The first thing you will learn as soon as you start to engage in a bid of cross-border trade, be it traditional importing and exporting or something as novel as foreign currency trading, is that being Zimbabwean sucks. On one hand, you have international fintech companies that want nothing to do with you and on the other hand, you have a Zimbabwean government that is only interested in liberating you of your foreign currency and nothing else.
A country of financial lepers
If you are a Zimbabwean business, especially a small business, that wants to sell goods and services to international buyers there is no easy way to receive payments. Most popular gateway such as PayPal and Stripe are not available at your disposal. To this day Zimbabwean PayPal accounts will only allow you to send and not receive money. No clear explanation has been given as to why this is the case.
Skrill which was a favoured alternative to PayPal especially amongst Zimbabwe’s thriving, foreign currency trading community will be shutting down Zimbabwean accounts this month. No explanation was given except the usual platitudes and apologies. They follow the footsteps of others including Netteller.
For a while, Zimbabweans found refuge in bitcoin and they did well too. We had a thriving exchange in Golix and for a moment they looked like they were going to go places until one sultry morning the government woke up in a foul mood and put an end to it all by ordering banks to stop dealing with crypto-exchanges and everything just crumbled to dust.
FNB Non-resident account to the rescue
While it will not solve all the above problems, a South African Non-resident account, such as the ones offered by FNB can solve a number of them. The account does come with limitations but having an account domiciled in South Africa can open doors that would have otherwise been shut in your face had you tried to talk about Zimbabwean accounts.
Here are some things you can do with the FNB account:
- You can open a South African based Skrill account and withdraw your Skrill earnings to your FNB account
- You can receive Adsense earnings into that account
- Receive wire/international transfers from companies such as Wise into that account
- Make local payments and do online shopping in South Africa using their debit card
- Send Ewallet payments
- Do local transfers
- Make international transfers and payments
A very important restriction to note is that you cannot receive Rand payments into your account unless you can prove that there is a legitimate reason why you need to receive Rand payments e.g. you have a South African house you are renting out and need the tenants to deposit your money into that account.
How to open a FNB Non-Resident Account?
First you need the following documents:
- A Recent certified payslip or proof of income, you can use the bank account below instead
- Certified copy of passport
- Three months latest bank statements from your bank abroad.
- Proof of physical address aboard, not older than 3 months
Once you have these you need to physically go to an FNB branch to begin proceedings. This is a trivial process but there could be a snag. Some FNB branches may not be aware of the process or even that the account exists so you need to visit a big branch. If your application is accepted, you will need to make the initial deposit in Rand. Remember this is a USD account.
Things to bear in mind
If you think the RBZ and ZIMRA are strict, you have never met the South African Reserve Bank and SARS. You should never try to break the conditions of your account and always make sure your money is coming from a clear source of funds. Do not attempt to use the account for nefarious purposes such as evading tax or externalisation.
The account cannot receive local transfers or deposits. You cannot deposit money at an ATM into that account. It has to be funded from international sources with some of the above-outlined exceptions. The account cannot receive Rand deposits unless you get prior permission for this to happen. It’s basically an account for you to receive foreign payments into. You can however make local payments yourself e.g. pay DSTV or some local account.
The account is not cheap. It comes with monthly account fees of about R200 i.e. US$14. As I said not cheap. But if you do a lot of international business and want a clearing account to handle your international transactions without worrying about being ambushed by our unpredictable authorities, this is an account to have.
Again here is a disclaimer, the above advice is meant to help you grow your business and not stash money in some foreign account and hide it for unlawful purposes. FNB will freeze your account. They have done so in the past to other Zimbabweans and demanded that those with money in those accounts explain themselves after noticing suspicious activities.