The big news this week is that I received my first Thai credit card!
I wanted a local credit card so that I could avoid the 3% foreign transaction charge that I get assessed every time I use a U.S.-issued credit card. This may not seem like much and it probably isn’t even over the course of the year. Nevertheless, I have a real aversion to paying any fees to any banks (particularly those that got bailed out by the government) and I knew that these transaction fees would be a continuing irritant.
The Bank of Thailand has very strict rules on who can get credit, and the banks have to apply these rules to both Thai citizens and expats. The BOT rules require a minimum monthly salary of 15,000 baht (about US $500), although some banks raise this requirement to 50K or even 100k for expats. Applicants also need to produce their last three bank statements and last three pay stubs. Finally, expats need to provide certified copies of their passport, visa, and work permit.
Now, for those of us who are used to having our mailboxes filled almost daily with offers from Cap One, Citi, Chase, Discover, B of A, et al. addressed to us, our spouses, our children, and even our pets, the process of getting a card in Thailand was unreal.
I knew that I needed the work permit before I could apply and once I had it I called AmEx. The person with whom I spoke at AmEx explained to me that I needed to have worked in Thailand for six months before I could apply. I told him that I currently had a U.S. American Express card and that I have had one for many years. At that point, he decided that I could submit an application immediately, but he cautioned that I would have to provide my pay stubs from the last three months. I told him that I was being paid in the U.S. and that the pay stubs would be from America. That seemed to be a bit of a problem, and we finally agreed that I would simply send him a copy of my assignment letter. The last hurdle was the three months of bank statements. I explained that I only had one statement from my Thai bank since I had only been here for a few weeks but that I could get as many as he wanted from the U.S. He decided that the one from Thailand would be sufficient. (I give him credit for understanding the credibility and solvency of major U.S. banks!)
After about 30 minutes on the phone, the AmEx agent informed me that he would have a messenger bring an application package to our apartment the next day. He told me to call him back once I had the application and supporting documents complete and another messenger would come and pick them up.
Since my admin had already filled out an application for a Visa card from my local bank, I understood how I had to certify the documents. Rather than going to a notary like we would in the states, in Thailand I simply self-certified my passport, visa, assignment letter, and work permit. After making a copy of them, I printed “Certified True Copy” and typed my name on the copy leaving sufficient space to add my signature. I do not understand what assurance this provides to the credit card company, but it seems to be a standard and acceptable procedure here. I think that the forms are really an end in themselves and that the information content is truly secondary.
After about three weeks, I received a phone call from someone else at AmEx to verify the information that I provided. I verbally gave them my name, address, and a couple of other pieces of information, but nothing from my passport, visa, or work permit. I was told that if the application were approved, I would receive the cards in a week or so. One week later, a messenger brought the new cards to the apartment and I am now collecting AmEx miles on Thai Airlines.
A little call out to Theresa — she has become a real expert with her mortar and pestle. She crushes and mixes herbs, spices and god knows what else that she brings back from the local market. I think that these pieces are made of stone and there seems to be a real rhythm needed to use them correctly.
Speaking of things from the local market, Theresa came back with two very odd-looking fruits the other day. The first is called a rambutan, the second a longan.
The rambutan (ngaaw in Thai) has a red exterior that is covered with spiky, hairy-looking tentacles. (Scott, take a look at the pictures below and let me know whether this fruit reminds you of any of the girls whom you’ve dated?) Once you peel back the skin, you see a white, translucent fruit in which resides one large seed.
The longran (lumyai in Thai) has a shell-like skin that covers a translucent fruit with a small seed. Both fruits have a consistency and taste that are similar to grapes. I wonder if there is a universal rule that unfamiliar fruits taste like grapes, kind of like most unfamiliar meats — frog, snake, squirrel, gator, etc. — are always said to taste like chicken?
Next weekend, we will be visiting Northern Thailand. We will be staying in Chiang Rai and we will visit the Golden Triangle where poppy and opium production flourished into the 1990s. This area is the border between Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand and it is where the Mekong and Ruak rivers meet. We should have some great stories and beautiful photos.
Happy Mother’s Day and Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.