Have a foreign bank card, can pay locally? Well, not in my case! Actually, before figuratively speaking heading back to Turkey let me first take you on a flight to and from Britain as this story was unknowingly inspired courtesy of a leading British airline I otherwise truly love flying with. So what had happened?
A few weeks ago I was sitting in coach class as most ordinary travelers would and thus had a bill to pay for my inflight sandwich and beverage. Not the fact that airlines tend to charge for what used to be standard free service – ‘standard’ as in offering snacks and a wee dram on the house – made me somewhat less happy. Are we not used to being (over) charged 30.000 feet above ground by now…
What made me rather less comfortable instead was that I had opted to pay by card yet by bank card, issued in a country other than in Britain! To no avail – card rejected. Not because of insufficient funds I can assure you but the card reader simply did not get along well with foreign bank cards. Alternative? Cash I said, good old Pound Sterling including a couple of our brand new glossy, shiny fivers! Once more, no such luck. Cash payments are no longer welcome. Last resort: perhaps a foreign credit card would do the trick? All smiles, it was returned with a proper sales receipt; food and drink exchanging hands as well.
At once did I have traveler’s tales flashbacks: leaving Britain aside, how would other nations’ businesses deal with willing payers yet perhaps have to refuse their monies because of technical (or in-house administrative) glitches or guidelines both on and above ground? Come to think of it, Turkey sprang to my mind.
What about here, can we pay with a UK bank or debit card and if so where? Are foreign credit cards widely accepted? What about (local) cash or are cards a must?
When I came here first my wife took care of all those banking matters as she was born in this fab country before us two having tied the knot in London. As she had already found a job whereas mine took some months longer to materialize, for her opening a bank account plus obtaining plastic was as easy as the ABC. Then it was my turn – my employer correctly refused to pay salaries in cash hence I had no alternative anyhow.
The entire procedure in Ankara took me less than ten minutes. Actually, my employer had already contacted a bank of my choice so as to facilitate opening an account. The debit card arrived in the mail a few days thereafter. Job done! The only missing detail was that in case I would wish to run a credit card account myself and as I was new to the country (and foreign) a certain interest yielding deposit was required equivalent of the limit I would wanted on that particular card for the first year.
What was the one important number I needed at the branch? Yes, a photo ID! But that is what everyone has. What the bank really expected me to produce was a Turkish tax number! And this is what I had collected a few days into my stay in Turkey from my local tax office. Time spent? Well, with a little conversation about life in Britain, life in Turkey I would estimate no more than 15 minutes.
However, this column is much less about the ‘how to’ open a Turkish bank account as very informative guides written by my fine colleagues are available and previously printed in this newspaper.
My point is: do you actually need a Turkish bank account or should continue to rely on your UK/foreign bank/debit card? Yes to the former solution, and for five good reasons.
First, UK bank cards will in some, or many, instances be refused by local Point of Sale- machines (POS card readers). Your British credit card will be accepted in most cases but the vendor will not like it as a very high charge is added to his, not your account, often hovering above the five per cent point.
Second, taking out cash via a local ATM drawing on UK funds with a UK card/credit card is very costly. And again, not all UK debit cards are accepted by local ATM, I tried! And let us not forget that small amounts should ideally always be taken care of in hard currency.
Third, with a Turkish ATM card, even if it is no credit card you can virtually pay everywhere for almost everything up and down the country. Turkey is pay-by-card heaven as long as it is a local bank card!
Fourth, your funds from the UK will arrive safely in your Turkish account; you will bank online and have total control.
Fifth, if you expect funds being wired from within Turkey or you pay for a service (or apartment rent) online or transfer money to someone within Turkey and as long as it is sent before 15.29 hours on a weekday it arrives in that opposite number’s account within a few minutes. No more ‘the check is in the post’. Same as POS heaven Turkey is fast bank transfer heaven, believe me! EU unless in same country minimum one day; UK as we know still up to three days!
Practical, helpful, always welcome unless you pay for your single newspaper by card, fast and convenient and on average less than 100 Turkish Lira to run for an entire year – I truly suggest you open a local Turkish Lira and/or Sterling bank account as soon as feasible upon arrival.
Oh by the way, what about my next flight back to Britain? Well, I might opt for another airline altogether as a leading Turkish carrier continues to offer delicious on-board meals and beverages and all for free as in the good old days even on what is deemed a short-haul European flight. That sorts at least all airborne foreign bank/debit cards issues nicely.