Banking in Hungary
As an expat living overseas, the things which affect my every day life are the things I want to run smoothly. Banking for instance…. banking has it’s up’s and downs in Hungary. I have found myself happy in some instances banking in Budapest, and extremely frustrated at other times. So what’s the scoop on banking in Budapest?
Banks have shorter hours here and banking transactions require planning ahead. Living as an expat also means remembering that bank transactions require your passport or your residence permit (a legal card received with proper documentation to live and work in Hungary.)
Around the city there are branches with later hours, though they may not be convenient or close to your neighborhood. Banks, (at least mine) seem to have rotating late hours, one or two days a week at most branches. If you’re lucky the branch near you is open on the night you need it. Otherwise you’re trekking around the city looking for the open branches.
Wire Transfers or Do We Live in the Dark Ages?
Wire transfers are very frustrating in Budapest. I have successfully sent several wire tranfers now, and know the procedure. They still annoy me and I have found it is easiest to do them by phone. (Which is quite funny actually, as I CAN’T do a wire transfer by phone at my US bank.) So in a few ways banking is more advanced in Hungary.
The fact that I can complete a wire transfer over the phone, when it’s convenient, is a perk, I’m grateful. It makes my life a little simpler. Lets preface that a little simpler AFTER you’ve done it at least twice. The first time I did a wire transfer over the phone I spent no less than 45 minutes on the phone, made two phone calls and got really peeved at a bank employee. It was not a pleasant experience for either of us. I persevered and it worked.
IT TAKES HOW LONG??
Though I said wire transfers are simpler, I didn’t say they were fast. A snail could move faster. I sent a wire transfer to the states in my first weeks here and I believe it took about seven days to arrive. I was hopping mad by that time and had called the bank multiple times to check that it had been sent.
After all, we do this electronically through a computer system. How in the world can it take seven days to connect electronically to a US bank and wire the money? I have no idea. One would think a wire transfer within Europe would be faster, such as to my landlords. That would be a big fat NO. It takes nearly as long. I could drive to Austria faster! The last one took at least four to five days.
So You Want US Dollars?
Ha…ha…plan ahead, or plan to visit the bank more than one time. I realize US dollars are a foreign currency. I realize the bank may not have as much US money available at the local branches. (Though with Budapest being a capital city and it having a large expat community one would imagine there are often US expats looking to withdraw US dollars for travel or other expenses.)
What’s the Procedure?
Call 24 hours ahead and request the US dollar transaction. This is rarely something I remember. So that has been an annoyance from day one. Here is what I have learned after a few months living in Budapest. After talking to my bank I learned that you can withdraw less than $1,000 US dollars without an advance request. If you need more than that, you call ahead, Or, if you don’t have time to call ahead, you have to visit the bank on two different days or visit two different branches. Did I say banking was convenient in Budapest? I did not.
Online Banking and Banking in English
This is where Hungarian banking really rocks. When I went to my bank the first time to set up my account the paperwork was in English. Everything was simple to understand (relatively) and pretty painless. It did take time, and there were many papers to sign but overall I had a very smooth experience. The staff as the branch I use speak English well and are friendly. I’m very pleased in that regard with banking in Hungary.
I can also call and check my balance and transfer money by phone. All with a representative that speaks English. Which is more than I can say for those moving to the states and dealing with U.S. banks. I seriously doubt they have the banking support system I enjoy here. In addition banks in Hungary offer their website in English. I doubt U.S banks offer expats that kind of service.
Bank Fees in a Cash Society
Some would say this is still a cash society. Bank cards are taken at many places, though I run into instances where restaurants or hair cutting salons only take cash. Of course that means I don’t have cash on me that day and I am then rushing off to find another ATM. Because there are instances when I need to pay in cash I am often taking money out of ATM machines. Here taking money from an ATM (even your own) costs a fee. I also learned that using your debit card often costs a fee as well.
So in a city with banks closing fairly early and the need to use an ATM fairly high and debit cards often, it really sucks to see my bank statement and realize I paid $35 dollars (US) in fees for this past month. (Keep in mind that I pay only $45 US for an at home vet visit with two medications and a nail trim.) So $35 US is expensive for fees. Multiply that by twelve months and you are talking over four hundred US dollars.
You Don’t Have Checks?
One of the first things I discovered in Hungary is that banks don’t offer checks. There are NO checks in Hungary. That was shocking. Not that I use them often in the U.S. But I do use them sometimes. Most expats have US bills to pay and I normally use online banking; but I like the idea of an additional option when I need it.
Bill Paying/Banking in Hungary (and in Europe)
Bills are paid one of three ways. Either with a banki átutalás which means bank transfer, online or at the post office. Paying by bank transfer or at the post office I understood when I arrived, thanks to the years I lived in Germany. So at least in this regard complexities were simplified. Though nearly every transaction at the post office requires pantomime or google translate. (By the time I leave Hungary I should be great at charades!) I continue to remain grateful that people in Hungary are friendly and helpful and really do go out of their way to assist me.
It is sometimes eye opening to learn new procedures and ways of doing things in a foreign country. Sometimes experiences are baffling and occassionally unnerving, but overall I treasure my experience of living in Budapest and love my life here.