Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hungarian Banking Fun

There are certain events in life that once we complete, we never wish to repeat.
That rhymes, and it’s also true.

Things that come to mind: 8am classes in college, eating a fish sandwich at McDonalds, trying ‘criadillas’ in Spain.

Until Tuesday, I would have said this was a pretty well-rounded list.  However, please allow me to add one more event — opening a Hungarian bank account.

As I've entered into my 30s, I've begun view ‘time’ as a much more valuable resource.  Unfortunately, this deep profound philosophy of Todd isn’t shared by the Hungarian banking system.  In fact, the festivities would last two days.

The Hungarian banking system feels like ‘death by papercuts’.

Not only to your patience, but also to your bank account balance, itself.  Fancy visited the bank on Monday and was able to open a bank account in her name, only after about an hour and half of applications, paperwork, initials, stamps, oh, lots of stamps, any many signatures.  This was accomplished only due to having a pre-assigned appointment, arranged by the school.  However, in order to add me (obviously I will be contributing significantly to our Hungarian bank account) we got greedy and showed up to a local bank without an appointment.  I got to experience and witness the complexity that is Hungarian banking system.

Since we have been removed from Budapest and we are living in a small village, we were commuting by bus.  If you can decipher the Hungarian bus schedule (in Hungarian) I don't think there's much in this world that you can't do.

We arrived at the bank and after pulling our number ticket at the front we were forced to wait for the only English speaking teller.  Our number was called, but only to greeted by a nice enough fellow that wasn't able to communicate in our broken Hungarian (I'm being generous).  We continued to wait another 15 minutes for Krisztina.

Bless this nice lady -- she’s had one appointment after another all week because she cursed herself by learning English.  Now, she is stuck assisting with each and every new teacher opening an account.  After we wait another 15 minutes, we observe she is wrapping up her previous appointment with another set of teachers from the school.  Without our number being called, we slide into the two seats in front of her desk; Budapest is no place for the meek and timid.

It starts innocently enough, “We’d like to add me to the account”.

Friendly enough, she turns to her computer, starts punching away.  Now, she seems pretty competent and surprising efficient.  She swiftly bounces between her desk and the printer, repeatedly printing documents, explaining documents, asking for signatures.  This occurred at least 12 times.  Her speed and efficiency confused us: I look down at my watch and it’s already been an hour and half.  Yes, I may have interjected with a question or five, but I’ve always said since I was young, “You better know your Hungarian bank account like the back of your hand”.

Let me just start by saying that the entire concept of “Free Checking” is non-existent.  Absolutely non-existent.  In fact, it’s completely the opposite.  The banks have actually made it normal to charge their customers for almost everything.  I don't intend to bash the banking system, but only to shed some light on the nuances of having a bank account in Budapest.  I will stop short of Venn Diagramming this situation, but I did compile a list of some of the more notable differences in banking.  But, as our house host explained in a moment of deep profoundness “we are all here for weird” — meaning, we all find pleasure in the fact that things are different from back home and that novelty is what keeps life interesting.

By Nancy’s school, we are required to have two bank account within the same bank.  One account is in the denomination of USD$ and another account in the local currency Hungarian forint (HUF).  Since Fancy is paid in US$ we are responsible for transferring all funds to the local currency.

Harmless enough.

Except there are fees for each transfer, of course.  We would quickly learn this pattern repeat itself in Hungarian banking.

Loads of paperwork.

Here are some rules and observations on the Hungarian banking system:
-Any cash withdrawal must occur at an ATM
-There are zero face-to-face withdrawal centers that we know.
-Until a couple months, Hungary offered no free way to withdrawal cash…the bank has your money and would charge you each and every time you make a withdrawal.  Recent legislation finally allow citizens the “right” to withdrawal cash twice per month for free.
-Debit transactions are free (the only thing)
-Fancy’s debit card costs $28
-My debit card (additionally) costs $40
-Annual fee $12
-Every bank-to-bank transfer incurs a fee
-Pretty much everything incurs a fee

Accessing our account online will be an entirely separately post because it deserves that much space, however it has included downloading two different browsers for our laptop, one smartphone app, getting a unique password each and every time, and creating new passwords each and every time we login to the account.

We love Hungarian banking. 

I was heart-broken my video was deleted of her stamping each and every page of these packets.  It was a hypnotizing trance of stamps.  She literally had to create, print, sign and stamp each and every page of these documents.  It was impressive to witness.

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