Monday, August 16, 2010

Costs of doing business

Ten rules of failure Expats make mistakes.  Sometimes it’s just that we take something for granted; other times we just don’t get it.  And sometimes, it’s just that we’re in a hurry and not really paying attention and, well, things happen.

My top eleven costly mistakes include:

  1. Locksmith – €10  Shortly after moving apartments, my landlord re-keyed the doors and we did a shuffle, taking keys off the ring, adding new ones on…in the end, my mailbox key disappeared.  The locksmith had to put a new bolt on the box, freeing my IND renewal application which I’d put there for safekeeping.
  2. Fortis – $25   My mother set me a check for my birthday, which I deposited in my bank account.  The bank charged exchange fees and processing fees that left me with less than $1 of the gift, then still took a month to credit my account.
  3. NS – €30   I was talked into paying an extra 30 euro for the “All-Europe” option when I bought my Rail Discount Card.  The clerk said that it would get me 25% off on travel across the Continent.  She neglected to mention that it only holds for travel originating or ending in the Netherlands.  Both the Belgians and Brits laughed at my pathetic OV-Kaart.  (Runner-up foolishness is letting the card expire, incurring a 2.50 euro fee for moving the cash balance from one card to another.)
  4. NorfolkLine – £40   A rush through the online ticketing process resulted in my buying a one-way ticket from Dover to Calais rather than the reverse trip.  It required an agent to correct the error, and a charge.  I arrived at the ferry dock to late to catch to boat anyway, and was moved onto a later, cheaper ferry.  “Do I get a refund?” I asked sweetly.  The young clerk got a big grin and said I’d made his day, because Under No Circumstances could he possibly… but it was funny to have been asked.
  5. Limburg Water Service – €70   I got a routine bill from the groundwater company, which I signed and deposited with my bank for transfer payment.  The bank wrote to say that the signature wasn’t correct, could I sign again?  I did, and was duly double-debited for the bill.  I complained to the bank, who called the water company, who said that since they had already spent the money, it could not be refunded.  The bank simply shrugged and said it was out of their hands.
  6. British Airways – £70  My own fault, I ran to catch a connection between Terminal 5 and Terminal 3 without realizing that I had to get my luggage and re-check it.  After a panoramic tour of Heathrow on the buses and two trips through customs, I arrived at the BA counter 5 minutes too late for the check-in.  Change fees were incurred: I’m still arguing with the flight insurance people about reimbursement. 
  7. ANWB – €100  I thought that if I didn’t pay the yearly  renewal for my roadside assistance card, the service would expire.  Instead, they sent the collection agency after me.  It was four months before I understood that the letters were a threat and not just an effort to win me back. Cost of doing business (
  8. Ryanair – £100  I mis-spelt my name as Hampoton during web booking.  But ‘Layed is played’ and Ryanair charged me to correct the error. (Runner-up for charging 10 euros at the airport for neglecting to print out my boarding pass before attempting to check in.)
  9. Italian Rental Cars – €200  Nobody does bait-and-switch like the airport rental folks.  I’ve been sold insurance I didn’t need, given a navigation system with city maps rather than country maps, and threatened with penalties for arriving at the counter an hour early (I sat and waited 60 minutes).  The most recent trick was to rent me a car in Milan without the Swiss border sticker, forcing me to buy one for the company as I passed through customs.
  10. Apartment rental agencies – One month’s rent   Dutch makelaar have their hand out at every turn, charging for finding an apartment, making payments each month, and checking out when leaving.  During my most recent move, the agent simply went on vacation without delegating the move, so there was no paperwork or keys available.  I refused to pay the agency fee; they tell me that they’ve met to discuss it and decided, among themselves, that they had ‘done their utmost’ and bear no blame or guilt.  I’m still arguing this one, too.
  11. Ministry of Justice – €1000+  Just east of Utrecht, along the A11, is an overhead sign pointing the way to Amsterdam.  Behind it is a small, unobtrusive speed camera.  For roughly 18 months, I commuted to Schiphol following the flow of traffic, never suspecting.  As the company closed down in Arnhem, HR came to my office with a summary of the fines I had incurred.  Not just a summary, but a full spreadsheet, with rows and columns detailing every offense.  We reached terms, but I can’t believe it took years for news of that camera to reach me. Or that I didn’t go to jail.

And one averted…

  • VGZ – €2000+  When I registered for health insurance, VGZ found out that I had been in the country for 2 1/2 years before making application.  Under the Universal Health Care laws, they are entitled to recover the back costs for what I would have paid in health insurance premiums.  They went after me with gusto.  However, I was actually here under an exemption granted to corporate expats, and was successful in explaining my position (with the help of my former employer).


Philly Girl Abroad said...

Brilliant! Love your writing style. Looking forward to reading more...

Dave Hampton said...

Many thanks -- I've enjoyed your stories as well and it sounds like you have a lot of fun together as a family. My kids were older and couldn't be coaxed over to the Netherands when I took the assignment. But now, having visited a few times, I think they'd jump at the chance.

Textual Healer said...

Some of those are so familiar. My worse one was arriving at the airport an hour late - having (in a hurry) misread the grey print, 8 point font, type on my reservation form. I had some protection as the company, British Midland, let me onto the next flight (two hours later) with no surcharge!

Dave Hampton said...

Delta gives me a break because I have tons of miles with them, but airlines are generally unsympathetic these days if I make a mistake. And baggage charges are starting to spread among airlines, not announced until I go to check in with a major like Alaska.