An India-Singapore Financial tragedy 1

I have made quite a few gargantuan errors in my short life already, but nothing tops the episode early September 2012.

So, I took up this job offer in Singapore, and moved in on the 1st of September, a saturday. I knew I had to rent out a house or a room. I knew I had to pay upfront a month’s deposit and a month’s rent, on top of  utilities deposit, altogether rounding to an exorbitant 3000 SGD. And I also had about 2 lakh INR in my HDFC bank in India. Any sensible man would have withdrawn the money from India, travelled to Singapore, and then exchanged it for a minimal loss in forex values. After all, airline regulations allow you to carry upto 5 lakh rupees or 5000 SGD. But, I didn’t.

The streetsmart side of me, told the cautious side of me these golden words:

you carry all that liquid cash on you, and it will be spent before you open and shut your eyes. So, just leave it in your bank account, and withdraw from any visa ATM in Singapore“.

And the cautious side of me gave in, without an inch of resistance.

With this brilliant financial plan on standby, I was all set to search for a place when I landed in Singapore. And also found a master room, fully furnished and no owner-stay, on the very first day itself for SGD 1500 a month. A little expensive, since it was for two, but not a big deal since I can find a partner in due course. I just had to cough up a sum of 3300 sgd, covering the deposits, advance rent, and admin fees, and I was good to go. So, I took to the nearest OCBC atm, and tried to withdraw the money. What followed was a series of blunders and screw-ups.

First, I came to the understanding that I could not withdraw more than 100sgd in one transaction, when I tried using my HDFC card. Not a show-spoiler, I thought, and continued to make multiple withdrawals of 50 bucks each. It was going good, until I reached about 500 dollars. And then, I got my first panic attack.


How could I forget that HDFC had a daily withdrawal limit???


Since I had already moved in, I called the owner to explain my situation, and if I could have an extension on the payment date. But he was in dire requirement of the money for some personal needs, and in fact told me to try western union so I can get the whole amount.

That was a reasonably good idea for me, although I was going to loose some money in remittance charges. So, again without thinking or researching enough, I transfered all the money in my HDFC account to my mom’s account in india, and asked her to western union that amount to me. Since all of the above happened on a sunday, I had to wait one more day to find out some more critical information.

On Monday, I had forgotten about the while episode, because I was just supposed to go collect the money from western union in the evening. But as soon as business hours in India started, I got a call from my mom with the news. Western union does not have outward remittance from India to Singapore!

I knew that information had to be wrong, because I know a lot of Indians who were using western union for money transactions between India and Singapore. So, I went to the nearest western union outlet in Chinatown to confirm this. And as you might have expected, I was wrong again. Western union sites allow you to make outward remittances from singapore to india. But the opposite is definitely not possible. Some kind of financial regulation, the sympathetic WU staff informed me.

At this point, I was on a high panic mode already. I had money which I couldn’t use, and I had to pay my landlord within the day. As I stood stupidly smoking outside the western union outlet, my mind raced through all possible solutions. For a second, I even thought about using the illegal hundi transfer system. Nope, too much of hassle and headaches.

That was when another brain stroke hit me out of the blue. Singapore may not accept inward remittance from India, but what about other countries? Like Philipines, where I have practically lived for the last 3 years. And the WU staff concurred. “Can can”, she told me in the Singaporean English which I had already become acquainted with by this point.

Then began a frantic series of calls to all my friends in the Philipines, or those whom I thought would be able to make an urgent payment of 3500SGD (which is a lot of money for somebody to carry in cash) while I paid them through a transfer from India. I had reached a point where I no longer cared to bother about the losses in remittance charges and forex rates.

But there was no one I could get from the Philippines to transfer money to me, since it was a large amount. So, Philippines was out of the picture, and I started to check on other countries. Was browsing through facebook, and saw the profile of one of my friends, whose father, I knew was in Oman.

To my relief, she said yes to the arrangement, and her father had enough money with him to send as well. Without even thinking again, I immediately called up my mother to put the money in my friends account, which she did straight away. And my friend’s father proceeded to a western union so he could help out a troubled NRI.

This time, my friend was the one who called me with the bad news. There was indeed money transfer facility from Oman to singapore, but there was also a daily limit of 1000 SGD!!! I had to either find some one else in singapore to whom the remaining money could be sent, or the money will have to be sent over 3 days.

Crestfallen, I collected the first day instalment of 1000 SGD, and then called my house broker. I got a hearing, of course, but finally he accepted that the payment be made over 3 days. I was to meet him at night near my place, so I could give him the money. And for the next 2 days, I had to make a trip to chinatown to collect the money, and then return to Eunos to give the money to my landlord. Needless to say, the whole ordeal left me feeling so stupid on not thinking of carrying cash with me when I travel.




About Abhi Surendran

Abhi quit his corporate job, and decided to immerse himself in travels, photography, occasional periods of bankruptcy, and copious amounts of insanity. He is currently working on a book of his experiences, and a dream road trip through South Asia. Both in a haphazard fashion. He blogs at Iamnothome and you can also catch him at times on Facebook and twitter.

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