So I’ve been living in Portugal for half a year now and, by and large, it’s not too difficult to adapt. But an article in the Metro last week (which I took 25 minutes to read, because it’s in Portuguese and I’m not very good yet) revealed that Portugal has the lowest trust level in the internet, per head of population, in the entire European Union. This got me round to thinking about a frankly ridiculous situation, which rears its ugly head from time to time and did so once again, today. I’ll explain.
When I arrived, I had to jump through a number of hoops, a la Free Willy, albeit with less finesse, in order to be registered first to live here and then, naturally, to work here and pay tax. It took some time, some swearing and some exasperation, but I got there. After that, I noted that Millennium bank, who’d served me jolly well in Poland, were on of the main banks here, along with Caixa Geral de Depositos and a few others. But knowing Millennium as I did, and there being one at the top of my road, I decided to pop in.
So I stroll in and I’m greeted by a smiling chap, with a nice suit and a lovely demeanour, who quickly reassures me that I can do the whole process of opening an account in English. He apologises for his minute errors and I reassure him that he’s really very good at speaking and he has nothing to worry about. We make small talk while he prints off the customary 11,308 forms which I need to sign and then he sends me on my merry way to wait for my card to arrive. A couple weeks later, I am fully furnished with debit card, internet banking information and a PIN code. Everything is good. Or so I think.
First I test the card in the machine. Money comes out – hurrah! Next, at the supermarket (with a huge wad of cash, in case it doesn’t.) PIN goes in, balance is paid – double hurrah! I am in business. I go home and try to subscribe to Spotify Premium and… error. Error. Error. Surprised, I head to my bank. The following bewildering conversation actually takes place in 2014. I’m serious.
Me: “Hello, I tried to use my debit card online today and it didn’t work.”
Smiley bank man: “Of course it didn’t!”
Me: “But how do I buy stuff online with it?”
SBM: “You can’t. Why would you want to? It’s not safe!”
Me: “I always buy everything online. I’ve been buying everything that I can online with my debit card for nearly 20 years”
SBM: “But it’s not safe. If you buy something online, people will steal all your money.”
Me: “… but… ”
SBM: stops being smiley
Me: “Then how do I buy stuff online?”
SBM: (smiley again) “You use MB Net – it’s a free service that let’s you create a single or multi use credit card, attached to your bank account with extra security measures to stop master criminals from stealing your lunch money” (I may have embellished the last bit).
So, latching on to that glimmer of hope, I go through the myriad passwords, screens, downloads, warnings, downloads and further warnings and get myself an MB Net card. I go back to Spotify and – success – Premium is mine. Crisis over, for now.
Arriving at work the following Monday, I spark up a conversation with a colleague about this and he expresses the same frustration and goes on to point out that he has just bought flights and – of course, as MB Net is a credit card based system, using this instead of your debit card adds a charge of 5 euros each way, for every flight you book. I ask my bank if there’s any way of getting a debit card to use just for online purchases. “Of course not!” is the reply.
Fast forward to today and Google Music want to offer me a 60 day unlimited music subscription. I try to sign up with my debit card – fail. With my MB Net “virtual” credit card – fail. With my Paypal account – but I can’t attach either my local debit card or virtual credit card to my Paypal account – even the one that I’ve set up locally, here in Portugal. My bank also charge me 4.71 Euros every time I want to make a withdrawal over the counter.
Now, I’ve checked my calendar, my phone and the atomic clock website, and it definitely isn’t 1971. So why on Earth is the Portuguese banking system insisting that it is? Is Portugal a haven of internet banking crooks and card fraud? Are people so afraid that this dinosaur policy is instigated, or are people afraid because of the dinosaur policy and bank-led scaremongering? This is a genuine question, I’m really keen to know the answer and also the answer to another question – how do I pay for my stuff?! Leave your ideas in the comments.