Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Guide to Money Exchange in Sri Lanka

Step 1 – Admit to yourself that you will not come out ahead on this transaction. It is better to go into this process being honest with yourself.

Step 2 – Travel to bank where you have an account in the U.S. and because you are a customer in good standing you believe should provide services such as exchanging rupees for dollars.

Step 3 – Ask teller if they do foreign exchange. Receive affirmation only to be denied when you mention that you need to change rupees to dollars (and not the other way around, which was what was assumed by teller).

Step 4 – Go upstairs to see if bank will simply transfer money to U.S. account thus exchanging money via international bank lines.

Step 5 – Have bank tell you that this is not possible because you do not hold the right type of bank account (even though you are certain you made sure you had this type of bank account when you opened said account in May).

But fear not,

Step 6 – Bank explains that you can change your money by opening not one, but two new bank accounts:

Account 1 – local currency account of which you currently have at competitor’s bank, but this account is useless for this transaction because at competitor’s bank you cannot open a…

Account 2 – foreign currency account, which you need to complete this crazy transaction.

Step 7 – Go back downstairs and deposit money into local currency account, which takes a very long time because you have to stand in line behind many people all of whom appear to be mortgaging their homes or some other banking endeavor that takes a long, drawn-out process to complete. Oh wait, maybe they are just depositing money.

Step 8 – Go back upstairs, where you opened your two new accounts, and have bank guy transfer money from local currency account to foreign currency account at a very bad exchange rate and for a charge of 200 rupees.

Step 8.5 – Argue with bank guy that you opened these accounts at their suggestion to change this money to dollars and they cannot now tell you that you can only change money for which you have a receipt (like a pay stub). Explain that you have the plane ticket with you, for which this money was meant to be a reimbursement, and thus the bank guy can see very clearly that the original ticket was actually paid for in dollars. Plus, you didn’t just spend more than an hour doing steps 1-8 to only be told you still can’t exchange your money! Threaten to take back the very nice customer service rating form you just filled out if transaction is not completed to your satisfaction.

Step 9 – Thank nice bank guy for “bending the rules,” (once manager approval is granted) and transferring money from rupee account to dollar account. Hand back favorable customer service rating form.

Step 10 – Check once more that at some point before you depart this fair country that you will in fact be able to transfer the money in your new foreign currency account to your account in the U.S. Upon verification and receipt for deposit of dollars (success!), you may leave bank.

Total amount of time spent exchanging money: 2.5 hours (including biking into Colombo).

Estimated total amount lost to exchange rate, devaluation of rupee, fees, etc.: $75

Irritation level at how difficult seemingly stupid things are to accomplish: very high (code orange).

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