Banking in Suriname

BANKING

One morning, I wake up late and finally get out the door by 9:30am. I have a simple plan in place. First, I will run by the ATM machine on Kernkampweg– I know is distributes American dollars; then I’ll drive to the Cambio (money exchange), and then go shopping.

I can’t find a parking space at the bank, so I parallel park across the street and strut towards the ATM serenaded by a few obnoxious whistles. The screen reads – THIS ATM IS TEMPORARILY OUT OF ORDER. Ugh! I should’ve known better. The ATM machines rarely work and I always need cash on the days they’re broken. The alternative cash retrieval method involves the doom of entering the bank. That means I need a passport. So, I leave the other side of town and go back home in search of my passport. While in a harried route to open the door, I forget to turn off the house alarm and trip over the dog’s chew toy. On the way out, my automatic gate gets stuck. I get out of the car and manually push the gate open, drive the car out into the street and manually push the gate shut again. This is the same gate, by the way, that was serviced by a technician and “fixed” the week before. I remember that the bank is only across the street from my house, less than 1/8 of a mile, but across a very busy four-lane highway. There’s only a sliver of asphalt and grass in between the divergent traffic lanes, about the width of household ladder. Although crossing the highway with a car feels like the equivalent of Frogger hopping across the freeway in a metal cage. My husband doesn’t agree, but he usually waits five or more minutes at the intersection before deciding the turn left and take the round about the long way around anyway. I figure it will be faster, and more environmentally conscious to walk to the bank. I get there at 10:15 and, to my great surprise, there isn’t a line of 25 people sandwiched between the labyrinthine plastic separators. There are three customers in front of me. Amused, I start playing Klondike on my blackberry. Three old gentlemen enter into the 60+ lane, now occupying the services of one of the two bank tellers. There are now seven people in front of me; my wait in line has just increased by 20 minutes.

It only took a few of these experiences to convince me that I needed to adopt a new banking method, and quickly. I now avoid the bank at all costs, only going once a month, unless there’s an emergency. Suriname is still a cash country, but I consider it a necessary evil to have a bank account if you plan to live here. Opening a bank account is not difficult if you have a letter from your employer with your function and salary (dated within one month of your bank account application date), your valid I.D. (passport of Suriname I.D.), and your “stay” papers. Depending on your work situation or immigration status, there may be different requirements. Keep in mind that your country of citizenship may require you to declare all of your foreign accounts when doing your taxes.

There are a handful of international banks in Suriname, and having an account has its benefits. First of all, keeping a lot of money in your house is not necessarily a safe solution. Houses are often broken into or those coming in and out of your home may steal from you (repair persons/maids). Secondly, many companies offer direct deposit of paychecks. This is a more convenient option than running to the bank with a wad of cash or a paycheck, especially with the limited hours of operation and long lines. Thirdly, having a bank account can make bill paying a lot less complicated. The utility companies (EBS, Telesur, SWM) offer electronic bill pay. The alternative to online bill pay is physically going to the utility’s payment offices and standing in line to pay. Via online banking, you can set up bill pay and make transfers to international accounts and domestic accounts (bank to bank within the country). You could use the domestic transfer option, for example, to pay your child’s private school tuition without ever leaving the house or office. You may also order checks for your personal or business accounts. Checks can be used to make transfers between banks and bank accounts as well. You can fill out a check in advance and hand it to the customer service person rather than waiting in line for one the tellers. Worry not, you are allowed to write the checks and the amounts in English.

ATM’s

Automatic transfer machines systems (ATM’s) are known as cash machines “geld automaat” or “pin” machines. Avoid using ATM’s late at night. Using your “pinpas” (debit card/credit card) to pay or getting some money out of the ATM is called “pinnen”. To find an ATM, just ask someone, “Waar kan ik pinnen?”

Although most of the banks allow US dollar accounts and Euro accounts, RBC Bank (owned by Royal Bank of Canada) also offers the convenience of ATM cards and ATM machines that give out US dollars and Euros from your Surinamese bank account(s).

ATM’s that give out US dollars:

RBC Bank – Kernkampweg – Paramaribo South
RBC Bank Head Office – Kerkplein/downtown
RBC ATM Hermitage Mall – Paramaribo South
RBC ATM next to Tulip Supermarket – North Paramaribo (Tourtonnelaan)

Those listed above and a few other ATM’s (mostly inside the major hotels) also accept credit cards and overseas debit cards, but only dispense Suriname dollars in the equivalent of your foreign accounts currency (bank exchange rate + fees).

Read more about “Banking” by Sabrina Zondervan next week.

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