Opening a Bank Account; Here vs. There

In the United States, as a citizen of the United States, opening a bank account is a routine and almost a necessity for modern day to day commerce.  The process has been streamlined for maximum effectiveness, convenience and is usually customer service focused. You simply walk into a bank, present your identification card and/or a bill, hand over some money and then viola! It is done.  You leave the same day, within the same hour (if the bank is not too busy) and you emerge to the outside with the smell of capitalism in your nose and money burning a hole in your shiny new account.  Simple, easy, fun.

However, this is not the case everywhere.  Allow me to take you through the process of opening a personal account here in Mozambique:

Step One: Identify the Bank

As the news is plastered with financial turmoil and bank failure and insecurity, identifying the least risky institution takes a valiant effort. It is not a matter of picking the best available, but which is not likely to go under in the next few years.  We decided on an international bank.

Step Two: Go to Bank with Cash in Hand

Haven chosen the bank, Elizabeth and I walk in prepared for the process as we are familiar, to open an account.  For added assurance, we bring along our Portuguese teacher, as we want to make sure we do not miss anything in translation.  We have passports and money, ready to go. Within five minutes we are told we need a letter called a Decleracão De Residencia (Residential Declaration).  This document proves our address, which we do not have, as in to our knowledge our house has no road name and no number, it is only marked by the red roof house in the prefabricated neighborhood.  A bit confused, we leave to find this Decleracão De Residencia.

Step Three: Visit the Municipal Planning Office

We leave the bank and walk directly to the Municipality's information office.  Quickly we identify someone with whom to request this Declaration of Residence.   Thankful to have a translator there as the process got murky quick.  To obtain this letter we must first find and request it from the neighborhood chief.  We left there with only a name of a "Chief" who lives somewhere near us.  Allow me to define this "Chief" position, it belongs to someone who lives in the neighborhood for a long time and is reputable...translated as an old man in the area, for which there are many both old men and areas.  

Step Four: Find the Neighborhood Chief to ask for Letter

As we walked home we devised a plan to find this neighborhood chief.  We arrived to our street and asked our neighbor who he was.  She informed us that before we could meet with the Neighborhood Chief, we would have to meet the block chief who would vouch that we did indeed live in the neighborhood.  Thus, we were directed to our neighbor, Senhor Arturo. It would be his responsibility to construct a letter to give to the Neighborhood Chief so we could be given a Declaration of Residency. We walk to his house only to find he is not at home.

Step Five: Sitting down with the Block Chief

Days pass and every afternoon I inquire about the presence of Senhor Arturo.  After 4 days, I finally catch him at home.  Through his broken English and my fragmented Portuguese, we are at an understanding of the need for a specific letter from the chief.  However, before I can be presented to the Neighborhood Chief, I will need to meet the Sub Division Chief.  I leave Arturo's home with the promise of a Letter soon.  

Step Six: Meet the Sub Division Chief

Before I went to bed that night, I heard a disturbance at our front porch.  The street lights were on and the sun has long since set.  I warily went outside to find Senhor Arturo and the sub division chief patiently waiting at our gate.  After pleasantries, and more assurance, I was to meet Senhor Arturo the next morning at 7a.m. to finally go to the Neighborhood Chief's house. At this point, a full week has passed since we started this process

Step Seven: Declaration of Residency

As promised, 7 am, Arturo and I are in the car traveling the half a mile to what ended up being the neighborhood office.  No appointment was made, and no previous notice given, so I was not surprised to find the Chief to not be there.   Fortunately, his secretary was, and after them graciously relieving me of some money and conveying the information yet again, we had the signed, stamped Decleracão de Residencia. 

Step Eight: Back to the Bank

Taking the new letter, our passports, and some cash we return to the bank. We are quickly found by one of the bank agents and set down to begin the process.  Oh, but he requested the NUIT (Tax card), which we did not have with us.  I return home, leaving Elizabeth there to hold the spot, walk the blocks to the house, pick up the card and return to the bank.  Copies of information are made, questionnaire filled out, forms signed, and just when I think we can begin the transfer from our U.S. bank, he drops the bomb.  The bank needs a letter written by our local place of employment. Another signed and stamped letter necessary.  We leave the bank, with no account number but the promise of a simple letter able to resolve it all. 

Step Nine: Letter from Employer

So, as the Igreja Methodista Unida de Mozambique is our partner, they are the ones who needed to complete this form. After requesting this from our direct supervisor here, he decided that instead of completing this letter quickly in his office, he would need to send the request to the central Methodist office, in Maputo.  At this point, it is merely a week before Christmas.  Two days go by and I have yet to hear anything nor do I have a letter.  Finally I get a phone call, from a pastor in Maputo, whom I have never met.  She asked me questions and requested I send her some passport information by email...which I quickly complete and am assured by her the letter will come shortly.

Step Ten: The Waiting

A week goes by, then two weeks go by and still nothing.  No email, no response to our requests and texts.  Elizabeth and I finally decide we do not need a bank account here.  We can keep our U.S account and then just take money out as needed.  Of course it would make some things easier, but the arduous process of opening an account was not bolstering our confidence in the system. 

Step Eleven: Success

After a full month of attempting to get a bank account open, we were within moments of success. Randomly, after the beginning of 2017, I receive another email and this time the letter is attached! There were some apologizes for taken long and an excuse of a closed office, but finally we have what we needed.  Except it was Friday afternoon, and we had to wait the weekend to get it finally completed.  As one of the hospital's accountants was going to the bank, I gave her the letter to deliver (suggested by the bank agent so I wouldn't have to make the trip myself).  She returned with our bank statement and account info.  It was done! And we had an amazing balance of 0.00.  But, we had the account.

Step Twelve: The transfer

The final step in the process was/is to transfer funds from the U.S. bank to our new local account. A process that may take over a week and with a few trips to the bank to confirm transfer.  At least the money has a place to go now! This should make things much easier.  I can smell the Mozambique Capitalism in my nostrils like Peri-Peri Chicken wafting from the open fire pits.  It is good!