Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bank account, finally opened!


Opening a bank account was probably the biggest piece of culture shock for me here. First, as I've mentioned earlier, it's almost impossible to open a bank account in NL without a social security number (which I don't need for my short stay here). However, that makes it hard for me to pay my rent, since it's equally hard for me to setup foreign wires from the US while I'm here.

Luckily, the SSN only a Dutch bank regulation, and Belgium (only 1 hr by train, and one of my assigned sites), gladly welcomes your money if you're non-resident. And, Belgium cards work in the Netherlands! And everything can be done online. So much for laws... and ironically, my account is opened at the Belgian branch of a Dutch bank (ING).

Opening an account is a lot of work though. I started the process on Aug 5, and finally got my cards on the 26th.

1. You have to setup an appointment (!!) with the bank, can't just walk-in to open an account.

2. At my appointment, be prepared to bring a lot of paperwork: passport, employment contract (proving that you don't officially work in Belgium and not subject to Belgian tax), business cards (in case the employment contract wasn't enough), and proof that you are non-resident (ie, live outside of Belgium).

3. Even after all that, your account isn't immediately opened. Somebody has to REVIEW your paperwork, then they'll notify you that an account has been opened. (this took 1 week)

4. Your ATM card isn't issued immediately, it's shipped to the bank, and you need to go there to pick it up!

5. To use online banking, you need to get a special "card reader" (see photo), which supposedly makes your online banking more secure, but in reality, just makes it more troublesome to use. Whenever you login to online banking, you insert your card into the "card reader", it'll generate a one-time code, which you enter into the website. Similar authentication is used when you make online payments, you type a code from the website into the "reader", and it responds back with a number, which you re-type back into the website. Sounds like an RSA secureID, but more clunky. This "card reader" is also specially shipped to your bank, luckily, my branch already had one, so I didn't have to wait again for this.

Although it was painful, it's finally nice to have a local account, makes it easier, since some ticket machines here only take Euro Maestro (Mastercard affliate) cards, so none of my US cards work. That's really inconvenient, esp when you can't quickly get a ticket for a train departing in a few minutes from the machine, and there's a long line at the ticket counter...

There are some good parts though: I withdraw from ANY ATM in Europe (not just my bank's ATM) for no cost. (much better than the US system where I have to pay to withdraw my own money from other bank's ATMs.... these fees are a pure profit center for a bank). And most importantly, I can finally make my rent payments online instead of doing wires from the US!

One more interesting twist: when signing up for an account, you get your own bankier. Strangely, even if you have any questions or issues, you're supposed to only setup an appointment with your bankier. It seems so quaint, I've never had a single person to go to for US banks in the past, and especially now, when all my banking is online.

1 comment:

Crèmebrûlivin said...

I forgot how confusing all of this seemed at first.... I still have my card reader to access my Dutch account! It's not common for Dutch women to take their husband's last name, so when we signed up, we got a crazy look for having the same last name. "And you're married?" Gulp, shock, he thought we were incestuous until I explained!