Yes? Then you may want to follow my roller coaster ride.
My story starts before our Germany trip when my parents tell me they have some Euros that they want Pia and I to have as a gift. Thank you very much! Now how do we get the money from Germany into my US bank account?
Attempt #1: We had used wire transfers in the past and my mom tries to send the money using the exact same instructions we had used successfully before. This happened in advance of our trip and mom is annoyed with me that I don’t tell her about the arrival of the funds. I check all possible accounts and even call E*Trade to find out where the money is. It’s nowhere to be found, but returns a little while later back into my mom’s account, because the “recipient’s account (mine) cannot be located”.
So what worked before suddenly no longer works. Mom and I talk on the phone and agree to tackle the problem once we get there. Keep in mind that sending the money and returning the money costs fees each way, so mom receives less money in her account after the ordeal is over.
Attempt #2: Paypal! Let’s use Paypal! Dad loves Paypal for everything he does on EBay and I see that “Send Money” on the site offers a “Personal” category, which allows you to send gifts. The difference between “Purchase” and “Personal” is in the percentage that Paypal takes as a cut (2.9% vs. 3.9% – see here).
Problem is that the “Personal” option does not appear on the German version of Paypal. We agree to do a test transfer just to see what percentage would be charged.
Sure enough the test shows that 3.9% are taken and after emailing Paypal customer support we hear that “Personal” transfers from Europe to the US are not yet available (funny enough the first time we contact customer support, the agent is surprised about the 3.9% himself and thinks there is a bug).
So I reject the test transfer and 5 days later (!) my dad’s money is back at Paypal.
Scratch that idea, let’s just get the cash from the bank and we’ll take the bills with us. We verify that I’m allowed to bring the amount of Euros back into the States.
Now fast forward to the present. I’m back in Santa Fe with Euros in my wallet and no local bank account.
Attempt #3: As I always wanted to have a local bank account as a backup, I head over to Del Norte Credit Union last week. I open a savings/checking combo (can’t just have a checking account by itself) without any problems. When the teller asks me for my minimum deposit of $5, I tell her that I have a bit more and present her with the Euro bills. “We don’t do foreign currency exchange!” is the next thing I hear. “I thought you are a bank?” I respond. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a bank does not do foreign currency exchange. I submit and tell the lady I would try to exchange the funds elsewhere and then deposit them.
Attempt #4: Same day I run over to the nearest Wells-Fargo branch and ask them if they can exchange the money for me. I’m told that only the main branch on Washington Ave. will do exchanges. Running out of time that day and decide to take care of it this week.
Attempt #5: It is Monday morning and I enter the main Wells-Fargo branch with my cash. A display shows their buy/sell rates. Official exchange rate: 1 euro = $1.34. We sell: 1 euro = $1.41. We buy: 1 euro = $1.25. Say WHAT? That’s a whopping 7% deduction! WTF?!?! Knowing that all banks will be in sync with the exchange rate I go ahead and initiate the exchange.
Here’s what the lady wants to know: two forms of ID, address, phone number, Social Security Number – I feel like a drug lord attempting to launder money from a recent coke deal. On top of the less than favorable “buy” rate I’m also assessed a $5 fee for the transaction. Whatever!
She counts the bills and punches the total into the computer. A second later she turns to her supervisor and asks him over for assistance. I’m informed that the amount of money I’m trying to exchange crosses a certain threshold and that they can only exchange X dollars worth of Euros, with X being 2/3rd of what I have. “What do we do now?” I ask. “You can make two transactions.” I hear. “And you’re charging me the $5 twice?” I ask. “Yes” is the response. “Nope – I’ll go elsewhere” is the last thing they hear from me before I grab my useless bundle of Euro bills and head out.
Attempt #6: I head down the road to US Bank, because they are close by. After waiting in line for a while, I ask them about foreign currency exchange and they say “No, we don’t do it, but you could try Wells Fargo bank just up the road”. I think my face shows the frustration …
Attempt #7: Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Bank of America. AMERICA. They should be able to help me. Right? I enter the sacred halls at the corner of Paseo and St. Francis. “Foreign Currency Exchange?” – “Sure!” – “You have a limit of X dollars?” – “No!” – my faith in BofA is restored. Why did I not come here in the first place?
It’s the first time the teller sees Euros and she pulls up the cheat sheet “how to tell if those bills are not fake” on her screen. Each bill is inspected and found to be original.
Half way through the process she asks me for my bank card. “What bank card?” I ask. “The one for your BofA account” she responds. When I tell her (and her supervisor who has joined us already) that I don’t have an account, I’m informed that only BofA account holders can exchange money.
“Fuck it!” I think, “well, then let me open an account” I say. “You can’t exchange the money on the same day you open an account” is the next statement I hear. This is followed by my puzzled “Why”, which in turn gets a “Bank policy” response.
Again I grab my envelope with the Euro bills and leave the premises.
Attempt #8: In my mind I already picture myself doing the exchange during an upcoming trip to the San Francisco Bay Area in February in hopes that the banks there would be more accommodating.
As a last resort I go over to Los Alamos National Bank on Cerrillos Road. Everything works out there, but only because our Home Owners Association has an account which I have signature authority to. If it wasn’t for that account, I would have been allowed to exchange up to a max of $1000 per transaction.
I finally got the funds exchanged, still at the dismal rate of $1.25 per Euro. Per http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/ even the Exchange Sharks at European airports charge less than that.
In the future I’ll make sure to exchange the money in Europe and only import US$, because that’s all banks here seem to be able to deal with.