The Banking System in Costa Rica
Back early in the last century, Max Weber, one of the first sociologists, wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He did a survey of the Western Countries and noticed something for the first time – there were rich countries and poor countries – and what was more, the rich were Protestant and the poor were Catholic!
This even applied to Ireland, which was basically a Catholic country. But overlooked France, which was also Catholic – but relatively affluent. He came up with his own theory to explain this – which, now that I am living in Latin American, and forced to deal with the reality of the situation – seems inadequate.
My take is that the Northern (Protestant) countries developed entirely different concept of basics, such as time and space. Which, in turn led to the Industrial Revolution – which changed everything. To put this another way, they had a developed infrastructure – which the undeveloped countries did not have.
In the North, time is important – it is money, and must be used efficiently. In the South it is not important, as anyone standing in a line at any institution quickly realizes. I am not sure what is important in Latin America – but it is not time.
One can quickly determine if a country is developed or not by looking at two important institutions – the banking system and the post office. In Costa Rica, both just barely work – and Ticos cannot see why this annoys Gringos. They are used to this, and do not consider it a problem.
I have just finished a harrowing experience with the banking system. I have a joint account with my brother in the Wells Fargo Bank – where my Social Security payments are sent automatically. I have used my Wells Fargo debit card to get cash advances in Tico banks. But this has become more and more difficult – and as of yesterday became impossible. This is not a single bank in Costa Rica that can now communicate the American banking system!
Fortunately, there is another banking system – the ATM system, with uses different computers, and has no problem communicating with the American ATM system. Wells Fargo increased my daily limit to $2000 a day so I can grab all my cash for the month in at one time – since I get charged $15 each time I use a Tico ATM.
So far, so so good – except for another snag. I am a resident of Costa Rica, and to keep this residency I had to prove that I changed at least $600 dollars (now increased to $100) a month into Colones. Latinos are sticklers for regulations, and they insist I must obey the letter of the law. But this makes no sense to the banks, who tend to view anyone who deals in dollars as a criminal (which many are).
To make a long story short, I am being forced to open an account at the Banco National (the State bank) and have my social security payments deposited there. With my limited Spanish, this is going to be a problem. It is even a problem for people fluent in Spanish – because they keep changing their regulations without notice.
This morning, I went down to the local ATM, and got a thick bundle of 20,000 (40 dollar) Colone bills. This should last me all month – although local merchants do not like these big bills. Getting change is big problem down here (as it is in all undeveloped countries). They like the Gringo dollar, but they want it in small change.