It’s not all sweetness and cream when you’ve expatriated to another country. Actually, sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass! Take what I’ve been going through for the last month…
It’s a real hassle for extranjeros (foreigners) to open a bank account here in Panama. It’s almost this bad —
What with money laundering problems and the U.S. IRS demanding that foreign countries comply with their regulations you really have to jump through hoops to get an account here. Since I’m not rolling in dough and the only deposits I get are a monthly Social Security payment and VERY meager royalty payments from my books online (made a whopping $14 in 2015) it just never seemed worthwhile to go through the hassle. I live my life here on my debit card. In more than five years dealing with my money this way I’ve only encountered ONE problem. About three months ago I went to an ATM to withdraw $500, my usual monthly cash stipend. The machine didn’t give me any money, but debited my account anyway. A single call to HSBC in the States resolved the problem and the money was back in my account in something like two days.
That was the ONLY problem until Feb. 4th. I went to the Romero supermarket in Bugaba and when they swiped my card it didn’t go through. Don’t have a clue why not…I mean while I’m probably a pauper compared to most of the gringo expats here there are STILL several thousand dollars in my account. Swipe it again. No go. Fortunately I had enough cash on me that I was able to buy what had already been bagged up for me.
When I got home, with something like $27.63 in cash, I called HSBC to see what was going on. Had there been a hold put on my account for some reason? That had happened once before. But NOOOOO. They told me that my card was the “old style” card and the new cards had a chip in them. Now, you can call me a racist if you want to, I don’t care, but I’m dealing with people here whose accent reeks of curry and chutney and I have gone through three different ones trying to resolve this. They said the new card had been sent and so, after an interval of about a month, they assumed I’d received and activated the new card and they cancelled the old one. Now, here’s the problem with this. Since I moved to Panama I’ve had THREE different mailing addresses: the original one, one that was valid for about three months and which I had sent HSBC a change of address for, and then another new address which I also did an online change of address for. Who knows where it might have gone.
I couldn’t get ANYONE to take this too seriously, and my big problem was I was stupid and just say that my card had been lost or stolen which might have sped things up. But I didn’t do that and the best I could get out of these hamburger haters was that it would take seven to TEN WORKING DAYS to get a new card issued. Then I had to tell them NOT to send it to the mailing address they had but to send it to my mail forwarding service since I’m in Panama and not the United States.
Forward to ten working days later. I call HSBC to ask whether or not the card has been sent. NO, IT HASN’T!!! Why not?
“Well, we tried to call you but didn’t get an answer.” So the bastards let me hang, and when I asked them to tell me the number they’d called it was WRONG. One of the idiots I’d spoken to the first time fucked up and noted it wrong.
By now I’m literally SCREAMING at my computer (we’re doing this on Skype). “DIDN’T ANY OF YOU IDIOTS THINK, SINCE NO ONE ANSWERED THE PHONE YOU MIGHT FUCKING TRY AND SEND ME AN EMAIL?” Well, no that didn’t occur to them.
So I go through another bunch of curry-reaking, low paid peons, and now am told they will “expedite” things and send the new card out within “five working days.” I have them repeat, several times, where I want them to send the card and the address of my mail forwarder.
NOW! It’s going to be nearly two weeks AT BEST before I get that card. I have exactly TWO DOLLARS AND SOME COINS TO MY NAME IN PANAMA!!! I put out an urgent plea on Facebook explaining my situation and saying that I would write someone a check PLUS interest if they would get me $500 in cash. I know that it’s going to be AT BEST near the beginning of March before I get the card and I have TWO rental payments to make, the current house and the house I’m going to be moving in to and I really need to make sure those people get paid and it’s ALWAYS done with cash. Within an hour of posting that plea some friends and old neighbors in Potrerillos, Trish and Brian, came through for me. I got the cash and was able to set aside the rent, and have enough to buy food for a couple of weeks and pay the electric and internet service bills that are due. I could probably get away with not paying those until the second billing cycle but I sort of like having lights and an internet connection.
After six working days I called back to the Punjabi peon center and found out that the card had been sent (“Please tell me the address it was sent to…” and they got it correct.) And gave me a FedEx tracking number. This morning AirBox Express sent me an email saying I had a delivery and could pick it up at any time.
I use AirBox because it is right on my bus route going to the downtown terminal. It cost me $4,57 to bail it out. Then, when I open the envelope the card says I have to call an 800 number to activate it. Since the first new card had been cancelled because no one knows where it went, I have a NEW card number and can’t activate it by going to an ATM. The next hassle is that my prepaid phone account won’t let me make international or 800 number phone calls so I have to get on a bus again and haul my ass all the way back to Boquerón so I can Skype the number and activate the card.
One good thing about the new card is the expiration date. The card that go cut off would expire in May, 2018. The new card is good until the end of February 2021.