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International Money Transfers Are Tricky When You’re Not the 1%

International money transfers are tricky, says Bat-Bear

Dual citizenship can be tricky at times. “With great power come great responsibility”… and plenty of catch-22 situations because you belong to two places or more while being physically present in one only.

I came up with the following formula—take the level of administrative red tape you’re used to “back home” and multiply it by five, add the usual efficiency ratio and divide it by ten, then subtract convenience times two. Remember when you had to queue at that government office in your home country? Now you have to show up at the embassy, open on Monday mornings from 8:35 to 9:15 a.m. only (except on national holidays, local holidays and the week following a full moon). When it’s your turn, you may submit your request to someone who speaks your mother tongue but may or may not be able to provide a practical solution that doesn’t involve a round-trip flight to your place of birth.

Such is the life of millions of expats and dual citizens around the world.

Case in point, my last French ID card renewal took months. I had to book an appointment at the French embassy in Ottawa for fingerprinting, then the application was sent to France before being eventually mailed back to the embassy in Ottawa. It took so long I had Mark in the meantime—I remember going to pick up my card on a very, very cold day of February 2013 with a screaming baby.

Voting can also be a frustrating process. In April 2017, the French Consulate in Toronto suddenly advised me I had been removed from the voter register—that’s how I learned registration as a French national abroad is only valid for five years, a rather important detail not mentioned anywhere. When I reached out for an explanation and to find a way to vote in the (then) upcoming presidential elections, I was told I “no longer existed.” I had to bring an appeal before the High Court of Paris and I won… which meant I earned the right to lineup for hours to vote at the French embassy in Ottawa.

I gave up on going through the normal process to renew my French passport—it would have involved two trips to Toronto during consulate business hours. I eventually renewed it in Nantes, two summers ago, claiming I had moved back with my parents’ (a harmless lie, really, I am a French citizen, who cares where I live!).

Most recently, I finally managed to re-open a bank account in France. I tried for years without success—banks were always asking for certified letters from my Canadian financial institution, plus proof of address in France—until a piece of legislation changed and made the process easier.

Before leaving France in August 2018, I deposited €100 to my new French bank account. Once back in Canada, my plan was to transfer $100-$200 every month, so that I would have “pocket money” in euro for our next trip to France.

I was going to use PayPal—fees for international bank-to-bank money transfers are prohibitive, especially for such small amounts. I know, PayPal is a love-it-or-hate-it company, but I’ve never had any problems since I opened my account in 2004.

My initial idea was to connect my new French bank account to my existing PayPal account. It was supposed to work like this: Canadian checking account → PayPal → French bank account.

But PayPal isn’t as flexible as I thought. Each account is country specific, you can only add financial information for the country you have opened the account in. For PayPal, I’m Canadian with a Canadian bank account, so I can’t add a French account.

Never mind, I thought. I can outsmart PayPal, I can open a French PayPal account! The process would then work like this: Canadian checking account → Canadian PayPal account → French PayPal account → French bank account.

Except PayPal is smarter than me. I quickly realized it didn’t accept my French back account information because it’s registered to my Canadian address. It’s perfectly legal to have a French bank account and being a resident of Canada, but PayPal doesn’t care.

Eventually, I resorted to the most unlikely, yet most practical solution—I “hired” my sister. No, she doesn’t work in finance, she’s an actress who lives in a chambre de bonne in Paris with her cat, among other French and Parisian clichés. I called her, explained the issue and asked for her help. I truly hope some kind of anti-money laundering and financial crimes police was listening in on our conversation to see how ridiculous the situation was. I mean, I just want to transfer money from myself to myself!

Between suburbia, Ottawa, and Barbès, Paris, we devised a plan. I would send her money through PayPal—she has an account, I bailed her out before…—, then she would withdraw it and initiate a transfer between her French bank and my French bank. Since we use the same financial institution, there are no fees—yay!

Yes, I pay my sister for the service. I’m not a monster. She deserves the money more than any bank.

But seriously, how can all these rich people hide money in offshore accounts and effortlessly transfer millions of dollars to Switzerland, Panama or Belize? I can’t even move around a couple of very legal, hard-earned hundred dollars between France and Canada!

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