Friday, October 27, 2006


This is another of those posts directed at any potential ex-pats that are reading this blog.

Banking in Thailand is not difficult. It is not scary nor is it un-secure. We set up a checking account here with cash that we brought over on our first trip. It is a little difficult to set up initially because you have to have either a long term work permit (which takes a couple of months) or a letter from an employer that is trusted by the Thai government. Luckily, our employer is trusted.

Once it is set up, the Thai checking account works pretty much like the ones in the US, including on-line banking that is accurate and very fast. I can purchase groceries two blocks from our apartment and log in to our local bank website when I get back to the house and the debit will be there. Amazing. (There are a couple of things you need to know about checking here so e-mail me if you are coming this way.)

But the problem with banking over here is that US companies insist on paying salaries in US dollars and crediting them directly to accounts held at US banks. They are not at all happy or even willing to send some of the salary in Thai Baht to a Thailand bank. So what you have to do is set up a wire transfer from your US bank to the local Thai bank so you can pay your bills. No big deal, except that with the anti-terrorism legislation that has come about recently, US banks are under increasing pressure to report and prevent cash transfers from the US to "unknown places" around the world.

What I did was to go to my local bank branch in the US and set up a standing wire transfer that was to occur on the same day each month. It turns out that no one will do that though. They said “If you are kidnapped or killed overseas, the transfers would continue forever and the money would be going ‘who knows where’” To this I responded “KIDNAPPED OR KILLED?????????”

Anyway what I ended up with was a paper file at my US bank with all the necessary authorizations to allow the transfer to occur upon e-mail notification from me. Certain key words must appear in the email, and nothing regarding the source or destination accounts can be changed except in person so it’s really a pretty secure system. Even if someone forges my e-mail, they can’t send money anywhere except From me/To me.

The first transfer worked perfectly. It actually occurred within a few hours of the request at my US bank. I was able to verify it on line with my Thai bank. Cool. Now that it is time to do it again however, I hit this huge brick wall that is entirely understandable, and entirely human, but also entirely unacceptable.

As agreed in advance, I sent an e-mail to a half dozen employees at my local branch. That e-mail was to initiate a response from at least one of the bank employees to transfer money from my US bank to my Thai bank. So how did it work out? Poorly! I got a response from the bank to "call them on the phone."

WOW, I wasn't expecting that. Calling from Thailand is a little unpredictable and I was hoping to avoid this method of communications. I e-mailed my US bank to remind them that they have a file with instructions on this systematic transfer and I also fired up my overseas phone to try and get in touch with them during their normal working hours (my normal sleeping hours.)

It took six calls, most of which did not go through, and a very difficult conversation over a spotty connection to get my primary contact at the US bank to recall that we had set this all up over a month ago and that she has a file on it. Once she remembered the set-up, she pulled the file and agreed that the transfer was legitimate and she would carry it out as discussed. I can only imagine how difficult this would have been if I had sent the e-mail one or two days earlier. You see, my primary contact, the only one with any direct recollection of the conversations or the location of my file was on vacation until TODAY!

I understand everything about this event. I understand my contact's forgetfulness. She only deals with about 200 people a day and it has been 45 days since I talked with her. I understand the regulations on banks that prevent them from transferring money helter-skelter around the world. I even understand the US Company’s reluctance to "direct deposit" to our Thai bank. But man-o-man does it all add up to a major headache for us ex-pats.

Well, I think it will all work out soon. If not...... Mom......Please send cash.....


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