This one gets messy. After six months of living in Cape Town, one job offer, and countless hour long calls to Bank of America because they still somehow didn’t understand that I was in South Africa, I decided it was time to take the plunge into the deep dark world that is the South African banking scene.
I picked my bank, showed up with my paperwork, and set out to open my account. To open up my account, I needed my passport containing my current visa, proof of residency (this time it was a signed lease after making absolutely sure my name was listed on my second apartment’s lease) my job offer and contract, and three months of bank statements from my previous bank. The account was set up, and I was told I was given a checking account, which I later found out wasn’t exactly true.
Because my visa was filled in as a Visitor’s Visa, endorsed to reside with my life partner at work at my job, and NOT a work permit or a temporary resident permit, I was given a savings account with a debit card. If you plan to open up a bank account in SA, do all you can to confirm that this account is a real checking account and not a savings account. I only discovered all of this 4 months after I opened the account when I was applying for a credit card.
My credit card application was rejected based on the grounds that I had no credit. “How can I get credit without a credit card?” I asked… “Not easily” the bank teller told me. The best way is to start a cell phone contract – which is another can of worms to be opened later – other ways might include gym membership or any subscription that draws money from your account on a monthly basis. But it was reiterated that a cell phone contract is the best way to build credit. It was mentioned that a letter from Bank of America might help, but at that point I couldn’t imagine spending another hour of my life on a long distance call with someone who thinks South Africa is a state. No, really.
From there I gave up on the credit card idea. I looked into a few other options, a Virgin Money credit card, and other banks, but all had the same requirements. If you weren’t an SA citizen, you needed existing credit. Quite a miserable cycle for my particular situation. I’m in the process of building my South African credit score now, but we’ll see where this goes.