In the past 5 years I have taken work contracts in three different continents for time periods ranging from 6 months to 2.25 years. Moving to a new place (sometimes with a puppy) and trying to set up your life can create an array of obstacles. Still, I am pretty sure that the current banking situtation is among the most frustrating I have faced.
So, I live in Chile. I pay rent here (in a house referred to as the caste). I travel here (both in and between cities). I eat here (three square meals a day and snacks in between). I go out here. I buy stuff here (for example, a black sweater, how did I live for years without a simple black sweater?). I have a cell phone contract here. I go to the movies here (most recently the Bourne Ultimatum). I spend my money primarily in Chile (the main exception being the unrelenting payments for student loans– who knew they actually want that money back, don’t they know that I didn’t go to med school and am not making the big bucks??).
My salary, to my dismay, is paid to my U.S. bank account.
I am assuming that you see the problem here! How exactly is paying me in a bank account some 8000 miles away any help to me? And, how exactly, am I supposed to access that money?
Admittedly, there are lots of ways I can access it: credit card, wire transfer (assuming I had somewhere to transfer it to), Western Union, cash advances, flying home every month to pick it up, etc. The problem with all of these options are that they are expensive. There are so many charges. Charges at home. Charges here. Transaction charges. Exchange rates (technically not charges, but the end result is that I lose money). Telephone charges trying to call my bank to figure it out. Charges when my salary is received. I am pretty sure that if Peru, Mexico and Panama could figure out how to charge for my money theoretically “flying” over them, they would be in on it too.
Everywhere else I have moved, I have been able to walk into a bank and open an account. Sure, this doesn’t solve all my problems, but it solves a lot of them. Here, it is just not that simple. I can’t get a cuenta corriente (regular account) because I have no salary in country. I can get a savings account, but that can only have money withdrawn 9 times a year! After that, they charge 4 USD per withdrawl. Not to mention they charge a minimum of 20 USD per received wire transfer. Or, I can get an e-checking account. This, comes with a monthly charge of just under 3 USD but I can take out money 4 times per month before they start charging. They too, however, charge at least 20 USD per wire transfer. That coupled with the charge that my US bank charges to send the wire transfer really eats into my salary, which, as we said before is not that big as I am didn’t have the foresight to go to medical school.