“Pay securely. Here, there, anywhere.” That’s the slogan currently on PayPal’s website, and one of the central promises for digital payments of all kinds. But so far, the promise isn’t accessible “anywhere.”
For instance: Nicaragua.
On the country’s Pacific coast, in a remote beach town, there is a Spanish school called Pie de Gigante. It draws an international crowd to its website. But its founder, Juan Delgado, says it has sometimes failed to convert them into real-world visitors, thanks to its website’s inability to let them pay online to reserve a space.
“Right now, we’re using a system that’s a little bit complicated,” he says. “We use a system of paying via Western Union or in cash.”
PayPal isn’t an option.
“In most of Latin America today, the only way you can take money out of your PayPal account is having a U.S. bank account,” says Arnoldo Reyes, head of financial services and business development for PayPal in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The exceptions have required the company to navigate local regluations and to partner directly with individual banks. It’s this kind of extra work that pushes companies like PayPal to focus first on bigger, wealthier markets. (Nicaragua is the second poorest country in all of Latin America, after Haiti.)
“I mean, you can’t take an Uber in Nicaragua,” says Reyes.
“We’re basically closed off,” says Marcella Chamorro, an entrepreneur who first ran into the payment problem when trying to create a kind of Nicaraguan Ticketmaster.
“I know a bunch of small business owners who need to find like a cousin in California who can open a bank account for them and then sell through PayPal to this bank account and then their aunt comes three months later to bring the cash,” she says. “It’s really complicated.”
It makes it harder for locals than for people like Chris James–a British ex-pat who runs the Hostal El Momento in Granada, Nicaragua. He has a local, Nicaraguan bank account for cash and credit cards. But he also has a U.S. bank account, which he uses for receiving PayPal payments.
“It’s easier to have both really: accounts here and out of the country as well,” he says. “That’s what I find, anyway.”
The situation has been changing. In the last few years, PayPal has partnered with local banks to make receiving payments possible in Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and—on Monday—the Dominican Republic. But as for Nicaragua, Reyes says while the country is on PayPal’s radar, the company couldn’t give any specific timeline.
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