Wednesday, May 23, 2007

For travel outside Europe, use cash not cards

Banks want to get us hooked on the cashless society, and in Europe cash transactions are by now the exception, not the norm. This allows banks to create infinite amounts of credit out of thin air and charge for the privilege. However, once you step outside Europe you're likely to pay heavily for the convenience of plastic.

Here are two examples within a single week spent in Morocco, a fast developing economy with a building boom but serious lack of any concept of quality control. Firstly, I tried to pay by credit card at a supermarket, but after accepting the pin number the transaction was declined. Unless I had sufficient cash in my pocket, I would have had to leave the shopping card and its contents behind. But this was not the end of the story: although declined, the amount subsequently showed up as having nonetheless been debited to the card account. Going back to the shop to resolve the matter is not always an option, and opening a disputed transaction procedure with the card-issuing bank in Europe is a protracted process taking up to three months (with a potentially uncertain outcome). Until then, it means having to pay twice for the same goods.

Having spent all my cash I used a bank debit card to withdraw some more from a cash dispenser in the wall outside a branch of "Societe Generale Marocaine de Banques". The English language menu messages of these machines are amusing to say the least, like "Your transaction is under treatment" or "do you want a ticket?". I didn't want a parking ticket, for sure, but I would have appreciated a receipt for my transaction. The option is fanciful, however, I am yet to encounter a cash machine issuing receipts. Unfortunately the amusement soon stopped as the machine in question did not have notes either. It simply said "thanks you" (yes, with an s added) and spit out my card. As a precautionary measure I went inside the bank to enquire, and the man in charge said: "we know there's no money in it" and reassured me not to worry as my card would not be charged.

My card did get charged, however, and another two visits to the bank trying to resolve the matter proved futile. Whenever there is a problem, nobody wants to take responsibility and everybody suddenly acts very busy. Whether the disputed transaction process will produce any positive outcome is questionable, since no receipts exist. All I could do was withdraw cash from a different machine which, luckily, did have notes. For future travels it might be advisable to travel with stacks of notes or cash travellers cheques at a bank and throw away the plastic - let's hope it's biodegradable!


At 24 May 2007 at 22:06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sahib Mustaqim Aslam-o-Alaikum!

Do in Rome as the Romans do! It seems you are adding to your experiences, but losing what you had in the shabby banking system in Morocco.

An old Bedouin saying is: Tie up your camel securely, and trust Allah.



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