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Monday, September 2, 2013

Banking in Atenas

This morning I went to Banco de Costa Rica to deposit our rent money to our landlady's account. First I draw out the amount in U.S. dollars from my bank in Canada. The reason for this is because, as pensionado residents, we are obligated to convert $12,000 U.S. to colones every year for three years in order to fulfill the requirements of living in Costa Rica as pensionados. After the third year, we can apply to become permanent residents and this requirement will cease. We see this as just the cost of living here for the first three years. We have to save the bank receipts to prove we have done the conversions. You can do it in one fell swoop, or over months, as long as you have converted $12,000 U.S. to colones at the end of a year.

We are now into our second year of conversions. It took a year to get our cedulas and that is when the requirement to convert starts.

So every time I withdraw money from my Canadian bank via the ATM, I do it in U.S. dollars, then convert to colones. Canada does not have an agreement with Costa Rica whereby Canadian pensions can be directly deposited to a Costa Rican bank, unlike other countries, the U.S.A. being one I believe. Some time before the end of our year (in our case August to July, August being when we received our cedulas) we usually reach the $12,000 mark and can stop doing the conversion - which saves me from embarrassment for a period of time.

The reason for the embarrassment is because I then have to turn around and convert the colones back into U.S. dollars because our landlady's account is a U.S. dollar account. The tellers shake their heads at me ... why would anyone do such a thing! I just shrug and agree that it is loco, but it's hard to explain why in my limited Spanish. Sometimes I do the transactions on two different days just to avoid this.

So everyone gets a piece of the action ...

In Canada, you have to stand in line to see a teller, sometimes a lengthy line. Here at the Banco de Costa Rica, you get a lettered and numbered ticket from a machine and then take a seat ... a seat! The letter on the ticket corresponds to how many transactions you want to do at one time. There is a special teller for the elderly and handicapped so they don't have to wait long. On two walls are screens showing the next number up and which teller to go to. It's a good way to learn some of the Spanish alphabet and numbers.

The bank door is manned by two guards and you won't get in without the magic wand sweep and a quick look into purses, backpacks, etc. I'm always polite and say thanks and now I receive "con mucho gusto" from them ("with much pleasure"). It took a while to get to that point, but now they recognize me.

Well, today the ticket machine was not functioning but that's no problem for the guards. They know exactly who gets the next vacant chair and we played musical chairs through three rows of chairs. When someone vacates a chair to go to the teller, everyone moves up a chair and if you are a bit slow to realize this, the guard is right there to ensure you move. It's very efficient. The elderly get preferential treatment. I'm not sure when they will decide I am at that point.

Oh yes - turn off your cellphones! The guards have the eyes and ears of eagles and will be at your side in seconds if your phone rings. Such a change from Canada where everyone is yak yakking on their phones and we are forced into listening to their inane conversations.

Sometimes it can be a lengthy wait for a teller, so bring a book. At least we are sitting, not standing. Usually I just sit there in peaceful contemplation, listening to the numbers being called, "M42, posición tres" (posición being the teller's number). Once, in this state, I realized what the big blue square post was in the middle of the bank, in front of the tellers' stations. I was able to read the Spanish signs. It is where everyone must go to in the event of an earthquake. I guess it is super stabilized to withstand one.

You may as well do that, because you won't get out the door without the guards letting you out!

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