Turkmenistan: people unable to use bank cards abroad

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ASHGABAT (TCA) — Citizens of Turkmenistan staying abroad have failed to obtain cash, pay for purchases or transfer funds from their bank cards, the independent foreign-based news website Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported on March 7.

The website cited a card holder as saying that the bank card turned out to be absolutely useless overseas although pursuant to the latest official reports, a maximum of $50 dollars in cash a day can be officially withdrawn from an account, or cash-free payments of no more than $200 a day can be made.

It was impossible to withdraw cash even in local currency in Turkmenistan as the bank card was apparently blocked by the bank.

Vnesheconombank staff said that starting 1 March all cards with over 2000 manats on the account were blocked. In order to unblock the bank card, card holders are now required to present an international travel passport with the dates of exit from and entry to Turkmenistan which should coincide with the dates when a card holder tried to make transactions.

If some purchases were made, a card holder is obliged to present receipts for services or merchandise purchased abroad to the bank.

A bank card can be unblocked only in Vnesheconombank office in Ashgabat, which creates additional difficulty for residents of the country’s regions.

Newly-imposed requirements resulted in huge queues which are being formed in front of the banks.

It appears that new restrictions are related to the fact that the country’s residents travelling overseas took abroad several cards owned by other people to withdraw cash using the bank exchange rate. They charged a service fee of 5 to 10% of the amount they withdrew from accounts.

The official dollar exchange rate in Turkmenistan amounts to 3.5 manats whereas at the black markets US dollar is now sold at about 12-13 manats.

Radio Azatlyk has previously reported that starting from 1 March Turkmen banks had suspended all VISA cards transactions.

That was followed by an immediate response of VISA representatives that denied the information on suspended bank card transactions.

“Visa continues to process transactions and provide services to all partner banks in Turkmenistan on a regular mode. We have not ceased rendering servicing to Turkmen banks and are working in close cooperation with partner banks, retail and service outlets and other market players with a view of ensuring stable performance of the payment system at large,” a letter signed by VISA CEO for Central Asia Galym Tabyldiev said.

Turkmenistan is currently experiencing an economic downturn and a shortage of foreign currency due to decreasing gas-export revenues.

Sergey Kwan

TCA