Banking On The Unnecessarily Complex Transit System Of Galicia

When you're staying off the beaten path like we are, you rely on the bus to get in and around. Buses in Galicia run mostly on time, are quite spacious, and generally serve our needs quite well. Hey, we're not in a hurry, right?

This should be worth its weight in gold.

This should be worth its weight in gold.

As cheap as the buses, they get a lot cheaper if you pick up a tarxeta metropolitana, a card that you "charge", saving you money, handling transfers, and doing all the other complex bookkeeping in the background. With the card, we're able to hop on and off buses without worrying (too much) about getting transfer slips. 

The first step is finding out where to buy the card. I couldn't find out any information about buying the cards on the official website, so I hit up the local tourism office. They responded quickly, indicating that I'd need to visit a local bank to buy the card.

A bank? Well... OK. Seems a little strange to me, but I'm not one to argue commerce customs. On Friday, we walked down to the bank, stood in line for 15 minutes, and were informed that no, in fact, I could not buy a card from the bank. They could refill the card, but to get the physical card in my hand, I'd need to call the company and they'd mail me one.

Not helpful. I can fake my way through a conversation in person, using broken Spanish, Google Translate, and a series of universal hand gestures. On the phone? No thanks.

So the following Saturday we made our way into Santiago. Our destination: The bus terminal, where surely the issuing authority had an office. They did, and it was staffed. Excellent! So I again made my request to purchase a bus card. To which I was given a single reply: Go to the bank.


Now I'm thinking that the person at the bank on Friday was trying to tell me that her branch didn't sell the cards, and that I'd need to call the bank's phone number to see which location near us did. So... fail on my part (again) for not learning the local language. Oh well. But now it's Saturday, the banks are closed, and I'm stuck waiting until Monday. Joy.

Monday arrives and we make our way back into Santiago, looking for the biggest branch we can find. Inside, I grab a number and wait in line. There are only five people in front of me waiting for tellers, so it should go quick. To makes sure I'm in the right place, I ask a nice lady at a desk off to the side. She confirms that yes, the tellers will be able to help me. Success is within reach.

45 minuts later...

Totally not kidding! As it turns out, banks in Spain -- at least Galicia -- do a hell of a lot more than banking. No one in front of me made a deposit. No one took out cash. They didn't get money orders, and no one was issues a cashiers check. I'm not sure what the hell they did, but none of it resembled banking.

We we finally made it to the front, a lovely woman helped us who spoke fluent and flawless English. It took her 15 minutes to get her computer to take our information. Surprisingly, it needed passport number, physical address, and even a taxpayer ID number.

Yes, for a bus pass. A bus pass.

Cripes, that was a lot of work. Sorry for anyone standing behind me in the bank. I had a bus to catch!