When the idea of moving overseas became serious, I, of course, had fantasies of multiple bank accounts spread around the world. Perhaps we could even find a use for a Swiss bank account. But the reality of arranging functional banking in a new country (particularly in Ireland) proved to be far less sexy, and far more frustrating.
Even if you’ve spent years establishing good credit in your home country, chances are you will be seen as an unproven risk when you move overseas. Even without asking for “credit” of any sort, today’s world of rampant fraud and identity theft has forced banks the world over to be cautious about who they let in the door. For that reason, most banks now ask that you provide some form of guarantee that you are authentic and trustworthy, even to get a simple checking or savings account. While that may be as simple as providing a copy of a recent paid utility bill in your name, it adds to your list of pre-move minutia.
Back at home, where you might have 20 years of records to draw from, that is a fairly low hurdle. But if you are new to the country, and have not established any utility service, it could be a bit tricky. It gets even more difficult when you realize that the utility companies in many countries prefer (or demand) that you pay by automated electronic funds transfer (EFT). That means you must have a bank account to set up your utilities. In effect, you can’t get a bank account without a utility bill, and you can’t arrange utility service without a bank account. What to do?
Before you get any clever ideas, I’ve already checked; it’s unlikely that utilities anywhere will accept an EFT payment from a foreign bank. Even if they would, the transfer fees would raise your effective utility rate to a ludicrous level. A more effective option is for you to bring copies of utility bills from home and a letter of reference from your home bank stating that you’ve been a customer in good standing for however many years you’ve managed to stay on the straight and narrow.
That may work, or not. If not, you may need to have some friendly local vouch for you in some way. Our property manager used his standing in the community to get our utilities set up in our name. That got the ball rolling, and soon we had a local bank account. But that’s about half the battle.
For those of us who still have bills back at home, we need an easy way to continue paying those bills. For that, and other reasons (tax refunds/payments, gifts to/from family, etc.) it makes sense to keep a bank account open back at home. If you do this, take the time to go into the branch (do not just call) before you move and get a list of the fees and administrative restrictions (in writing) that will apply to your situation. These include (but are not limited to): minimum balance, incoming/outgoing international transfer fees, mailing fees, processing times, international check clearance restrictions, SWIFT/IBAN codes, international ATM fees, etc.
You’ll need all of this information at one point or another to get funds from home into your overseas account, and vice versa. And, be aware that these days, travelers checks are almost useless. So cash, ATM/credit card, EFT, and (more and more infrequently) checks are your best options for moving money around.
That said, when you first relocate and need cash to get started, you can’t really wait 7-10 days for a big check to clear in your new account (particularly if the bank insists on an initial cash deposit), and may find yourself carrying quite a bit of cash on the plane. If that happens, be safe and split it up among your group, and split those amounts up as well (in different carry-on bags, shoes, wallets, pockets, bras, etc.).
Finally, before you leave your home country, try to make sure that whatever bank you plan to use in the new country can communicate with your bank back at “home”. By “communicate” I mean, make sure that you can transfer money both ways, or at least one way. And look into the possibility of doing credit card transfers, or transfers through third party banks to move money in the other direction if need be.
If one bank won’t transfer money internationally, keep checks around for that account after confirming (in advance) that the other bank will accept them, and will process them in a timely fashion. Basically cover your bases, and try not to be surprised. Money surprises are the worst. I speak from experience.
One of the most frustrating parts of Irish banking is that they aren’t required to notify customers individually of fee changes. Because they like to believe that everybody reads the papers, Irish banks have convinced regulators that they should only be required to post a newspaper ad announcing any changes. If you ask why they can’t email most customers, and send a letter to the paltry few who have resisted online banking, the bankers protest that it’s too difficult for them to perform due diligence.
Unfortunately, getting use to idiosyncrasies like these is all part of living in another country. And sadly, if your finances straddle countries, you’ll have to tolerate two financial masters, and juggle the faults and folly of both.
Bonus – Irish Banking Rant
In a country with such a long history of money laundering, recent experience getting screwed by the banks, and clear collusion between financial institutions and politicians, you’d think the Irish would demand to have the gold standard of independent financial oversight, with no political involvement whatsoever. Instead they grumble in private about the craven nature of their leaders, wanton douche-baggery, and the thinly veiled fraud that constitutes Irish financial institutions, but there’s no real push for reform.
Sure, we had to step over a few unwashed protestors during the Occupy movement, but everyone more or less expected that to run its course. And, like the banks themselves, simply waited for life (and the screwing) to go back to normal.
The Irish have allowed weird antiquated policies like AIB’s “home branch policy “ to persist. In this pathetic ploy, AIB has arranged its slate of services such that customers must return to whatever branch they opened their account in to perform such onerous tasks as cashing checks, transferring money, and paying certain bills. They’ve announced that it’s too restrictive for every branch to be able to provide standard service to every AIB customer.
The idea that every branch can’t handle every customer is ludicrous. But rather than demanding proper service, the Irish allow their financial masters to dictate policy to them, and the masses are simply grateful to have access to their own money at all. But that level of allowing themselves to be lead around by the nose, and dictated to by those in power seems to be the all-to-common, self-inflicted lot of the Irish.
It’s maddening to see it persist in what, despite a few niggling concerns, is really quite a nice place to live. But it’s particularly maddening to see it continue when they have the gold standard of reasons to insist on reform of the Irish financial sector
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
What’s Wrong With Ireland?
Irish Property Ownership