Thursday, January 17, 2013
Take a deep breath
Sometimes living in the Dominican Republic is incredibly frustrating, but at the same time you have to laugh – or you would cry. Yesterday was one of those days.
I need to transfer some money from England to my account here at Banco Popular. It should be simple, so I go into the Banco Popular here and tell them I will be transferring money from England. They check my account and tell me the account is held at the branch where I used to live, so I need to tell that branch. I say well please transfer my account to this branch. Apparently they couldn't do that, I had to telephone my old branch myself, which I did. Unfortunately the only way you can transfer your account to another branch is to physically go to your old branch, at the other end of the country, and tell them personally. It cannot be done by phone, fax or email. As I needed the money quickly, fair enough I say, I will just go and open an account in another bank here. This didn't seem to bother them at all.
So off I trot over the road to Banreservas which is the main bank owned by the State and walk up to Customer Services and say I want to open an account.
“No problem,” says the nice lady, and we start filling in the forms. That is when the problems start.
“Do you want an account in dollars or pesos?” she asks.
“Dollars,” I say.
“Fine,” she says, and I just thought I had better ask what seems like a stupid question.
“Can I take the dollars out of the account?”
“No,” she says. “You can have an account in dollars but at the moment we are not letting people take money out of them, well maybe a little but not very much.”
“Let me get this right,” I said. “I can transfer money from England into a dollar account here, but once it is here I can’t take it out?”
“Correct,” she replied with a smile.
“Well, I don’t think I want a dollar account then,” I say, as it seem a little pointless to have money in a bank which you are not allowed to touch. So I decided to open an account in Dominican Pesos, where you are allowed to take the money out.
Off we start with the forms. She asked for my ID card called a cedula, and for my passport. Technical hitch number two. The names are different. My cedula has my maiden name and my passport my married name. She decided that I couldn't open an account with my cedula, I would have to use my passport.
“Is that a problem?” I asked.
“Not at all,” she says. An hour passes and eventually all the paperwork is done and I am passed over to another person to upload the information onto the computer system. Lady number two looked at my passport which says on the front, ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, and inside it says I am a British citizen.
This was just far too much for her. Understandably I suppose, she couldn't get her head around people from the United Kingdom being British citizens, had never heard of the United Kingdom nor Great Britain and what was worse couldn't find either country, United Kingdom nor Great Britain, in her list of countries on the computer. I suggested looking for England, but she insisted on going through the whole list. By this time I was sitting next to her behind the desk as we slowly went through the list.
"Hooray," I have found it she said."
"Barbados says United Kingdom next to it in brackets. You must be from Barbados."
I assured her I wasn't. Portugal maybe, she said, Peru, British Virgin isles. It took at least 15 minutes and eventually she discovered England, which, she said she had also never heard of and had major doubts that the United Kingdom and England were one and the same place, and I was a British citizen according to my passport so probably came from neither of them.
The interview continued. "What is your occupation?"
“Writer,” I said. No occupation of writer listed in the computer.
“Could you be something else?” she enquired.
“What would you like me to be?” I asked politely.
“How about an architect?” she said. I suggested a plumber and she said I couldn't be that as I was a woman. In the end we settled on journalist.
Finally all the data was in the computer and I received my little book with my opening balance of 500 pesos in it.
“Where is my card so I can get money out of the ATM?” I asked.
“You can’t take money out of this account yet,” she said.
“Err why not?” I asked. “I will be transferring money from England and will need to get the money out of the account as soon as it arrives here.”
“Well you can’t,” she announced. “The account is frozen, because you used your passport to open it. Your passport needs to be verified”.
“How long will that take?”
“Around a month”.