Going to the bank on the island of Roatan in Honduras is an adventure, to say the least. If you are from a first-world country, you will likely find the experience bewildering, frustrating, and/or just plain ridiculous, depending on the day.
Locals and expats are accustomed to the incredibly long waits (what is that guy doing at the teller that takes 50 minutes? WHAT?! I still don’t know.); erratic hours and short business days; managers suspiciously always on “lunch”; mathematical errors; and all kinds of other fun surprises. While the islanders seem to take it in stride, the expat community loves to bond over horror stories in Roatan banking.
I’m going to share one of mine with you, as it’s a perfect example of island quirks and is one of my go-to stories when I get just a tiny bit tired of tourists telling me how amazing my life here must be. It IS amazing, but there’s still plenty of stuff here to drive me crazy sometimes that shouldn’t be discounted!
I had a very clear and direct banking transaction to complete: I wanted to wire money from my Honduran bank account to my Canadian bank account. I knew this was going to be an issue – just getting money out of your account here often presents a problem, so I decided to go in 100% prepared. I checked out my Canadian bank account online, got seven billion codes and numbers for wire instructions, took down extra details from their site just in case, and even called my Canadian bank to double check on procedure. But here’s one important piece of the puzzle that I managed to forget: you can never be 100% prepared for the bank on Roatan, no matter how organized you think you are.
My first tactic was to try to be sneaky and go to the branch located in the airport, which has to stay open until 7pm to accommodate departing flights (you have to pay a departure fee to leave Roatan) so that I could go after I finished work and not have to take any time off. I waited 35 minutes in line only to arrive at the teller and, what do you know – no wiring allowed at this location. I wasn’t super surprised, as I figured this was coming, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. On to…
This time I had to wait another week until my day off, Saturday. I arrived at the bank early and waited in line the standard 45 minutes. After finally reaching the desk, the sighing customer service rep informed me that wires cannot be sent on Saturdays. Again, it shouldn’t have come as a shock to someone who’s used the bank here before, so I didn’t leave all that upset.
I left work early a few days later to get to the bank before it closed – NOT on a Saturday, now wise to the fact that wires cannot be sent on Saturdays. Smugly, I waited in line with all of my documentation and after 30 minutes, I reached the desk of the same customer service rep from Saturday. Flashing a big grin, I said, “Okay, it’s not Saturday – can we send this wire today?”
Sighing, she shook her head, no. Apparently, wires can only be sent from 9am-12pm. When I asked why she didn’t bother giving me this information when she sent me away on Saturday, she just shrugged. I took deep breaths and tried to picture puppies to suppress my growing fury. I asked her if she could at least look over the paperwork I had, just to make sure that when I came back (not on a Saturday and not in the afternoon) that I at least had all my documentation correct. She looked over my stuff, printed a form, and told me to type it up exactly as that one. I looked down and was pleased to find that I already had all the info I needed – perfect, this should be easy. Here we go!
I made arrangements to go into work late and arrived at the bank at 9am with the paperwork the lady gave me during my last attempt. I waited 50 minutes this time because she was “busy” shuffling folders and checking her Blackberry. Finally, she called me up. Secretly, I was already gloating, because I knew it was between 9am-12pm, it was not Saturday, I was at the right location, and I had the paperwork she provided. I tried to crack a joke, but she just gave me a steely glare… dammit. I had clearly annoyed her by coming to her bank and trying to make a banking transaction. Silly me.
Anyway, as it turns out, I had naturally missed an accent mark on the Spanish form I had typed and so… there would be no wire that day. I asked (okay, begged) if I could maybe just use a pen and put the accent on like that. But no, of course that would not do. This pushed me over my “relax, it’s island life” line, and so I decided to declare war on this stupid bank that was wasting my time and making me repeatedly leave work for this runaround. I gritted my teeth and informed her that I would be returning the next day, con el acento (with the accent!), and she better send the *&^#% wire or I’m going to burn the bank down. Unimpressed, she arched an eyebrow, shrugged once more, and went back to playing games on her Blackberry.
Again, I arranged to go into work late again. My “chill, woman” level had reached an all-time low. I had bills in Canada waiting on this payment and I was losing money leaving work all the time. I stomped into the bank, straight to her desk, and demanded, “It’s 9am, it’s Tuesday, the form is correct and has the missing accent. Send. The. Wire. NOW.”
There came the glare again. She looked over everything, typed, like, three things into the computer, and said, “Okay, it’s sent.” I slumped down in my seat, gave her an incredulous look, and held my breath for the inevitable issue. But instead, she simply printed out a confirmation and handed it to me. I clutched it greedily like a child who had been offered a second ice cream cone, politely thanked her, apologized for threatening to burn her workplace down, and high-tailed it out of there before something could happen to take it all away.
– – –
And wouldn’t you know it, the very next day the money showed up in my Canadian bank account, no problem. I thanked my lucky stars. Not 15 minutes later, one of my expat friends called me and wanted to know how she could go about wiring money to the states.
I sighed. “Well, it can be done. But let me tell you a story first…”