x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

On the Money: How to get a debit card in just a few dozen short months

Whoever said patience was a virtue didn't have to wait three years to receive their first debit card in the UAE.

Gary Clement for The National (w)
Gary Clement for The National (w)

I'd like to think that I'm a fairly patient person.

I stand in queues and wait for my turn. I stop at pedestrian crossings, despite the impatient beeping of horns by the drivers in cars behind me.

I hold my breath and think Zen when my patience wears thin for the most inane reasons, such as trying to deal (politely, of course) with customer-service staff at banks, phone companies and cable TV providers. And we all know just how difficult that can be.

But whoever said patience was a virtue obviously didn't have to wait three years to receive their first debit card in the UAE.

There's nothing worse than running out of cash. And this happens to me all the time here, which is not a good look for the Personal Finance editor, who is supposed to be on top of everything when it comes to, ahem, her personal finances.

But even the best of us get waylaid by unexpected costs and other incidentals, which seem to crop up on a daily basis here. At least for me.

I'm sure many of you know the drill: without a debit card, you have to take out a certain amount of cash every week to keep you clipping along until the next time you get to the ATM, which, in my case, is usually another seven or so days away thanks to the lack of cash machines in convenient locations around the city.

Come Sunday morning, you've forgotten to take into account a host of financial responsibilities, such as the guy who washes your car daily and doesn't accept Visa or MasterCard. Cash is king in his world.

Unfortunately, he's washing a car owned by a woman who is constantly running out of the stuff that makes the world go around. Including his.

Then there's the guy who sweeps our front courtyard and waters the garden - when he feels like it or is not holiday. Which probably explains why the plants outside my front window are dead.

He's not employed by me, but by my landlord, so he does receive a salary. But he also insists on an extra Dh50 a month from each tenant in our building.

The last time I saw him, he was heading off on yet another holiday with my latest Dh200 instalment (as usual, I had paid him for the work he wouldn't be doing; in Australia, that's called holiday loading, a quirky salary bonus of 17.5 per cent that an employee receives when they go on holiday - seriously) tucked away in his back pocket.

At least I now know why he goes away so much.

A few days later, his replacement turned up. So I'm also paying him, creating an odd situation of double-dipping, which, as George Costanza of Seinfeld fame once discovered, is forbidden in polite company. But try explaining that to the replacement.

Add in the tips I give the petrol jockeys who fill up my car, clean my windscreen and put air in my tyres, the water-delivery man who operates strictly on a cash-on-delivery basis (plus tip, of course) and it all adds up, not to mention the cash for groceries and the one or two birthday presents I have to fork out for almost every week these days.

Back in the days when I had a debit card, I never ran out of cash. In fact, I barely used it. But then again, I didn't have to dole out so much of it to the people who make my life easier and who line up at my door on a weekly basis only to hear those dreaded words they have come to associate with me: "Sorry, guys. No time to get cash today."

But all that is set to change now that I've finally been catapulted into the 21st century, even though debit cards have been widely used around the world for the past 20 years.

When I arrived in the UAE three years ago and opened an account, my bank didn't offer them. So I had no choice but to rearrange my mindset: pre-planning and staying organised when it comes to money. Not always an easy task in this busy world, more so when I had always taken debit cards for granted not so long ago.

But suddenly, I find that cash is no longer king in my world. Now, I just have to convince everybody else that Visa payWave is the way of the future. For them, their businesses - and my sanity.