Living a travel lifestyle is wonderful, but make no mistake. It’s not rainbows and unicorns all the time.
One of our biggest fears is not being able to access our money. Well, yesterday that’s exactly what happened. Gnarly bank problems are always annoying and can happen at home too, but they are SO much more difficult to sort out when you’re abroad.
Problem #1: What do you mean there was an automatic 4-wk hold on our cheque?
- Normally we deal in cash or credit cards. But on Dec 7 Mark got creative and deposited a Canadian cheque in our Mexican bank account, thinking this would leave plenty of time to pay January rent.
- The bank slapped an automatic 4-week hold on the cheque.
- We knew the cheque would take “a while” to clear, but had underestimated just how long.
- Around Jan 1 we started to sweat. Seriously, any time now guys…
- The money finally showed up in our account on Jan 3.
- We monitored our convoluted, all-Spanish bank website, and the moment the money arrived, we paid the rent. A couple days late, but fortunately our lovely landlady isn’t a stickler. She’s happy to have nice tenants who treat her house respectfully.
Problem #2: What do you mean our cheque bounced?
- The next day, Jan 4, we got a call from a nice lady (literally nice, not ironically nice) at the bank telling us that although the automatic hold had been lifted and the money had “appeared” online, our cheque hadn’t actually cleared. Say what?!? Apparently we hadn’t had enough funds in that account to pay the rent after all.
- Hmmm. Plenty of cash is gathering dust in our Canadian chequing account, so that couldn’t have been the problem. Mark and I blamed the tightly regulated Mexican banking system. We figured some anal-retentive bean counter had second thoughts about Mark’s signature or something.
- And hey, why did the website indicate the money had been there? The bank had tricked us into thinking our money was available to pay our rent. We anticipated all kinds of horrible penalties for sending an unfunded bank transfer. Huge fees. Lectures in rapid Spanish from a scowling Latin bank manager. Being ignominiously stripped of our transfer privileges.
Problem #3: What do you mean we can’t have any cash?
- Armed with our trusty U.S. debit card, we made a beeline to our regular ATM so we could get cash, deposit it, and pay the rent.
- The machine wouldn’t give us any money. What the…? That card is connected to our U.S. bank, which should have had plenty of cash in it. The Spanish message flashed across the screen too fast for us to read it, but the manager popped his head out, and told us the machine was running low on bills.
- Oh, that’s all. We decided to try another bank.
Problem #4: What do you mean we can’t have any cash?
- At the 2nd bank’s ATM, same problem. No cash + rapidly moving Spanish message = we were out of luck again.
- We tried a couple more times. We’d become those people. You know, the irritating ones in front of you who take 20 minutes desperately trying to get cash over and over. A queue of bored Mexicans, presumably WITH money in their accounts, stretched out behind us. I could feel the judgement. I wanted to turn and yell, “We have money, I swear!!!”
- Our stomachs tightened. The problem wasn’t Mexico…it was us.
- Off to a third ATM we skulked.
Problem #5: What do you mean we can’t have
any much cash?
- At the third bank’s ATM we had tepid success.
- We got a few pesos, but less than we needed to cover the rent.
- We wished we had our Canadian ATM card. It charges steep fees, so we don’t carry it with us.
- In the meantime, our bank closed for the day. With nothing else to be done rent-wise, Mark and I drove home to investigate all our accounts….Mexico, Canada & the U.S.
Problem #6: What do you mean our U.S. bank account is low on cash?
- Our balance on our main U.S. account was much lower than I’d realized. So that’s why the ATMs here weren’t giving us too many pesos.
- This was a surprise, but not a problem. I simply needed to make transfer some over from our rarely-used brokerage account.
Problem #7: What do you mean our brokerage account is locked?
- When I got online at the brokerage, I got a message saying some piece of mail had been returned and our account was locked until I called to change the address. Oh great. When we RVd through Europe last year, apparently we’d forgotten to update the address.
- Okay, fine. I called to give them our official U.S. mailing address.
Problem #8: What do you mean I have to snail-mail a notarized change-of-address form?
- The brokerage lady said they need us to MAIL a change of address form.
- And it needs to be NOTARIZED. (Oh my freaking God. Mail? Notarized? Seriously? So now we have to pay a Mexican notary and FedEx the stupid change of address form.)
- The brokerage rep transferred me to someone higher up the food chain.
- Rep #2 was understanding. He tried but failed to override the system. We were locked out. There was no way around the snail-mail address update.
- I asked him if a Mexican notary would suffice.
- He put me on hold for about 10 minutes during which time he called four people. Fortunately, yes, a foreign notary would be acceptable.
Today Mark dropped by the bank to speak with the lady that had originally called us about the bounced cheque.
Apparently our problem isn’t the fault of a type-A, disgruntled bank employee. It seems that Mark’s cheque-writing skills have atrophied in the online banking age, and he filled the damn thing out wrong. That’s why it was declined.
But get this. Our Mexican bank had covered the rent transfer anyway. So it turns out our rent was paid, even without enough money in the account. That’s pretty awesome, don’t you think? Also, there would be NO CHARGE OR PENALTY for doing that. Pretty incredible. Can you imagine that happening in the U.S. or Canada?!? Ha, no.
So that’s the current state of affairs at Casa de RambleCrunch. We have money, but for the time being we can’t access it abroad, which is pretty unsettling. Fortunately we have some emergency cash and can put groceries on our credit card, so it’s not a disaster.
But it’s clear we need to change a few procedures (like NOT EVER using cheques and making sure all our contact information is current at all our different banks/brokerages.) so that we don’t find ourselves cashless and in a real emergency.
I need a drink.