Money talks

When I was little, my mum still used to write checks occasionally and even then I remember thinking checks were an outdated means. So imagine my surprise when I arrived in Tanzania and the most common thing to pay, even let’s say your monthly rent, are checks. Or no, correction: the most common thing for Tanzanians is to not have a bank account at all but that is another story.

For starting an account, you pay. For being a customer (even when not using any services), you pay. For every transaction, you pay. For the much-needed check book, you pay. For internet banking, you pay (although it took me ages to get them to provide me with a username and password). For international transactions, you have to work with a telegraphic transfer, which will only be processed between 9am and 10am every working day and takes time – and you guessed it – extra money. And actually using all the money in your account and going to zero, not possible.

So try to explain to over a 100 employees you want to start a bank account  for each and every one of them because it is not safe for you to drive around with cash salaries every month. That means you also have to explain to them all the extra costs, and the fact they have to stand in line at an ATM in town (extra bus fare, and extra charge for using the ATM) to get their own money and they can never use all of it..

But my last experience at the bank, convinced me I am living in the twilight zone. To start my account, I had to show my residence permit and provide a letter signed by my employer saying I actually do work for him. A residence permit is the same as a work permit in this country because without a job, you are kindly requested to leave. So the address on my permit would then be the address of my employer, that is how it works. But the bank asked me to provide a physical address also. Since the streets here do not have a name and I was reluctant to write “the street between the 2 big trees”, I wrote a letter stating in which area I lived. Not good enough, apparently. Could I please give them my contract to my rental house? Or a letter from the landlord, stating I live in his house? I refused to do both. So in the end we settled on a copy of my electricity bill.

(And no, I am not with an African bank, I am with a British bank that owns a branch here, I was with them when I lived in the UK also.)

So money might talk but the banks here speak jibberish.

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