Spain Is A Wonderful Place To Live But
I love Spain, I love living here, I love speaking Spanish with the locals, I love so much about it and, for now at least, I can't see myself living anywhere else. But nothing in life is ideal, nothing always works as you want it and the same can definitely be said for me and my most recent electricity bill from Spain's main electricity company, Iberdrola.
Having overdone it on the air-conditioning in the summer, I owed the princely sum of 225,28 Euros which normally - and this is for sure the best way when it works - is paid by direct debit every 2 months. Nothing wrong with that, but where it goes wrong is when, for seemingly unknown and sometimes mysterious reasons, your bill just doesn't get paid.
Having no funds in your account is the first surefire way to start your own 'mission impossible' with the Spanish banking system. Alternatively, elect NOT to pay by direct debit in the first place and you could be in for a regular adventure every 2 or 3 months, unless of course you know the system.
Well, I know the system. At least I thought I did. I've lived here for 5 years, I speak Spanish after all and surely there can't be too much difficulty in paying the old electric light man. To top it all, I even had enough money in my bank account, but alas I received a polite reminder from Iberdrola on 3rd November saying that had been unable to collect the due funds and asked me to pay the overdue sum prior to the 2 January otherwise I'd be cut-off!
Fortunately, I'd been lucky! I actually received the reminder. Too many of our clients complain they never see their bills and only know about it when they receive their bank statements. The lesson of this story is that if you are living on a new development or urbanisation or an area where they only deliver to 'buzones' (a 'buzon' is your own dedicated letterbox, usually situated somewhere near your property), ensure that you have given the correct address to the public utility companies. Better still, don't give them that address; have your mail delivered to a business address or your own private 'buzon' at your local post-office or one of the postal service shops that seem to be appearing all over these days. It will cost you a few euros for the monthly hire but at least you know you'll receive your mail and your bills on time. Many assume that in Spain, the postal service is at least as efficient as in the UK. Trust me, it isn't. In the Northern Costa Blanca, there is not a daily postal service to every area. It is probably fair to say that the postman will deliver when he has 'enough' mail for a given area or, worse still, when he feels like it.
So I trekked along to Bancaja with my outstanding bill and my 225.28 Euros. It even had one of those nice bar codes on the bottom which I assumed the cashier could scan through her computer, enabling her pick up my details and happily pay my bill. On examination I was greeted, however, with that typical negative shake of the head and the clenched-lip (where one's lips almost disappear within) expression so typical of Spanish people when they know they don't have to take responsibility:
'Perdona, no puedo pagarla' (I'm sorry but I can't pay it!)
Pointing to the nearby cash machine, the quite delightfully-looking cashier suggested I pay using that. That's what the bar-code was for! Just put in your PIN, opt to pay a bill and scan your bill. Great idea, except I didn't have a cash card for Bancaja anymore. Reading the small-print on the bill she said they can't pay Iberdrola bills - remember this is Spain's largest electricity company which practically supplies everyone - unless it's by direct debit. So, with my bill, my money and no cash card I was told to go to an affiliated bank to pay.
Summoning up the energy to continue my adventure, next stop was the bank BBVA. Excellent! A branch is located only 2 minutes walk from my office so I wandered down, negotiated the electronic doors and waited in the queue. Not having much confidence in the outcome, I turned to a passing clerk and asked if I could pay the bill I was waving in my hand at this branch. Yet again, and it's surprising how they all do it, another tightly clenched-lip expression accompanied by the familiar shake of the head and a sigh so typical of a smoker inhaling his final drag:
'Si puedes, pero no hoy!' (Yes you can, but not today!)
What? Not today! I was directed to a polite sign on the cash-desk the gist of which read that bills such as mine can only be paid between the 10th and 20th of each month between the hours of 10am and 12pm! It was the 5th and 1pm! And the queue was so long I wasn't sticking around long enough to argue the point.
For a week, my bill sat purposefully on my office desk at home. And I sat there every day purposefully wanting to pay it. I could call Iberdrola and ask them to attempt to retake the funds from account but thought better of it. They even have a website these days, but I didn't think you can pay bills through it just yet.
Today, I woke up and I decided I was going to pay my electricity bill. And so, it was off to Barclays. I know all the staff there, we have an excellent relationship and surely they would be able to help me. The cashier optimistically took my bill and started tapping her keyboard. I put my cash in the little tray beneath the security panel. And then, disaster, she called the manager! Tap, tap, tap, an empty look, and another apology:
'Perdona, pero no podemos pagarla aqui' (Sorry, but we can't pay it here)
They recommended I go to Bancaja, where I'd been at my first attempt. The girl examined the bill and confirmed that because the payment had been returned unpaid by Bancaja in the first place, I should go there. And so I did! I handed over my bill, waved a few notes, and was told the same. Pay using the machine in the corner. But I didn't have a card, I don't want a card, I just want to pay my bill!!
Clearly understanding my frustration, they recommended I head to Banco Popular or Banco Santander. 'Seguro' (for sure) she said, you can pay it there and 30 seconds later I'm standing in the branch of Banco Santander.
In branches of Banco Santander, it's noticeably red. Something to do with their marketing literature, corporate identity and all that, but would the girl behind the counter acknowledge my debt and obligingly accept my money? By this time, every time I entered a bank I found myself recounting stories of expeditions goneby. But this time, things were different. A knowing smile, perhaps? Or was I just convincing myself? No! Well, she wasn't quite as pretty as the others, but she knew her job.
Yes, I actually paid my electricity bill. Today is the 12 December and I did it.
For all those moving to Spain, living in Spain, buying in Spain or for whatever reason may indeed end up in Spain, the lessons of the story are as follows:
(1) do not give your actual address as your postal address unless you know you get a regular delivery.
(2) do find yourself a business address or get your own postbox at your local post office or a postal services provider.
(3) do ensure that your utility companies, telephone/internet service providers have the right address.
(4) do quote your NIE numbers on application.
(5) do ensure you have enough money in your bank account (maybe more than you think you need)
(6) do ensure you have a cash card for your bank account
(7) and if you can't do some or any of the above, at least make sure you speak Spanish!
You'll need it!
Related Tags: property, real estate, home, spanish, banks, living, spain, bills, villa, buying, problems, languages
Chris Hawkins is Managing Director of Luxury Villas International SL based in Costa Blanca, Spain
Spanish Property - Luxury Spanish Villas
Villas in Spain - La Cala in Javea
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