A large part of our work here for the first few months is learning everything we can about the new country we live in. At times this is fun and includes trying new foods and seeing new sights. At other times our cultural acquisition lessons are less than thrilling. This is our story of one of the latter…
Last week on Tuesday we took off on a bus for Iquique (Ee-kee-kay), a city that is five hours to the south of Arica. In this city there is a place called Zofri, which stands for Zona Franca de Iquique, which is a large duty free zone. We went there because it is the best place to buy used cars without import taxes.
We knew that the process was unlike anything we’ve ever had to do before. In this area there are a large amount of car importers. To buy a car, you go from car lot to car lot, looking at the cars, asking how much they cost, and then asking how low the person is willing to go. You then move on, even if you really like what you see; there could always be a better car just around the corner.
Then, after you’ve seen all you can, you decide which one you like and you try to work the price down as much as you can. After our tour of the car lots, we decided on a 2005 Hyundai Terracan. It is a 4X4 diesel SUV with less than 25,000 kilometers.
And this is where it gets interesting.
After our partners haggled the price for us, we went to pay. Since we are temporary residents here we cannot have local bank accounts, and taking money out of ATMs can get expensive at $5 per transaction and a low daily withdrawal amount. It’s much easier and cheaper if we just use our debit card to buy the things we need. Before we went we asked if credit cards would be accepted at the car lots and we were told that they were. Sadly they were not.
What do we do? We have chosen the car we want, but it would take about a month to take out all the money necessary to pay in cash. The people asked us if a transfer is possible, and we said it was, but it was after 7:00 here, meaning it was after 5:00 in the US and all banks are closed. So it would have to wait until the next day. We paid a token down payment and left.
The next day we waited until about 10:30 to make sure our bank is open, and we called about a transfer. They said that it was possible but they would have to verify that I wasn’t a scam by using the phone number on file. I thanked them, and then quickly called my mother so that she could verify using their home phone since it is the official phone number.
Then we waited, and waited, and waited.
That was the theme of the week. A one day trip turned into almost an entire week. Each day began with a trip to Zofri to ask if the transfer had come through then ended with disappointment as we went back to our friends apartment without a car.
By Friday we had given up hope. We realized that we would be there until at least Monday. Then a surprise phone call at about 5:30 told us the money had come through, we could get the car immediately. We rushed to the car lot, and when we got there everything was closing. We found the owner and asked what was going on: why is everyone gone? The reason? There was a soccer game, and everyone wanted to see it!
At that point he rushed to find one worker who was still there to finalize our paperwork, who then had to lead us to customs, which he did very quickly. At customs the paperwork went quicker than we could believe, and we were done at a dizzying speed; everyone had to see Chile play.
What began as a long waiting process ended in a whirlwind of activity. Now, we have a car, and again we are waiting. This time it is for an inspection that cannot be done until December 6. I wonder if the rest of the registration process will be quicker than the inspection. I guess I can only pray for a soccer game.