Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Opening a Bank Account in Ecuador

You might be able to guess from the title that this is going to be a bit complicated. In order to get paid my stipend by the university, I need to open up a bank account at one of the banks here in Ecuador. For some reason they don't want to just pay me straight up in cash, which would obviously be preferable, maybe in a nice sack with a big $ on it.

But nope, I need to open a bank account here. There are a few different banks down here: Banco Pichinca, Banco del Austro, Banco del Pacifico, etc. Some people are still wary of the banks here since the 2000 economic crises, in which banks froze accounts and no one could take out their money. Then the country switched over to the dollar and families lost nearly all of their money in the conversion. So try to imagine how people felt in the United States about opening a bank account in 1934. It's sort of similar, sort of.

The university has some sort of deal worked out with Banco del Pacifico, so I was told to go there to open up an account. I was also told beforehand by other volunteers that it's an extreme headache to open an account here, as they make the foreigners go through all kinds of obstacles.

At the department office I was told that all I would need is my passport and a copy of my contract with the university. A little too easy, I thought, but gave it a shot. Yesterday morning I went with my host mother to the bank and waited in a line that was growing steadily and not moving. We sat waiting for about 45 minutes and then somehow cut to the front of the line and sat down at a desk.

My host mother did all of the talking and I sat back like a child waiting for my turn to speak. The woman behind the desk looked at my passport, my Ecuadorian ID card, and then my contract, but she was looking for other ways to prevent me from getting an account. So she came back with a sheet of paper listing all of the other things I'd need. The list includes:

  • Color photocopies of my passport, Ecuadorian ID card, and a credit card
  • Three references from Ecuadorian citizens
  • A photocopy of my university contract
  • Photocopies of the Ecuadorian IDs of all of my references
  • All original copies of my passport, Ecuadorian ID card, and credit card, and
  • $5 to open the account
And I think that was all of it. Ecuadorians love beauracracy and paperwork. This is apparently normal for foreigners trying to open an account. We came back this morning, earlier than yesterday to beat the rush, and there was already a line. We waited for about 20 minutes before we realized the "system" was down and wouldn't be back up until the afternoon. Yesterday there was a powerful thunderstorm, and the guess was that it somehow knocked the bank offline. I personally don't know how that could be the case, since a bank usually has backup systems and other failsafe procedures, but then again I'm not a banker.

So day two on trying to open a bank account went down, and tomorrow I'll have to try again, for the third time, to open an account. With any luck, I'll get my first paycheck by December.

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