|Picture Courtesy: Brand Bhutan Logo and Brand Identity Design for Bhutan by FutureBrand|
The reason why Karma Kora t-shirts is still not available for people outside Bhutan to purchase the t-shirts online is because I could not find a way to have customers make payment online like any other e-commerce store.
As of today, the only way for someone from Bhutan to receive money from another country is through bank to bank wire transfer or through Western Union (through Bhutan Post). One can create a Paypal account and send money but Paypal does not allow accounts from Bhutan to receive money.
I am also aware that almost every tourist finds it very difficult and at times, a nightmare to wire transfer their tour payment to a tour operator’s account in Bhutan.
First, bank to bank wire transfer is more or less an obsolete method and people have no idea anymore on how to send money via bank to bank transfer. Second, in order to transfer money to an account in Bhutan, it requires two SWIFT codes, one for the correspondent bank (an international bank with whom our bank has an account with) and one for the bank in Bhutan. This system of two SWIFT codes really confuses people. In case you are new to the travel business and your client says that they are not provided with two spaces to fill up two SWIFT codes, from what the banks in Bhutan told me, the most important SWIFT code is that of your local banks SWIFT Code: BNBTBTBT for Bhutan National Bank and BHUBBTBT for Bank of Bhutan.
With these problems in mind, I have always been on the lookout to find a better and easier way to do business – to sell goods and services online to the international market. Given the opportunity, I am sure there are a lot of people like me in Bhutan who has ideas to sell goods and services to the international market. Knowing that such limitations are stopping us from progressing in life, I felt the need to write this blog and share what I have just discovered.
Recently I came across a website called Payoneer and Payoneer may be your answer to make it easy for you to collect tour payments from tourist and for entrepreneurs to sell their products and services to the international market. I have already done a test with the service Payoneer provides and it worked out well. I have received payments from tourists through Payoneer and at a click of a few buttons (from Payoneer account), I got the US Dollars/Euros transferred it to a tour operator's account with Bhutan National Bank and then transferred it to the tour operator's account maintained with the Tourism Council Of Bhutan.
So what kind of service does Payoneer provide? Any individual or business entity can create an account with Payoneer. After Payoneer accepts your registration, Payoneer creates three bank accounts for you in several countries such as a US dollar account in a bank in USA, a Euro account in a bank in Germany, a British Pound account in a bank in Great Britain. These three accounts come as default on registering with Payoneer. You also have the option to add more currency accounts such as Japanese Yen account in a bank in Japan, Australian dollar account in a bank in Australia etc.
In order to receive money from a certain country (say USA), all you need to do is send the your account details of your American bank and it becomes easy for people in USA to transfer money to that account. There is no need to send two SWIFT codes which confuse people. It takes two to three days for the money to reach your account and Payoneer informs you as soon as the money is deposited in your dollar account. From your Payoneer dashboard you can then transfer it to your bank in Bhutan at a click of a few buttons. It takes another two to three days for the money to reach your bank in Bhutan. This also means you do not have to follow up with the Bhutan bank everyday to check if the payment has reached your bank. For transfer charges and Payoneer service charges, please visit the website and see if it is realistic for you. You also have the option to keep the money in the Payoneer accounts and make payments to other Payoneer users through your various currency accounts. This service is free. Payoneer also offers you with the option to apply for a MasterCard, which can be used like any other credit card.
Once you receive an equivalent of US$ 5000, Payoneer then allows you to send payment requests through their website and after you unlock this service, you do not have to send account details to people in order for them to transfer or deposit money. The payment request goes as an email and the one paying can make the payment online, using their credit/debit cards. Do note that they do not offer this service to all kinds of businesses.
The above mentioned service may be more relevant for tour operators and hotels in Bhutan. For individual and entrepreneurs, Payoneer allows you to easily partner up with e-commerce stores and most big online businesses such as AirBNB, Amazon, Shopify, Indigogo, KickStarter, etc.
I can now use Shopify’s service to create an e-commerce store and make it very convenient for people from all over the world to make an instant purchase using their computer or their mobile phone. Other wise people will have to send the money through Western Union or make a bank to bank to bank transfer.
Do note that when you register with Payoneer, they will ask you to submit your bank account details (in Bhutan) and documents such as identity documents, business license etc. Also, in the beginning, you will be made to justify and reason out why you received the payment and ask you to send them copies of invoices and other relevant documents. This may not apply for small amounts.
Now this may not be seen as something positive by the banks in Bhutan as it allows people to bypass the services they provide in receiving and sending money. The way I see it, for tour operators (who the ones who receive the most foreign currencies), the money has to eventually be routed through the travel agency’s account with the local bank here so that the money goes into the Tour Operator’s account with TCB. If the services provided by Payoneer make it cheap and eaiser to make their tour payment, I think the travel industry in Bhutan benefits out of it and we all know that the travel industry is a very important foreign currency generator for the country. I only paid about US$ 50 as transfer and service charge to receive payment in my Payoneer account and then to transfer/withdraw it to the account maintained with a bank in the Bhutan. This fee will vary according to transaction amount.
As for entrepreneurs and individuals, if someone becomes a success story and is able sell services and products which are worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars and more, I am sure it’s easy to identify the business and make the business declare it's tax. I think such a platform creates opportunity for people to earn foreign currency and this is good for the economy. If individuals are able to earn a few hundred or thousand dollars a year by using such a platform, let them survive, let them feed their family and feel useful.
Having said that, do read their terms and conditions carefully while signing up for Payoneer and also know about their service charges before you start using their services.
If you too think that Payoneer can help you ease your business or start a new business, you can sign up using this link- you and I will each receive 25 dollars. Registration is totally free and if you use the link below to register, you can earn 25 dollars.
Without involving a second party, you can now seek fund to kick start your business or your creative pursuits using Indigogo or KickStarter or sell your fashion designs on Shopify or sell your extra rooms on AirBNB or TripAdvisor.
This will also benefit travel guides as well. I know of tourists who wants to tip their guide more after they get back home but are discouraged by the fact that it is not easy to send money to Bhutan.