Saturday, February 12, 2011

Signing Blindly

One thing that still kind of makes me uneasy about living abroad is signing things. Honestly, anything of a legal nature makes me nervous but especially when I'm abroad. Nine times out of ten, there's no English version of the paperwork you're signing because for it to the legally binding here, it has to be in Czech.

It's one of those situations where you have to hope like hell that the person behind the counter isn't going to screw you over, is just doing their job, treating you like any Czech person that walks through the door and hasn't left out any important information when telling you, "Sign these documents" and giving you a basic rundown of what they say.

It's interesting because most people take it for granted that they can read a contract and understand it before they sign it. Hell, how many times have you signed something without even reading it just because someone wearing a name tag or a uniform told you to? If you want what's on the other end of the signature, you sign.

Point: I went to open a bank account and I had to sign a hundred trillion four papers. I had no idea what any of them said. But I knew that this is what I had to do to have a bank account and I knew that none of them had numbers on them so they probably didn't say anything about fees but they might have said something about giving over my first born and/or my soul. 

I did a great deal of looking around before I decided to open a bank account here. It's mandatory because (mostly) everyone gets paid via direct deposit. Everyone in the whole country gets paid at the same time, once per month on the 15th. It's weird, but I'm betting shopping and general spending goes through the roof that particular week since everyone got paid. 

An interesting side note: While everyone is paid electronically, you pay for most things with cash. It's basically just the grocery store and maybe department stores that you'll ever actually use a card. Maybe this is why Prague is the pickpocket capital of the world? Just sayin'.

The thing is, banks here are quite different from banks at home. I know there are some accounts at home where you have to pay a small maintenance fee, but there's almost always an option for a free account. You basically never get charged for ATM transactions unless they're at another bank's location and some banks even give you back the money another bank charged you to use their ATM. 

Here, nothing's free. Most banks here charge something around the equivalent of $4 to $10 to maintain your account. It doesn't matter how much money you keep in it. That's just how much it costs you. 

Nearly every bank here charges you to make ATM transactions, even at your own bank's locations. 

Because I knew they charge you for every little thing (except point of sale transactions... usually) I did a lot of research to make sure I would have an account that would charge me the least per month. Considering I don't make much money to begin with, I can't really afford to have my own bank taking money from me just for having money at all or, god forbid, wanting to actually use it.

Luckily, I found mBank. They have clerks who speak some English, so that was immediately helpful, but beyond that, they charge very few fees as long as you're reasonable. They don't charge me simply for having an account (a basic account at least). They don't charge me for the first three ATM transactions per month and that's at any ATM. 

While the lack of fees is great, there is a down side. My bank is entirely digital. Yes, there are a few branches, but they don't keep physical money at those branches. (Can you imagine being the idiot that goes in to rob the bank that doesn't keep any money on site?) After signing papers in the branch, the only contact I will have with my bank will  be via Internet, text message or phone (this is really only when stuff goes down though). 

Honestly, I would call this an upside, if it weren't for the fact that the entire Website is in Czech. Google Chrome automatically translates most of the pages I visit (looooove Google Chrome), but it can't translate anything after you have logged in to a secured portion of a site. Which means I spend a lot of time going back and forth between the bank tab and the Google translate tab. 

Banking in another language is hard and maybe even a little disconcerting. Any tips?

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