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adventure travel africa

Banks Tips

Reading this page can save you US$2 500 and lots of time
Banks, along with certain insurance and medical aid companies, have with reason acquired a reputation for ripping the public off. Every year their fee increase outdistances inflation but yet they post record profits. A further scary phenomenon is that as their fees skyrocket; their service seem spiral downwards. And they don't seem to realize that they are a major contributor to slowing the economy down. Believe me, it is no fun regularly queuing for 42 minutes when you have things to do.

ATM's: This is the easiest way to get cash as a foreigner. The rate you get depends on your bank.
This said ATM fraud is rife and tourists are the easiest target imaginable.
Common sense is not enough. The MO is as follows and normally happens at any outside ATM:

On approach either your fraudster is pretending use the machine and displays a wad of notes for you to see or will be queuing right behind you. He will be extremely well dressed and normally a rainbow person. (Umm; colourful) He will also have at least one accomplice. There are about 5 variations. There will be either a match stick or toilet paper stuck in the slot. Your card will either get stuck or it won't read the pin but in the meantime you will punch it in. Now you will get distracted by 2 rainbows from both sides. One magician will press cancel & before you know what is happening, your card will get switched. Another card will go into the ATM and get retained or swallowed. You will be sleeping well & be under the impression that the bank will give you your card back in the morning. Ummm; it's not there. So there will normally be 2 withdrawals done for the max amount; sometimes 3. One Japanese visitor lost US$2500 in Feb 2002.
Criminals are inventing ever more ingenious methods of  relieving you of  your cash. The previous scam involves thieves putting a thin, clear, rigid plastic 'sleeve' into the ATM card slot. When you insert your card, the machine can't read the strip, so it keeps asking you to re-enter your PIN number. Meanwhile, someone behind you watches as you tap in your number. Eventually you give up, thinking the machine has swallowed your card and you walk away. The thieves then remove the plastic sleeve complete with card, and empty your account. The way to avoid this is to run your finger along the card slot before you put your card in. The sleeve has a couple of tiny prongs that the thieves need to get the sleeve out of the slot, and you'll be able to feel them. For skimming below, you should also grip the slot and see if it comes loose.
The secret of the rainbow guy's success is that they are fast - you do not get time to think.

The latest scam is card skimming at ATM's and wherever you swipe your card -

So what to do:
1. Always; always draw inside a bank if possible. If not; then in a centre that has security/guards nearby. NEVER draw on a street and never draw at the 1st atm near the station or wherever tourists flock to.
2. Let no-one into your space. Especially not well dressed gentlemen.  If they do, grab your card and back off - go somewhere else. Make sure you get your card though.
3. Don't hesitate; if you do you are lost. Scream, yell for the police,  hit a rainbow person if you have to, but then run for the middle of the road as they work in teams. So; attract attention at all costs. If you are wrong you can always apologize. But if you get done it takes up 3 days of your travel (as well as half a day of my time if you come stay with us!)
4. Ask about the ATM's at your place of accommodation. Locally it has only happened to 3 of our guests over the last 7 years (9000 guests) and that is not bad odds. However, in some places it is much, much higher.
5. The latest trick is to put a plastic strip in the slot. So run your finger along the slot when you get to the ATM.
6. Only take out your card at the last moment, just before using it.
7. If there was only 1 person in front of you (gangster no 1) and all of a sudden there are 5 people in the queue you are being set up. They are all there to distract you. OK - sometimes there are real queues!
8. Block the sight of the keys when you punch your pin in. If you have a friend let him watch your back.
9. Just use common sense like not to draw excessive amounts and then walking around with it.
10. If you are paying a huge amount of cash for a tour; think nothing of asking someone from your accommodation to walk/go with you.

