I JUST spent four hours today running around Brasilia to find a way of sending money to my partner in the Philippines.
With the proliferation of Western Union branches around the world, at least that is the case in the Middle East and Asia, one would think that sending $500 to Manila would not be too hard of a thing to do. Think again, not in Brazil.
Brazil does not have a tradition of sending many workers abroad, so I was not surprised to find that most Brazilians are not in the habit of sending money home from abroad on a regular basis. Nevertheless, in this electronic age of the Internet linking the most far-flung places in the world, I thought it shouldn’t be that hard to send money out of this country.
Unfortunately for me and others trying to send money out of the country, the state-owned Banco do Brasil has an exclusive monopoly over all Western Union business in Brazil. After visiting a branch, and waiting 20 minutes to speak to a customer service representative, I was told that only people with BB bank accounts could send money.
“What is this? In other countries Western Union is not like this!” I said to the customer service representative. “You just walk in with cash and send it off.”
This called for help from my Brazilian-American friend Camille, whom I knew had a BB account. A few days later, she dutifully accompanied me to her usual branch and we waited for 15 minutes before someone talked to us.
“Oh, you better go to our main branch downtown to do this,” the man told us. “It’s much faster. If you do it here it will take 3 days.”
So much for Western Union’s claim of their money transfers being ready to be paid out on the other end in only six seconds!
So off we went to the main branch. After getting yet another number to wait our turn, we finally find out that BB was a dead-end.
“You cannot send money abroad from a company account,” the woman bank employee told us. “Why don’t you try the money exchange place in Brasilia Shopping?”
Off we went again to the mall, only to find out that the money exchange does not offer Western Union. “Only Banco do Brasil can do Western Union,” a smiley woman tells us. “Why don’t you try this other money changer in one of the towers?”
Camille knew the way across the mall, so I followed here. After being photographed and having our ID card details jotted down, we were finally allowed into the tower. On the 14th floor, after a long and hot elevator ride up, we found the mysterious exchange outfit that indeed did have a money remittance service. Yeah!
After showing the man my ID and my partner’s details in the Philippines, he gave us the coup de grace: “What’s the passport number of the recipient?”
What the fuck?! I have my partner’s passport number, but it was at home 30 minutes away.
“Why do you need his passport number? Western Union doesn’t ask for it?”
“Sorry, that’s the way we operate,” said the friendly man who was helping us.
A few frantic calls to my friend in the Philippines yielded nothing. With the Philippines 11 hours ahead of Brazil, it was 1:30 in the morning and my friend was not answering his phone.
“We’ll just have to come back tomorrow,” I told the clerk.
And with that yet another maze of idiotic red tape claimed another victim in Brazil. According to a recent World Bank study Brazil ranks near the bottom of business-friendly countries. Here it takes a total of 18 steps to register a new business, while in top-ranked Singapore it takes only two steps.
With that I took Camille to the food court in the mall to have lunch, and promised myself to return the following day with the much needed passport number.