federal Reserve Board about to increase the base interest rate in the United States and the increasing Costa Rican public debt, the dollar exchange rate had begun to creep higher in favor of the greenback. In addition, there is a chance that concerns about the zika virus and changes in the market may have reduced the flow of tourist dollars here.

Another factor is the overreaction by bankers over possible money laundering. A number of business people who have legitimate reasons for bringing large sums of money into the country now find that they have to make detailed explanations to bankers, and in some cases are unable to complete the transaction.

There have been complaints by expat homebuyers and those seeking to purchase automobiles that they have a difficult time importing dollars into the country.

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