Before and after you leave home:
1. Decrease the daily withdrawal limit on your card temporarily. The limit on a card in SA is between R1000 and R2000 rand and normally you can only take R1000 at a time from an ATM; but you can use it several times. The limit in your country is valid. So; if £500 is your limit bring it down to £100 - this way you can limit your losses if any. Yeah, you owe me big time... So, bring me some duty free Jack Actually duty free Jack Daniels at Heathrow costs about double what you can buy it for in SA.
2. Consider travelling with 2 cards or a debit as well as a credit card. Set it up that you can transfer to the debit card but not vice versa. Use only the debit card at ATM's.
3. If you are travelling like a year or so consider seriously instruct your bank to transfer a set monthly deposit to your credit or debit card or both.  Don't ask your mum if you have the same type mother as my x-girlfriend. And don't trust your friends. Sad, but true. This is the only case where I will actually trust my bank!!!
4. Make sure you have card protection insurance.
5. Most important, if you have a dispute, put everything in writing even if the credit card company tells you no worries. And get an acknowledgement. A friend lost US$3000 as the above happened to her.
6. Have a card company that allows collect calls if possible.
7. Keep the numbers with you in duplicate places. Memorize if possible.
8. Check your card charges regularly with online banking so some obscure charge doesn't happen.

Banks Themselves: Changing Forex
Note that changing forex at the airports costs you slightly more than listed below
Normal hours Mo - Fr 9h00 to 15h30; Sa 8h30 to 11h00. Foreign exchange at banks are NOT open on Saturdays as the JSE is closed and the rand is extremely volatile. Rennies, Thomas Cook, Amex and other bureaux especially at the Airports are open though.
FX exchange charges vary. Less than 3 years ago the charges were between R15 and R20 per transaction. Currently they are either R30, R34-20 or R50(ABSA). Charges are calculated on 2 fronts; 1st you get the bank buy rate, that is about 3% less than the official rate. This is for fluctuation and is fair. 2ndly you pay either another commission of av. 1,71% or the minimum charge like stated above. Either way you will get a minimum of 3% less than the official(middle) rate for cash and 2,5% less for TC's. If you just want to change US$10 at Absa and the rate is R10,00 for the $; then you should get about (10- 3%) 9,7x$10 -min charge R50= R47....this is making foreigners feel extremely welcome. Especially if R50- R70 is about what you pay for a dorm night or equivalent to restaurant prices for a 500g rump steak/7 beers. There is also no disclosure, no signs stating what the charges are. If you ask you will be told but I haven't even found forex charges on any of their own websites.
The big banks are ABSA, Standard, Nedbank, First National Bank(FNB)
There is anothere particular reason I don't like banks much. When the Reserve Bank dropped the repo rate with 1 % some years ago, all banks followed by dropping the rate to the public with only 1/2 %. Greedy is an apt description.
Also: "SA bank charges may be world’s highest" - as per Consumerfair

No one will accept a cheque from a foreigner if he can help it. It takes 6 weeks to 3 months to clear. To open a local cheque account as a foreigner is just about impossible. You are only successful if you deal with the right person and they seem to be extinct

Credit card charges:
Banks/ Financial institutions charge Merchants between 4% and 7,98% per transaction, Nedbank wanted to charge me 8% + vat, so 9,12%. On top of this there is a monthly fee as well. This is excessive and is of course carried over to the buyer. In tourism it is standard that the budget operators add this to the transaction when they charge you. Please note that this is technically legal if stated on the booking form. With upmarket operators this cost is of course included. My personal feeling is that banks in general not only stunt economic growth, but tourism as well.

Travellers Cheques:
You can cash Amex TC's at FNB at "no commission" aka rate after fluctuation; so at the same rate as Amex themselves. Please note that all the other banks will charge you commission to change; and FNB will charge as well for Thomas Cook and others. So; if you buy any tc's buy Amex.
A small observation; ATM's are everywhere. If you take my ATM advice to heart you will only need a bank card. In addition you will not get any interest on your money spend on tc's. You also have to pay a commission to acquire them & you lose as well when cashing them. If you add the fact that merchants are mostly unwilling to accept them tc's lose out big time. I myself can't except them - there is huge and stringent controls by the Reserve Bank. Of course I can't cash them at Rennies or Amex as they are not mine.
Lastly; mentioned elsewhere as well - In certain parts of East Africa you will get charged up to 25% commission to change TC's.

adventure travel africa
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- Updated Dec 2014
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