I opened a US bank account today, so I thought it was high time I talked a little about banking in America – as well as drawing out money in general. I never intended to actually open a US account – I thought an international account in dollars would do me just fine.
And anyway, I thought it would be a nightmare, fraught with needless bureaucracy and “Computer Says No” branch staff. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, I wish banking in the UK was as straightforward.
Before I left Britain, I decided to open an offshore account in dollars with Lloyds TSB International. Since I held a current account with Lloyds TSB anyway, I thought that would be the easiest way forward. It would enable me to draw out money in dollars, without lots of conversion fees and with the minimum of fuss. Hmmm. These clowns took the best part of two months to actually open my account, leaving me tearing my hair out in frustration with them.
Using their card in New York has been fairly straightforward, but what pushed me over the edge with them was their breezy announcement that paying in my salary via a US cheque would take up to six weeks. Six fricking weeks! Well, I decided they could jog on with that – cheques are very common here – and I would try my luck at one of the major banks over here instead.
One of the other factors for this decision was the ATM lobby lock-out. In New York, cash machines are often located within lobbies that are accessible in the day, but at at night only accessible to the customers of the bank concerned. This means you have to hover around suspiciously, hoping that you can dive in when another customer goes in or out. There are ATMS elsewhere, such as in shops, but they’re not always as easy to spot.
Chase Manhattan is one of the major banks over here – with ATM lobbies on many street corners, so I called in to ask about opening an account. It really couldn’t have been easier. All I had to do was get a letter from my employer and flash my passport as ID and that was pretty much it. Fortunately, I already had my social security number, which also helped. My account was opened then and there in the branch by a personal banker who said that from now on, she would be my point of contact. No call centre hell for me! Huzzah!
One final note. You have to pay here to use a cash machine that doesn’t belong to your bank. I’ve typically had to pay around $3 per withdrawal. That might not sound much, but if you withdraw money ten times a month that’s $30 (£20) just for taking out cash. A good tip to avoid this is to get cashback in shops, as there is no charge for that. You’ll need notes for tipping – a whole other subject that will have to be for another day…