Banking – Part 2

DEBIT CARDS
Most modern stores have debit card machines, but functionality depends on a good broadband connection from the telephone company, Telesur. Like the ATM machines, the debit card machines operate sporadically. When they work, however, they are very convenient. When they don’t work, it’s raining, or the power goes out, and you don’t have cash, you cannot buy groceries or gas. And if it’s the weekend and the banks are closed and the ATMs and debit machines aren’t working, “heb je echt pech” (you’re really out of luck). Sounds like too many coincidences, right? Well, power outages occur as frequently here as snowstorms in Antarctica. Most banks are closed on the weekends, and on during the week most operate only from 8:00am to 2pm. Rain falls almost every afternoon during rainy season, further debilitating the ease of doing business and slowing traffic.

PAYDAY
Most companies pay their employees only once a month, at the end of the month or at the beginning of the new month. Salaries are discussed in monthly terms, not weekly or annually as we accustomed to in America. When financial figures are written exceeding a thousand, a period is also used in place of the comma. For example, 1200 Suriname dollars would be written 1.200 srd. If you are part of the working class, I highly recommend getting direct deposit because of the convenience it offers to avoid bank lines. Do not go to the bank during the first or last week of the month – it’s too busy. When you must go to the bank, because the ATMs aren’t working, go between 10-11am or after 1pm. Take out enough cash for the month and hide it well, somewhere in your alarm protected, iron enclosed, dog guarded, sentry protected house. Every few days take some cash out of your “home account” as needed. Never carry a lot of cash with you because you can put yourself in danger of a robbery or assault.

CAMBIOS
If you are paid in US dollars, keep your money in U.S. dollars (in the bank) and only exchange a small amount at a time at the local cambios (monetary exchange counters). They can be found around almost every corner and usually have heavily armed guards securing the property. Pick out of handful of different locations and vary your frequentation of each. Never develop a banking or cambio routine by going to the same place at the same time on the same days. Either cambio workers or nearby observers may be “watching” you and someday decide to follow you. I find the drive-up cambios with guards to be the most convenient. Greet the window cashier or guard nicely and tell him/her that you would like to exchange dollars for SRDs, and ask them for the exchange rate that you would like to have. For example, if the bank is exchanging your dollars at 3.25 ($1 = 3.25 SRD), ask the cambio to buy them from you at rate of 3.33. If they refuse, lower your rate to what you find acceptable. Remember that unlike the banks, cambios are competitive with their rates. They want your dollars. Don’t be fooled or taken advantage of; they will turn around and sell those same dollars you just exchanged with them for 3.35 SRD each. That’s how they make their profit. You may be asked for an ID (at the beginning of 2011, the government imposed laws that required cambios to track customer purchases). The law was in practice for about 2 weeks, but I haven’t been asked for my ID since.

CAMBIO LISTING
Exces Cambio
Florin Exchange
Money Line
Surpost Money Exchange
Surora Exchange
Valex

MONEY TRANSFERS
As previously mentioned, international and local money transfers can be done via the bank. Ask your bank for specific instructions as well as what the charges are for the transactions. Bringing cash in and out of the country is also an option, although some countries limit the amount of money you can physically carry between borders without declaring the amount of cash you have and filling in a special form. Last I knew, the total amount of cash allowed on hand when entering of leaving the U.S.A. was $9,999 USD. Again, traveling with this much cash is not recommended.
There are a number of money transfer locations where the beneficiary of an overseas transfer can pick up their cash. When receiving a transfer, you will most likely be asked for your passport or Suriname I.D., the ten digit transfer number (for Western Union), the amount you are to receive, the country of origin, the name of the person sending you the money, and your address and telephone number. Customer service representatives do not have the right to ask you what the money will be used for or why you are receiving it.

MONEY TRANSFER COMPANIES
Western Union
Money Gram

CURRENCY
The people of Suriname like to refer to their country currency, effective as per January 1, 2004, as the Suriname Dollar (SRD), but you may notice that most businesses that cater to vacationers (hotels, car rental agencies, luxury shops, tour groups, high- end restaurants) price their goods and services in US Dollars and Euros. That is mostly for the buyer’s convenience, but also because some business owners and citizens still don’t trust the stability of their own country’s currency. During the 1980s, the country went through a rough economic turmoil involving high inflation. Many people lost their life’s savings in the process of converting the Suriname Guilder (then used currency) to the Suriname Dollar.

BILLS & COINS

Bills
100 srd bill
50 srd bill
25 srd bill
10 srd bill
5 srd bill

Coins
2.50 srd coin (also called a “dollar”)
1 srd coin (worth about .325 American cents)
25 srd kwartje coin (like the American quarter but not the same value)
10 srd dubbeltje cent coin (like the American dime but not the same value)
5 srd stuiver cent coin (like the American nickel but not the same value)
1 srd cent coin (like the American penny but not the same value)

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