Living in a ‘western’ or ‘westernized’ country one takes certain things for granted. We all know that you can walk into a bank and within fifteen minutes walk out with a checking or savings account of your choice. We expect to be able to open a safe deposit box or transfer money with equal relative ease.
While there are many similarities across borders and cultures, banking in Ecuador, specifically opening a bank account was much different than we ever could have imagined.
Upon arriving in Quito, our first trip to Ecuador, my long time friend and business partner Darnell and I were in pressing need of a safety deposit box and bank accounts. The Ecuadorian Government (and by proxy corporations) require a bank account to do nearly anything.
So here we are in Quito, speaking almost no Spanish, valuables in hand, off to the bank to open accounts and a safety deposit box. After visiting five major Ecuadorian banks and pleading our case in our best attempt at Spanglish we realized there is no chance we are opening a bank account or getting a safety deposit box in Quito.
One by one a nice, young, often amused banker explained to us that in addition to our needing personal recommendation letters, bills with our addresses, etc., that a Visa is required to open a bank account. And while they appreciated the humor as much as we did, it did little to sway them as we recounted in comical frustration that we had been told by Immigration that in order to get a Visa we needed a bank account! In addition, a safety deposit box was only potentially attainable for a bank account holder and certainly not possible anytime in the near future.
After flying to Cuenca and a much closer than comfortable encounter between airport security and our valuables, we decided to take the problem to attorneys. An attorney who had a relationship with a highly reputable local bank (an oxymoron I realize) was able to get us accounts and a safety deposit box with relative ease.
While now we are settled in Loja and have solved these and similar issues long ago, without the use of Lawyers or anything unusual from a western perspective, it is informative to look back on our first glimpse into some of the differences we would encounter living and doing business in Ecuador. Life and business here is about relationships. There are ways to take care of everything, and often it is easier than where I am from, however, it is definitely a process getting accustomed to the quirks.