Friday, November 27, 2009

Paying bills in Cyprus

When we first moved to Cyprus, we assumed we would be able to set up direct debits from our bank account for payments such as our rent, utilities, insurance, and so on. As we did, at no cost, in the UK.

Alas, nothing is that simple in Cyprus. Our landlady said a cheque in the post was the best way to pay rent. So that was all right, even if it seemed a little old-fashioned.

We lived very close to the old electricity board building. The easiest - and commonest - method of paying those (bi-monthly) bills was to go there, in person, and write a cheque. No problem.

The telephone/internet office is in town. Those bills come once a month, but we weren't too far away, so once I got used to it, I would walk down there and write a cheque for that too.

Being Cyprus, cheque books are not free; we had to pay something like five Cyprus pounds for the privilege of having each one, but still. At least it worked.

The water board appeared to be the most forward-looking organisation, and suggested we set up a direct debit with them. So we did. We were a bit puzzled that our bank statements didn't seem to show anything being taken out for the water board... and after six months, a very apologetic man arrived, telling us we hadn't paid our (quarterly) bills. So, as the water board was also fairly near our house, we cancelled the direct debit and I started writing a cheque and going there too.

Then the electricity board moved, considerably further away. I suppose it was walking distance in the winter, but my sense of direction isn't very good. I could pay the bills at the bank, but they charged 50c (old money) each time, which seemed a bit much. So we had to remember to drive to the new electricity board to pay the bills.

Then, a few years ago, the Bank of Cyprus introduced online banking. It was a little clunky, but it worked. At last, I could pay all three utility bills online. It was quick, easy, and best of all, it worked.

Insurance? Oh, that's different again. We had to use a broker. A very friendly, pleasant man calls round regularly to collect money for house, contents and car insurances. A cheque is fine. The amounts seemed very reasonable when we first came here, but have increased somewhat over the years. But he sorts it all out, deals with the paperwork, and when Richard needed to claim something on the car insurance, the broker appeared and dealt with it.

Medical insurance used to work the same way, but the representative changed to someone who preferred an automated system. So we do actually now pay that (quarterly) by direct debit. We had to pay a setup fee, slightly to my horror, but it wasn't huge. And it appears to work.

Then there are the fees for car tax. annually. At first we paid them at a seedy place near the sea-front, which someone recommended. A broker was involved, who took an extra fee. Then we realised we could pay at the 'co-operative' bank, so for some years we did. Now we can pay car taxes online, using jccsmart. That works well.

And then there's the annual sewerage payment, and another bill that we've only had since owning our own house, from the municipality. Some kind of rates, we assume. They both have to be paid by the end of November. And they can both be paid at the co-operative bank, too.

I realised recently that there's a co-op much nearer than I had realised. So today, bills and cheque book in hand, I went there.

'No cheque', said the woman on the till.

'No cheque?' I said, in some surprise. 'But I've written cheques before... why not?"

She just shrugged, and repeated 'no cheque.'.

So I said I'd go and get some cash. I did so, returned, and paid the bills. They charged 50c per bill, but I think that's less than our own bank would have charged.

I came home, and decided to pay the phone/internet bill.

Unfortunately... the Bank of Cyprus have 'migrated' some customers, including me, to a new internet banking system. It won't work at all in Safari, my current favourite browser.

I couldn't get it to work in Firefox, either, the first few attempts. Then finally the login screen loaded correctly and I was in.

This 'new' system is horrible. It's not obvious how it works, and it's SO SLOW. Each page takes at least a minute to load. I finally managed to pay the CYTA bill - at least, I hope so - and then thought I'd look at the current transactions page, to check it had gone through.

I tried to get there before I started typing this post, about fifteen minutes ago.

Firefox is STILL 'transferring data....'.

I had thought that paying bills online at the bank's online system was straightforward and quick.

It would almost have been quicker to walk into town and back...

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