Monday, September 15, 2008

Attempted Banking and Other Perils

Our efforts to open an account here have been a lesson in patience (I've had a lot of those lessons lately). When we were building the house and up until we actually arrived here, all our banking was handled by our friends, Dennis and Merlin. They set up an account and we wired money down to cover expenses which they then paid. Once we were moved in, we wanted to open our own account, of course. Here's what transpired:
The first week we were here, we went into Coxen Hole with Dennis and Merlin, went to the bank and they withdrew money from our account. While there, Merlin asked the accounts person if we could open an account there without a residency card. The woman, who spoke only Spanish, said yes, and that we would need to bring copies of our passports and our last bank statement. We said, "hmm, that could be a problem as we don't have any statements with us and we do all our banking electronically anyway (an unheard of concept here). Could we make a photocopy of our last statement and bring that?" We were told yes.
A couple of days later, Merlin stopped by on her way into Coxen Hole to see if we wanted to go back to the bank. We will need Merlin's Spanish speaking skills to translate for us. We had not yet made the copies of our documents so we opted to wait until the following week. We still did not have our internet yet, so we had to go up to their house to access our account and make the necessary copies on Dennis' copier.
The next week, we followed them into Coxen Hole with instructions to meet them at the bank. We did, after we found the right bank again. We first went to HSBC instead of Banco Atlantida and knew it didn't look the same (we're quick that way), so we backtracked down the street to the right one. We still didn't get the account opened. First they didn't want to put Dennis or Merlin's name on our new account which we wanted as a safety measure for our kids in case we were to die. Then they wouldn't accept the copies of our bank statements. Apparently they really wanted a letter of reference from our bank in St. Louis saying how long we've had an account with them and if we're in good standing. Seems to me they could tell that from looking at our bank statements. And why didn't she tell us this last week? She did say it was ok to have the bank e-mail the letter of reference to us and then we could bring it in to her. The copies of our passports seemed acceptable, but we will bring in the originals next time, just in case.

On the way home, we went to the aduana office to change the title on the RAV4 that we bought from Dennis. They didn't like the copy of my passport, not easy to read the number, but they agreed to try it and if it was not acceptable, they would call me to bring in the original. Don wanted this car to be in my name only. Dennis and I had to sign the application for change of title and place our thumbprint by our signatures. Then we paid the aduana 3850 lempiras (a little over $200.). Dennis had to go get his passport (he's a Canadian citizen but a Roatan resident).
They will prepare the new title and I can pick it up later in the week. I will use the new title to renew the license plate, BUT not until October! Until then, I can just keep using the same license that Dennis paid for. When I renew the license, I just go to the bank, present the laminated title and $200. US/registration and they will print out a new one saying I'm good for a year. That's it.

The next week we were to go back to the bank on Monday, but Dennis was unable to go, so we agreed on Tuesday. Don and I went to French Harbor and attempted to pay for our groceries with our Visa; it was denied. We stopped at another store and again our Visa was denied. Curious; we had just paid it off and had a lot of available credit. We checked our Visa balance when we got back home and went up to Dennis' to use his computer. There was a mysterious charge of $550. from last Wednesday. It wasn't from anything we had charged. We hadn't even gone out last Wednesday (I know, I keep a journal). Don sent an e-mail to our banker in St. Louis asking her to look into it.

Tuesday I woke up sick as a dog, probably from the conch I ate the night before, so I was indisposed and unable to go. Don and Merlin went, taking all the copies, the reference letter from the bank and passports. They had to make two trips as Merlin forgot the bank book from our account that is in their names. Finally they got the bank account set up - in Don's name and Merlin's. Yup, they went ahead and allowed it this week. Dave and Rachel were listed as beneficiaries. They wouldn't put my name on the account since I wasn't present, so yet another trip awaited us! Don was told that he can add as many people onto the account as he'd like.

Now here's another fun fact: every trip to the bank can take anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2 hours. You can see why we dreaded yet another trip. It's best to go early in the day and it helps if you are above 60 because they have an old people line that moves much more quickly and has chairs so you can sit while you wait. Pregnant women are also allowed to use this line. Also, this teller
speaks English.

The next week, while Rachel was here, we went back to the bank (we are such suckers for punishment) taking our passports with us. Don withdrew money from the account and told the teller that he wanted to add Rachel and I to the account as users. We had to go see the "add people to the account" person, who spoke some English. That was ok, we had Rachel, who speaks fairly good Spanish. We explained what we wanted, presented our passports which were scrutinized and then taken into another cubicle and presented to another woman. She came back and said we would each need to produce a letter of reference from our banks back home unless we had an account with Banco Atlantida already! I was flabbergasted. I explained that she already had a letter of reference from our bank and since we had a joint account, it also applied to me. She said I would have to provide another copy as all their copies of documents are sent to the mainland and not kept there and they would need to see my letter before they could approve adding me to the account. Rachel said "forget it, just leave me as a beneficiary."

We heard back from our banker in St. Louis. Our Visa had been frozen due to suspected suspicious activity which is why we weren't able to use it. She said it had been used to make a purchase of computer software online or by phone, so no signature or actual card required. She gave the link to the website but it didn't seem legit to me, seemed to be a site for buying domain names. She said the block on our card would remain until we asked her to remove it. That's the only credit card we brought with us. Without it, we're limited to cash only, which means standing in the bank line every week for 1-1/2-2 hours. We had to report the card as lost or stolen in order to protest the charge, so we did. They will, of course, issue a new card but we had to work around the usual procedures since all our mail is being forwarded to Rachel in California and the post office will not forward credit cards. Also, how to activate the card? Usually you call from your home phone to do so. We sent a letter of authorization to our banker granting permission to mail the card directly to Rachel. We're waiting to hear how to activate it.

And the bank account here? Still in Don and Merlin's name. We did print another copy of the e-mailed letter of reference but haven't gone back to stand in line.

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