The latest battle in my war to integrate into the Netherlands was waged today at a site called ABN-AMRO, otherwise known as my bank.
I arrived in Holland on April 28th.
I registered with the Municipality to get a residency permit on May 2nd.
I went to the Dutch Social Security Org to get a tax id number on May 12th.
Everything went pretty easily in all of these interactions – things that in the US might take months and months and mind deadening interactions with public servants were handled gracefully and quickly and efficiently by the Dutch government agencies.
I chose ABN-AMRO to be my bank here in Holland because it’s the bank MSF uses (which usually makes payroll swifter) and because ABN-AMRO trumpets its “Expat service” and bilingual website and expertise in helping expats handle their money. I thought if anything would go smoothly in Holland, it would be my banking account since the Dutch are famously tight with their money and take it quite seriously. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that these people would allow their major bank to be anything less than customer oriented when it came to money.
I opened a bank account with ABN-AMRO on May 15th. The initial interview appointment went quite well. An affable, handsome man walked me through all the steps and filled out all the paper work with me. I applied for internet banking, a debit card, a credit card, and a savings account. We discussed how I could transfer money to the US via my internet banking so as to pay off my bills there.
The only problem was I had to present proof of residency. MSF had thought of that and provided me a letter as my landlord using a residency that they maintain in the center of Amsterdam for travelers. They assured me that they regularly passed by and picked up the mail so it shouldn’t be a problem.
On May 26th , I still had not received my debit card (which I had to use to access the internet banking or the ATM machines). I called the telephone service center. I was told “I’m sorry ma’am – we have run out of plastic cards. Sorry.” I went to the branch office to find out what was going on. “I have no idea why they told you that, we mailed it May 22nd!” I asked them to change my address to my current residency and send me new ones. I returned to the office, and there sitting in my mail box were the now canceled debit card and pin numbers.
In the meantime, I have to access my money by going by the branch office and withdrawing it. I needed to pay my rent. Here in Holland, they don’t use paper checks like we do in the US. They expect everyone to do everything over the internet and of course, since I don’t have my debit card, I can’t access the internet. A short note about the internet banking – when you get your debit card, they also give you a device that looks like a calculator. You insert your card into it and it reads your chip. You enter your pin number, it gives you a code to enter into the internet site. Then the internet site gives you another code that you have to enter into your calculator who gives you yet another number to enter. A bit frustrating when you’ve only got 100€ that you are trying to access…
Finally, I get my debit card. I’m happily paying my bills and withdrawing money. I still haven’t received my credit card yet. You can’t use the debit cards here in place of a credit card – but you can use them in most places that accept pin cards. My student loan officer has been calling me to scream at me about my June payment. I have no money left in my US accounts. I attempted to transfer money from my Dutch account into my US account so he could use my debit card number. In order to transfer money from my bank account in the Netherlands to the bank account in the US requires a swift code. My Credit Union in the US does not have a swift code.
I called the telephone services yesterday to find out what happened to my credit card so I could just give the raving lunatic at the Credit Union my credit card number. “Sorry madam, we have no record of you even applying for a credit card.” So, today, I stopped by the bank today to find out what happened with all my letters and papers written in Dutch. After undergoing a grilling about why I was using the bank branch close to my home rather than the initial branch since they didn’t make the error they don’t want to have to fix it, I finally discovered that indeed the credit card had been approved and mailed. To the old mailing address. I asked her (since its now July 6) if she could send me a new one since I obviously hadn’t received it. She said, “I’m sorry madam, you’ll have to call the telephone credit center in a few hours and have them fill out a new application.” “Why can’t I do that with you?” “I don’t work for the credit card section.”
So then I asked about transferring money to my bank account without a SWIFT code. “I’m sorry madam, I don’t know about that. I don’t work in overseas transfers.” I gritted my teeth and left. As I got on the bike to ride to work, it began to rain. I cycled through the cold rain on July 6 and listened to Sex Pistols over and over again until my rage warmed me up and I arrived at work where I found waiting in my mailbox, my original credit card and pin number which had been delivered sometime around June 21st and placed in our company mailbox which our useless assistant never bothered to tell me had mail in it for me.
On my way home from work, I’m going to listen to Gloria Gaynor “I will survive” over and over again.