Last week, I needed some cash. I brought enough American dollars to make it through the whole first part of this trip, but about a week and a half before leaving, I didn't have any BsF left and I only have $9, which I'm hoping to buy a nice big iced latte with the second I get off the plane. This isn't too much of an issue, because there are ATMs everywhere here, and it shouldn't be an issue to just put my credit or debit card into an ATM and withdraw money. The downside is I only get the legal exchange rate, (4-1) instead of the twice as much you can sell dollars for. But with only a week and a half remaining, I didn't really care too much.
So I went to a couple of banks. The lines for ATMs are not too bad, and after waiting 10 minutes, I would put my card in, enter my number, get to the part where I selected how much cash I wanted, then the machine would stop working and spit out my card. I tried this at 2 different banks with no luck. So I spent an evening on the phone (via my mother, via Skype) talking to the bank and trying to get this sorted out. It wasn't an issue of the bank not knowing I should be in Venezuela: I called. Twice. Plus it wasn't even processing my transaction and telling me it wasn't possible, it was just shutting down. The bankers explained that if I went inside the bank, talked to a banker they should be able to make the transaction if they work with Visa.
Easy enough. However, my Spanish is not as good as I would hope. So I asked my friend Kathryn to come along with me and help translate. We got into the bank, went to the ticker, pulled a number and waited. After a while we moved to the floor by the windows, reading. The room was full of people, and there were at least 15 bankers working. I've always seen lines out the doors and around the blocks at banks here, and I've always wondered, and I'm still not clear what's up here. I asked one of my professors later and she said the service is just horrible. The bankers move slowly (which is surprising given the amount of coffee I saw them all drinking), and there is no competition between banks here so service never improves.
Finally after an hour and a half, we got to talk to a banker. I showed him my card, explained what I wanted and he pointed to the ATMs. I said no no no. I told him what happened, what my bank said. How it should work. He laughed and told me how they don't have that technology. This is one of the major banks in Venezuela, by the way. He said he thought a bank down the road might be able to help me. So I went to a couple more banks, tried a couple more ATMs and gave up on waiting in line since the day was getting older, people were getting out of work and more and more people were gathering.
This all was figured out. I was very frustrated and scared that I wouldn't have money for the last of the trip, especially not enough to go to the beach. But luckily my roommate Kirsten brought more cash in dollars then me, so I'm just borrowing from her and I'll pay her back when I get off the plane. And buy her an iced latte with that $9 as well.