While Bitcoin will be the universal way to send and receive money, we need a solution in the mean time. Western Union is expensive (more than you first think) but it works. This post is about how it works in Panajachel — offering two distinctly different choices.
The photo at the left is of the bank you want to avoid for doing a Western Union Transfer. The good news is that a good choice is less than 100 meters away at BAM.
This bank is a bad choice because it takes forever to get it done. There is all too much manual “copy from here to there” and “manually fill out this form” going on. In addition, both times I tried they had a person who knew how to do the transaction there offering clues to the person who had to do it. Sorta depressing.
If for some strange reason you wish to use them, you go to the customer service counter, spend 10 to 30 minutes answering the same questions over and over again (what type of work do you do, what is this transfer for, …) and then go to the teller window to pay — in Quetzales, even if you have US$ and you are sending US$.
This Quetzal to US$ exchange is clearly where the bank makes their money. That’s the reason it is more expensive than it initially seems. Now, on to the right bank option.
BAM is just a little behind where I took this photo from. Just around the corner on Calle Principal from where Calle Santander meets it. They also have better hours including being open for part of Sunday. So, go there.
The procedure is different. Go directly to a teller window and tell them the amount and to whom you want to send the money. (I recommend having this written down — it just decreases possible errors no matter how good your Spanish is. They will tell you the amount you need to pay in Quetzales. The teller fills out a little form and you sign it. (Yes, you need ID.) You pay and take the receipt to one of the customer service windows (to your left).
The person there enters the actual Western Union transfer into a screen and prints out a receipt. She will also ask you for your ID and make a copy. You sign the printout, she writes down the magic code and you are done. I just did this and was in the bank no more than five minutes including waiting in line for the teller.