Wednesday, November 05, 2014

No We Don't Want Your Ex-Pat Money

The trials and tribulations for those of us, who are not living in our home country, never seem to end. In preparation for going to Ecuador for 3 months stating January, I have been looking for a prepaid debit card. The last time we were in Ecuador, my credit card was stolen on our second day in the country, in Quito, while riding on a bus. It was not a great loss, primarily because only one card is in my pocket at any time. The rest are locked up. This does cause some inconvenience at times by having to return to the hotel for cash, the ATM card, or to call the credit card company to report the card stolen.

This last time, it was a Capitol One MasterCard stolen, which was particularly inconvenient as they would not send me a new card to Ecuador. As it turned out they wouldn’t send it to Hungary either. They would send the replacement to the US address associated with the card. This is my best friend, Daphnee’s home. If it were really needed, Daphnee would in turn need to FedEx it to me, but by the time it reached her, I would have been on my way back to Europe.

My major concern is losing our bank ATM card regardless of loss or theft. This would be a greater inconvenience with many businesses being on the cash only system throughout Ecuador, including a number of accommodations. Hence, a pre-paid credit card would have been an insurance measure for access to an ATM.

Sunday, I looked at our California bank’s site to see if they had any pre-paid credit card offering before moving on to each of my credit cards. I did a pass on American Express, knowing that there are usually limited businesses in Ecuador that accept AMEX. From our last trip, I knew the number of ATM machines tied to it would be negligible.

Four hours of researching the offerings of Visa and MasterCard sites, reading the fine print on over a dozen of those recommended by the parent credit card companies, I settled on 2 choices: Akimbo and  

First I applied for solely because they allowed a wide range of patterns for their card. This helps to identify it from the others, especially when in a rush to leave for the day out. It took a minute to fill out their form for instant approval, but I was denied. They could not verify my information. I tried a second time with the same results. In hindsight, this was for the best. Having tried to find consumer reviews for the company, all reviews were mommy bloggers who were gushing over the custom card they received. It looked like padded endorsements. They are slow to respond to Twitter questions and their phone number is only a recording that accepts messages. No human interaction!

Akimbo replied to an e-mail stating an account was possible if I had a US address and a US bank; there wouldn’t be a problem. I applied and received an e-mail explaining their need for a driver’s license and a recent bank statement. I sent a copy of my passport as I do not have a driver’s license in any country, but I did include the statement from Bank of America in CA.

Today, I received a denial e-mail. No driver’s license, no proper ID, no card.

Plan B: Call all of my current credit card companies and ask if I have a pin code set up on the card. If not, establish one. Then ask what the charge would be for an ATM withdrawal on the card if there were a credit on the account to cover it. This may be my own creation of a pre-paid card giving me ATM access if needed. It is also possible to transfer money to these cards as needed via online banking, thus keeping us from tying up money on a pre-paid card that may not be needed. A number of these cards have monthly fees in addition to other charges.

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Anonymous said...

The reason why only a drivers license was considered valid ID and not the passport is because they wanted to verify that you actually lived in the US State where you claimed having an address. Passports do not have address information so would not work. And for the same reason, even if you had a Hungarian drivers license, that would not have worked either.

Long term US expats have the most difficulty when they keep ties to the US, especially in banking. The simple truth is the US Banking system is not international friendly for private bank holders that live abroad. If I want to do an international money transfer to a US bank account from my European account, I can go on-line and make the transfer with a web browser. Some US banks may allow such e-banking also, but my US bank never did (still doesn't today for personal accounts). If I wanted to do an international transfer of money from my US bank account I always had to go into the bank and fill out a paper form and sign it personally to start the transfer.

Which is why I simply setup bank accounts in the country where I live. Less hassle. With my local bank, I can go to my local bank branch before I go abroad and tell them to setup extra security on the card, to setup SMS notifications for each transaction, to require a PIN for each transaction, or to limit use of the card only to the country I will be visiting (learned that when was in Panama and just used the card (was not stolen) and suddenly started getting false charges in Spain).

Yes, there are fees and no "free debit/credit card" like in the US. But to me time is money. So I simply spend time earning money to pay for the card fees (and a dash extra) rather than spending time trying to avoid fees. Simply a different way to look at it. But, yes, I do understand some can not get extra money by working more, so finding ways to avoid having to pay endless fees is the only real option.

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