Note: I apologize in advance…this is a long post. But it’s worth reading just for a good laugh!
This didn’t all happen in one day. It happened over four days and the amount of hours it took equal almost one business day.
First Attempt to open a bank account in Costa Rica:
Friday, 2 p.m.: My friend meets me at Capitan Suizo and we walk along the beach into town to go to the bank. There were no lines (surprisingly) so she went to pay her bills (you pay your rent, electric, water and phone bill directly to the bank) and I went to a teller and asked her to open an account.
Teller: How long have you lived here?
Me: A few weeks but I need to deposit these two checks.
Teller: You have to live here 8 months to open an account. And you need to bring your rental agreement with your landlord. And you need to bring a utility bill from where you are living.
Me: Oh, I have the utility bill (I hand her the AYA water bill that a friend gave to me and told me to use his address)
Teller: You still have to live here for 8 months before opening an account.
Okay, now seriously, 8 months? Where do they even come up with that number? I could understand if it was 3 or 6 or 12 but 8? So now I show her the checks which are pretty big dollar amounts.
Teller: Well, you can maybe open an account sooner but you must have two letters of reference from people who know you and who do their banking at this bank. You will have to talk to him (pointing over to a desk where no one is currently sitting – he was at lunch).
The bank rep returns from lunch and prints out two forms for the references and tells me to have them filled out and return them. Then I can open the account. My friend fills out the form and signs it in front of him. Then I quickly return to the hotel and have the general manager fill out the other form. I was told the bank closes at 3:45 so I took a taxi ($5) back to the bank as it was now 3:30.
Now, there is a line so I take a number and sit down. I notice there are signs that say “no cell phone use” and “no hats”. No hats? Really? Also no guns and no open umbrellas. There is also a guard at the door who actually unlocks and opens the door for you to allow you inside and one guard outside as well.
About 45 minutes later, my number is called. I don’t know what takes so long. There were only 2 people in front of me! But this time, I don’t meet with the same man. I meet with a woman. I have found that often times, (but not always), there is a difference between being helped by men and being helped by women in this country. I hate to say it, but it’s true. I have many Tica friends who I love dearly and who I know would do anything for me but time and again, when I go into businesses, I get treated differently depending on if I’m being helped by a man or a woman. If I had been able to see the male rep again, he would have opened the account with just the two letters.
So first she tells me that my friend’s signature is not the same as what she has in the computer. I tell her that my friend signed the form in the bank, in front of the other rep, but it was still not acceptable.
Then I hand her the two checks. She asks me, why do you have these? This is where it gets a little tricky for a number of reasons. I tell her I was a consultant for these two companies while in the States and this is what they paid me. However, each check is over $1,000 and she tells me that their accountant will have to provide a certified letter, explaining why they are paying me this money. Again, seriously?
In the States, you don’t even have to go to the bank to open an account. You can do it all online! So now, I have two new forms for my friends to complete again (because there were silly issues with both) and I have to get letters from the accountants and I also have to get a letter from the nonprofit that I’m working for so I can deposit their checks in the future.
I got back to the hotel at 5 p.m.,resigned to the fact that this would have to wait until another day.
So now I have the two letters of reference and a friend tells me he’ll call the bank and speak with the male rep who happens to be a friend of his, in order to try to push this process along and avoid the red tape that occurred when I tried to open the account with the female rep.
I did all my work for the day early in the morning so I would have the entire afternoon to deal with this banking issue. Shortly after lunch, I walked into town, making it to the bank just before a major downpour. That was a good sign.
Good luck, magic, the wonderful universe, my friend who helped me set up the appointment…I don’t know what did it…but I walked in, I saw the male rep, I handed him my passport, the reference letters, signed about 10 pieces of paper that were all in Spanish legalese so I don’t know what I was signing and TADA, I now have a bank account in Costa Rica so I’ll no longer have to use my US account and get dinged on international fees.
But…there is a catch. I can never deposit more than $1,000 US into my account in any one month. If I do, I must have letters explaining where the money is coming from. And this doesn’t just apply to checks. Wire transfers AND cash (yes, cash) must be explained as well. And if I want to do a wire transfer from my bank account in the States, I need to have a letter from my bank, in Spanish, explaining that I’m their customer and the money is legitimately from my account. If it’s in English, I have to go to the Embassy in San Jose and have them translate it, then take the translation to the bank. Again…seriously? Well, as my friends like to say, Welcome to Costa Rica!
Third visit…The following day, I had to return in order to pick up my debit card. The guard at the door looked in my backpack and told me I couldn’t wear my sunglasses on top of my head. So bizarre, there seems to be no set pattern here – it all just depends on the person you’re dealing with in that moment. I waited in a different section for the woman at the “Information Desk”. She asked me if I was there to pick up my tarjeta and I said yes. She pulled out a stack of newly printed cards and mine was on top. Only I could see that my name was not correct…My full name is Christine Louise Gruninger. The name on the card was Louise Gruninger C. Mañana, she tells me but still has me take the bad card home with me and has me sign all the paperwork for picking it up.
So it was finally on the 4th visit that I was able to pick up my debit card with my correct name on it – sort of. It now reads: Gruninger Christi. I was also able to deposit one of the checks but the first “r’ in my last name wasn’t totally clear so the rep told me I had to write it in. I hate to see what they do with a check in which someone has written in illegible handwriting!
I’m sure there will be more to come as I try to have the companies I work for wire transfer money into the account and also when I try to transfer money from my US bank account. For now, I’m satisfied that the account is finally open and I have a debit card with my correct name on it.