A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Going To The Bank!

Ecuador is pretty much a cash society, most people expect payment in cash and most people seem to prefer to deal that way. It's not to say your credit card can't be used can but not in a lot of places and it will probably mean you will be either charged more or not entitled to the "descuento" typically given to cash customers. Paying by check is also somewhat cumbersome and certainly time consuming (You definitely don't want to be next in line at the Supermaxi checkout with only a few items that are already unloaded on the conveyor belt and suddenly discover that the person ahead of you is paying with a check!).

Even though the overwhelming majority of everyday transactions are cash, nearly everyone has a bank account and nearly everyone spends a part of their week standing in line waiting for a bank teller. Opting to use an ATM simply means you will stand in line outside rather than in.

For our previous visit and for the overwhelming majority of the time since our return, we have relied on ATM cash withdrawals from our credit union account in the US for all our monetary needs. The few exceptions have been payment of some fees to our attorneys by check and handling payment of our real estate closing by wire transfer through our attorneys escrow account in a Panamanian bank.

Since buying a house and having to make a lot of purchases in, we decided we needed an Ecuadorian bank account. Armed with a bilingual facilitator we headed off on a mission to do just that. Thank goodness, we brought help, otherwise, we still might be stuck inside the bank in limbo never to return to the light of day. (remember the old Kingston Trio song about Charlie getting stuck on the MTA...something like that). We won't go into laborious details but despite having an Ecuadorian helper it took over three hours to open our account (it only took an hour and a half for our real estate closing!). We weren't eligible for a checking account so we opened a savings account with an ATM access. Oh, did I mention that we would have to wait three business days before we got our card. We were also instructed very specifically that I would have to be present and sign a permission form in order for Suzanne to get her card (despite the fact that it was a joint account). This additional trip was not included in the previously mentioned three-plus hours. We opened the account with $200 in cash and then gave the bank a check for what we thought we would need for the balance of upcoming house purchases. We already knew that clearing a check internationally would take about three weeks.

A few days later, new account cards in hand (another long wait in line and a few sworn affidavits later) we exited our new bank, congratulating ourselves on another job well done.

Ooopsie! Not so fast. After two weeks, we noticed no check had hit our credit union account (we can access that account readily online and knew the check should have been there in 10-12 days. A Skype call to our service center revealed that the check wasn't even enroute through the clearing system. Back to someone bilingual to call our Ecuadorian bank's service center who informed us that the check was bad and had bounced back. Say what??? A visit to the manager who had assisted in opening the account revealed that the check hadn't bounced. In fact, it had never reached the U.S. clearing center (we already knew that). The check had a bad date (2011 instead of 2012) and a branch of our Ecuadorian bank had sent the check back to our branch three days after it was written. Our branch then proceeded to charge us a service fee for writing a bad check! They claimed the service center had tried to call us but the phone number we had given them was invalid. It turned out they did have a valid number but service center personnel's phones are not permitted to call cell phones, only established land lines. Thus our first indication of any account problem was as a result of talking to our credit union in the US.

It took a couple visits and the help of another facilitator but we eventually (it was not the amount but the principle) got our bad check fee reversed.

However, we were now in need of some some heavy duty ATM withdrawals to meet our cash committments to all the various vendors supplying goods and services for our new home.

Enter boo-boo number two: We figured it would take a little over a week of maximum daily ATM withdrawals to meet our commitments. So we did something we normally avoided doing, withdrawing from an ATM on Sunday when the bank was closed. Of course, something bad receipt, no money but our account back in the US was debited (we discovered that by visiting another ATM which promptly informed us that no funds were available (we were maxed out!). That resulted in (you guessed it) more bank visitation time on Monday, more facilitation, etc, etc, etc. As of this posting, we have a provisional credit that I think will stick (note crossed fingers here!).

Two days later, while showing the ropes to some new arrivals, we did our daily stop at an ATM. Once again, we did something we normally try to avoid. We used an ATM that physically takes your card inside the machine as oppossed to one that slides it into a reader and allows you to keep a grip on the card. We DID get our money and receipt. But...UH OH... NO card was returned at the end of the transaction! Well,at least the bank was open. You guessed it...more quality time in line and more facilitating. This time we had to forgo a copy of my passport and wait in a holding area while a technician delved into the bowels of the mechanical monster outside. After a few anxious eternities, a teller emerged waving our retrieved card. A few affidavit signings later, (I think I promised to be a more cooperative customer in at least one of those!), we exited the bank, cash in hand and happy to be back on our way again: "juntos en el camino de la vida".


  1. Funny. Actually, not funny at all. An interesting story to read.

  2. Sounds like a nightmare. Glad it seems to have turned out okay, but, even though I speak Spanish, it's stories like this that make me think twice about expat-ing to Ecuador. Thanks for writing this.