Expat Travel Technology: How do I get my mail?

As we know there are many challenges to moving abroad. One of those is what to do with your postal mail. Should you have it forwarded to your new home in your far flung land? Maybe your 90-year-old mother will take care of it for you. Maybe that shifty-eyed cousin? For the most part, thanks to technology, you can eliminate most of your postal mail

"Preferimos Visa"

While there are many places that accept credit cards here in Montevideo, you will often see signs like this one: 


Visa  pretty much has the market  cornered.  All of the locations that take credit cards accept Visa.  Probably about half of those also accept Mastercard.  I was at the hardware store yesterday buying a few things and as I pulled out my Mastercard, I got the response of  "No.  Solo Visa, por favor" (Only Visa, please).  So I paid cash.  

Before you just grab any Visa from your wallet, make sure you know what your bank charges for foreign transaction fees. Some banks are as high as 3%, others are 1% or even 0%.  Make your money stretch a bit further.

Our Little House

So today was the big day. We got the keys to the house. Easy enough. Sign some papers hand over the money and in return, a set a keys. Well, it's a bit more complicated than that in Uruguay. All in all, really it's not that hard, just very time consuming. The papers are very similar to the contracts that you might see in the States as a rental agreement. We also received a six page inventory addendum detailing absolutely every little thing included in the rental (since it is furnished and equipped) down the color and number of forks in the kitchen. In our case, we received this list in advance via email so we were able to review ahead of time.

The detailed addendum contained too many household items to know all of them in Spanish, even if your Spanish is quite good. We just pasted the text of the Word doc text into Google Translate. This site is a fantasitic tool. It will translate a word or entire websites while keeping you on the site. Want to read the local paper El Pais? Just pop the URL into Translate and it will almost comes across as though it were written in English. It's not perfect, but if you know some Spanish you can clean up the translation afterward. Anyway, fantastic tool. Use it for all of your translating needs.

Armed with this inventory list, we were picked up by Jorge at the aparthotel at 12:40. An odd time you say? Not exactly. The banks in Uruguay open to the public at 1pm and most close at 5pm. (You thought bankers' hours were nice in the States and elsewhere!) This gave us enough time to stop at the house where we were given the keys by the other rental agent, Andrea  and received a few additional details. Then off I went to the bank (Itaú) with Jorge while Lisa and Geneva stayed at the new house to review the checklist.  Andrea went to the Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay (BHU), where we'd be meeting her later.

The Banking:

Half the keys we received


Lisa detailed this the other day. We had wired money from our Credit Union in MN that posted to Jorge's business account in 1 day. We're were told it would take two or three days, but expected four or five. We expected the worst, but in the end very simple very easy.  Now it gets complicated. The process is well defined, but certainly different.  Try to keep up.

We had to withdraw a ridiculous sum of money for all of the different payments we had to make today, which of course had to be approved by several people at the bank. Thankfully, I was wearing my jeans (jeans = lots of good pockets). I ended up with a pocket for each sum. One pocket for the deposit (the equivalent of five months rent...again weird laws thus the strange practice.  I think we put down less when we closed on our house in MN!) to be held in escrow at the one bank in town that does this...BHU where Andrea was already waiting with the number that held our place in line (otherwise it would really take all day to complete the transaction). This main sum for the deposit had to be in pesos. Jorge had already called his friend at the bank while we were driving there. We were given a rate nearly a point better than that posted. Not bad. It pays to know someone.  In such a small country, everyone knows someone. So deposit money one pocket in Pesos. Second pocket the 1st month rent in US Dollars for Andrea. Third pocket the equivalent of 1 month's rent plus the taxes of 22% for Jorge and all his work....and he deserves every penny. Then the little extra so I could buy a pack of gum in the final pocket. It was more than that but I was feeling a little house poor at that point.

So off  to the BHU to meet Andrea. Just a couple things to accomplish here. Sign the contracts which took about three minutes and place the deposit. This is the painful part....for everyone. It's a huge bank. I envisioned about 500 people standing outside the door ready to rush in like like a store the day after thanksgiving or worse Filene's Basement the day of the bridal dress sale.

I am pretty certain that each banker processes 4 to 5 transactions in the 4 hours that they are open to the public. We waited about 45 minutes to get from number 21 (the number we saw when Jorge and I arrived) to number 33--us. Mind you there are about 30 or 40 desks that--in theory--could help us. So we waited. Signed the papers and I gave Andrea the first month of rent. We chatted. We commiserated about this bank. It went fairly quickly. Andrea had already completed most of the form to create the deposit account. Yea! Finally 33! We go to one of the desks. They hand the banker the paperwork. Almost nothing is said. The gentleman types away while we chat. 20 minutes later. He's done and prints off a form with our new account number. That's wasn't so bad. Oh, we're not done?? We have to go to the teller (caja) to put in the money in the bank. 35 minutes in line and we're at the counter. We deposit our funds less 2% for the bank for the priviledge of them holding our money. Jorge tells me it used to be interest bearing account but that practice had ended. BHU does however pay back the money at the end of the term at the rate of inflation. So one's money is at least worth what it was when it went in. In pesos anyway. So money is in. Now we walk back over to the first desk where Andrea had been patiently waiting. They verifiy the details and we're done. In all, about two hours were spent at the bank. Good times. Then back to the house to see how Lisa and Geneva made out go over a few more details and discuss the urgent need to grab a drink and celebrate. Whew!

Oh that's right, we have to take care of Jorge. We give Jorge his agency's fee plus the taxes and we're set.

I'll let Lisa describe some of the "fun" and "interesting" features of the new house in an upcoming edition, like the grasera, tiny propane range and the 200-some keys we were handed (not quite, but close!).