“ARE you trying to come across as a bloody Mexican drug lord?!” an American friend asked the night before we left the US bound for England.
My smug grin quickly turned into a desperate frown.
“Let me get this straight… you’re going to carry nine THOUSAND dollars back in your pocket…?! Flying from San Diego… which is next door to Tijuana – one of the most notorious drug havens in the world…”
Cue friend pretending to put on rubber gloves.
Sometimes good ideas become quite the opposite.
You see, my plan was simple.
To avoid being charged by Bank of America and my English bank for wiring my money back to the UK, I decided to draw it all out and simply carry it back on my person.
With Bank of America charging $35 for every wire transfer of $1,000 (with a $1,000 limit to each transfer) I was facing the possibility of paying over $300 to wire the contents of my US account.
F*ck that for a game of chess.
I’ll just take the money out and carry it, I thought.
So this ‘good’ idea was just that… until this particular moment sat around the dinner table for our last supper.
“You like the idea of cavity searches then?” my friend asked with a wry smile.
In hindsight I have to say that after catching three flights, stashing and then re-stashing the cash in various pockets and bags – I wouldn’t do it again.
I’d checked the legal customs limit for the amount of dollars which can be taken into the UK, and I was fine. It was legal and above board.
(Oh, and worth pointing out that the money was our savings fund for a car in San Diego).
But for that 20+ hour return journey I was terrified of the prospect of misplacing the wad of cash, or being jumped in the men’s toilets – or both.
End result… we arrived in the UK complete with cash (although nerves completely shot).
Of course dollars are useless in the UK until they’re converted into British Pounds.
And that was an experience in itself.
I stood in the queue at the busy Santander branch until it was my turn to speak to the bank representative.
With hushed tones I said: “I’d like to deposit some dollars into my account…”
“How much,” the representative asked.
“Um… a lot…” I replied trying to give off hard-man vibes to the people assembled behind me.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to get them changed at a currency exchange and then bring in the pounds to deposit,” she said.
So off we went to Thomas Cook for act two.
“I’d like to change up some dollars,” I said defiantly.
“How much would you like to change,” came the reply.
“Um… (cue hushed voice again) nine thousand dollars please…”
“I’m sorry, nine THOUSAND dollars?” the woman replied.
“Yes, that’s right… well, you always come back with change right?!” I said.
Unfortunately despite my attempt to make light of the situation, I somehow still came across like a money laundering drug baron fresh back from a profitable score.
“I’ll just get my manager”.
To cut a long story short, the manager arrived and bizarrely asked me – somewhat bizarrely – whether I had a ‘figure’ in mind.
“I didn’t realize this was open to negotiation…” I said.
“Just give me the exchange rate…”
So, ultimately I avoided bank wire transfer fees. However, doing it this way I think I lost more money in this transaction that I would have done doing it the other way.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing eh?
Anyhow, for the past couple of weeks since getting back I’ve been busy sorting mine – and Jacky’s – ‘admin’.
You know, all those things which we take for granted once they’re in place.
House insurance, bank accounts, phone contracts, health cover, DVLA (driving) documentation, blah blah blah.
Most of it has been fairly straight forward, but there have been one or two annoying discoveries along the way… car insurance for example.
Did you know that if you’ve been out of the country for two years or more, most (and I mean MOST) car insurers automatically wipe your No Claims Bonus (NCB).
Before I left the UK two years ago I had built up in excess of five years NCB.
So when I bought my new car 10 days ago I thought I would – at least – have those five years’ bonus, plus arguing rights over the past two years when I’ve been overseas.
With no insurance claims in the US or Mexico in that time I thought I had a chance of adding those years to my previously accrued five years.
It was only after finding and agreeing a good insurance quote online that my chosen insurer – esure – told me that a). not only do they effectively wipe No Claims Bonus years if you’ve been away for two years or more; b). they also then don’t insure a driver who has zero years No Claims Bonus.
It doesn’t matter if those NCB years are protected or not, they’re deemed ‘invalid’.
After a lengthy search, again online, I found that Admiral do recognize the previous NCB years, however, they knock a year off that amount for every two years you’ve sent away.
Not the best, but not the worst.
In 12 months’ time, if I decide to switch to a different insurer, I’m guessing I’ll be having the same argument.
It seems that it doesn’t matter who or what you are, insurance companies and banks have you by the balls and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Still, I guess ultimately it’s a small price to pay for happiness.
It’ll take more than this to wipe the smiles off our sun-tanned faces.