Monday, February 11, 2002

On Your Mark, Get Set, …

February 11, 2001 On Your Mark, Get Set, … Call Visa! The first thing I needed to do this morning. When I said that I had a question about my statement, the customer service rep. said that the security department wanted to speak with me also, not a good sign. It turned out that the charge for $600.99 was from a grocery store in Fremont, CA. I asked how they could have charged with my number without the card. I was told they may have called it in. This is a traditional grocery store that I am familiar with and there is no way to call in an order that large. On the same day, they, whoever they are, tried charging $350.00 plus change at Borders Bookstore. Visa had the sense to deny this charge due to the suspicious behavior on my card. They said they will credit my account for the charges that I did not make since I said I could prove that I have been in Europe since August. My card is now cancelled and they will send me a new one to the Hungary address and continue to send my statements to New Jersey. Anyone want to make bets on where my card is delivered? In the meanwhile, both of our Amex cards are maxed out with cash advances for the business bank account that is being held in escrow and my Mastercard does not have cash advance capabilities. I had already transferred $8,500.00 from savings to checking in the States and paid it on the Amex, but until that is credited, there is no using it for cash. Few places take the Amex card, so we can not use it for services or goods. Global Currency has not credited us with the $300.00 that I transferred to them and Bank of America still has not put it back in our account. We have had to heavily tap into our checking account to pay rent at the old apartment and half a month’s rent at the new place, plus having to pay $1,000.00 deposit on the new apartment and having $900.00 tied up in our current apartments deposit. If we could find Ramen noodles here, that is what we would be living on until this mess is cleared up. Ron was waiting around to get a call from the pre-school that he had applied for. I was planning to write most of the day, but the first agenda item was to go to the office supply store that I had discovered last week when it was closed. We are accumulating piles of papers, receipts, forms, and other assorted items on top of what we brought with us. Lack of organization makes me crazy under normal circumstances, but under these conditions it is magnified x 10. If we lose an important piece of paper here, it may take six weeks to six months to replace it. It could also mean the difference between our staying here and having to leave. There is much riding on it. Regardless of our financial woes, I had set aside money for the purchase of supplies. I figured we could go without food easier than if we lose some of these documents. With the move, I had fears of things getting lost on the streets as we shuffle our things around. The office store was not all that I had hoped for, but I was able to get some organizers to start with and a piece of equipment that you do not realize its importance until you are without. I bought a stapler. They had seven different choices, so when I decided on the one that I wanted, I had to get assistance in deciding what staples to buy. They are not uniform, but depend on the brand, style, and size. It was enough to take some of the tension off my shoulders. It is without reservation that I freely admit that I am an office supply store junkie. I would rather be let loose in a well-equipped store of office products than I would in a chocolate shop. Pens of every color from fine point to medium, binders, printer paper, organizers, pads, post-a-notes, and self-stick labels are just some of the things that I could buy in huge quantity and then days later need another fix. There are hopes of getting some of the boxes of supplies I have in storage there to here someday. They use different size paper here, the A4. It is a little longer than our standard sheets, but not as long as a legal size. It is also a smidge narrower too. The printer paper size needed to be changed when I used the labels that Daphnee sent. It was a busy day of running around, paying bills, trying to get information, and mailing forms. I received a letter from one of my CA contracts that they needed a new IRS tax form before they could send me my end of year 1099-R, but the letter was dated October 2001 and was probably sitting at my father’s all of this time. Daphnee included it in my package. We called around for Internet connections for the new apartment. Regardless of whether or not we have the ‘economy’ package, we still wind up paying for telephone connection charges and other charges that were never interpreted prior to our signing on. We are looking for an ADSL line since it is only one rate a month without additional costs after installation. However, there is the problem of finding the companies that provide services to our district, then our street within the district. Those that do, have a six to eight week waiting list. The cost is about the same as what we were paying in the States, around $50.00 a month. Again, it will be a tax write off. In the meanwhile, we will remain on the economy plan and pay exorbitant phone charges. Due to the difficulty of transferring utility bills, we are paying a service to put the gas, electric, phone, cable T.V., Internet connection, and insurance if we decide to get it, in our business names. Under normal circumstances, this is time consuming according to other Americans. You have to stand in line for hours, only to find out you are in the wrong line and have to start again. This service will cost under $100.00, but will be worth it. Even at this, it could take weeks for the companies to make the change. The other thing that we learned the back way, was that we need an ‘accountant’ for our business. The reason I quote it is because after speaking with my student who is a controller for a large international company, it seems that they do not have a distinction between an accountant and a bookkeeper. I am not sure there are the two professions. She only had to go to one year of a technical college to assume the title of an accountant and she did not have to pass an exam to ply her trade. Now because we have a Kft, which is a corporation, there are forms that need to be filed with the government on a monthly basis whether or not we have had any business that month. Then there are quarterlies and annual forms too. We have been gathering names of accountants that different people use and Ron has started calling them. The general fee is running around $90.00 a month for up to fifty items. He did not have the nerve to ask if that meant if we turned in fifty-one receipts in a month that counted or if items mean something different. At this rate, we will both need to work full-time just to pay business expenses without making a profit. We earn 1,800 forints an hour average and the accountant fees are 25,000 to 30,000 a month. You can do the math, but do not share it with us. Ignorance is bliss if only temporarily. It looks like our lawyer has jumped ship on getting our work and residency permits. Fearful of being shipped out of the country, which would prevent us from returning for five years, we asked around for other businesses that assist with this service. Another teacher, originally from Israel directed us to Business Umbrella. We have an appointment with Mona tomorrow. My one to one student wanted to role-play a job interview. She is thinking of changing jobs and the second interview will be with an American. I was able to spend an hour and a half playing Finance Manager interviewing her and correcting her English along the way. While I am doing this, I kept wondering if her new employer was going to pay the bill for her continued English lessons or would I be losing a student. Mentally, I was pleading, “Don’t leave me! I need you to pay the accountant.” After Ron’s Hungarian class and my lesson, we met up at the mall where we were going to forego bothering Fernando to translate and find an English speaker at the mobile phone company ourselves. We went to the company that is known all over Europe, but is the newest player in the Hungarian market, Vodaphone. We were told that they had the sweetest deals since they wanted to build up their subscribers to the three million mark of the other two major competitors. They are currently at one million. They have a machine with different services that are available and when you press the service you are there for, the machine spits out a number. You wait for the number to be called. The one that called our number is the only non-English speaker in the place. What are the odds, but that is our luck. We had to wait for the next one available. With all of our business papers in a neat file, we proceed to make our requests. Since it is a business account, we do not need a Residency Permit first. They will be assigned to the business. Ah, there is a catch though. We do not have our final court paper that looks like a stock certificate with our tax number on it. All that we have is our stamped letter of application that shows a tax number has been assigned. The other thing that we need is a utility bill in the company name. For this I found a loophole. The small print states that a lease can be used instead of a utility bill, but unfortunately, our lease is in English, not Hungarian. We do have a copy in Hungarian since I had the foresight to think it was important, but it was after the fact (okay, not enough forethought, but give me a break here) and now we will have to gather signatures. We were told it may be a couple of months before we get the tax form. I am not a major fan of mobile phones, however, they are part of everyone’s life here since they are cheaper to use than a home phone. Since so many people use them, we are supplied with everyone’s mobile number and not their home or office number. To call a mobile from a regular phone is three times as expensive as to call from a mobile. In the end, we will have convenience and lower our phone costs. We were told that it is cheaper to call internationally with a mobile than a regular phone too, but do not sit by the phone waiting unless you can justify being a Hungarian tax write off. 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