Thursday, June 29, 2006

All's well that ends well

I was so impressed when I got an automated phone call from the insurance company earlier this week to inform me that my quarterly car insurance payment was due. (Up until now, I would get a call from the agent who processed the policy, and I would either pay it online [by transferring the money to the agent] or ask José to go in to the office and make the payment there.)

The phone company has recently started sending computerized calls a day before the phone bill expires, and again at the end of the grace period, when you're in danger of having the line cut off (I know THAT because my phone bill never arrived last month.) The automated calls are a great service, and I was glad to see the insurance company getting on board.

I asked José to go in and pay the insurance bill when he had a chance, since he's down that way every day anyway. He went in this morning, but was told that we had never made our April payment. I thought I had paid it online, but when I checked I found that that hadn't happened. Did I get the call and then forget about it? Did I not get the call? There's really no telling at this point, but what I could do was call José back (he was still at the insurance office) to ask if he had enough money on him to go ahead and pay both installments.

Well, it turns out he did, but is anything that simple? I suppose some things probably are, but not things that take place in fluorescent-lit government offices in Central America. (Yes, the insurance company is a government institution, and is a monopoly. Like the phone company. Like the ISP. No shopping around here.) It turns out that having missed the April payment resulted in the cancelation of the entire policy. Be nice if the agent or the insurance company would have clued me in about that, wouldn't it? Maybe things will be different now that they have a fancy computerized calling know, the system that called me three days ago to say that my regular installment was due by July 13. Right.

José passed his cell phone over to the lady at the desk and I asked her what I needed to do. She started listing the steps, most of which sounded like a pain in the neck but doable, until she got to "and then Alexander needs to come in and sign the application." Unfazed when I tell her that Alexander is out of the country, she says that whoever has his power of attorney can do it. Well, I say, I don't think he left one this time. (We both left one with José when we moved to the States years ago, but apparently these things have a half-life in Costa Rica; I'm not even sure there is such a thing as a permanent one here.) She's out of information then: It's Alex or his PoA. Or I can come in to the office and speak with the supervisor to see what else could be done. Fortunately, just before passing the phone back to José, she does allow as how the agent might have some other idea.

Wondering how long I've been driving without insurance and how long it's going to take to get this untangled and re-insure the car, I called the agent and explained the situation. First off, he said, is Alexander's wife available? Well, yes, that would be me. Okay, then there's no problem, he said, and you know what? He was right. One can insure one's spouse's vehicle, no additional signatures required. Well, wouldn't it be nice if the drone at the desk had known that?

Actually, I'm glad she didn't, because SHE was talking about inspections and signatures and photocopies, and I liked the agent's way better. You know what he needed me to do? He needed me to wait for him. I felt that was pretty reasonable. Three hours later, he drove up to my house, photographed the car from all four sides, took my credit card and gave me a form to sign.

Oh, and since this is a "new" policy, I wasn't charged for the missing quarterly payment. Oh, and since the car has now been insured for whatever-period-of-time with no accidents, he gave me a 5% discount on the new policy. Oh, and the policy was effective immediately - we'll meet on Monday for him to give me the formal paperwork, but until then I just carry the receipt he gave me.

Let's add Victor the insurance agent to the list of things I'm glad they have in Costa Rica now.


lisa June 30, 2006 11:13 AM  

If Jill knew Victor, she would celebrate him. And now, out of curiosity, how much does your insurance cost down there?

Jennifer June 30, 2006 12:44 PM  

It comes out to about $375 for the year. Like with Internet and phone service, there aren't a lot of service packages to choose from - there's a very minimal insurance that's required by law, and beyond that I think you can get either basic or full coverage. This is full, although we discovered earlier this year that they won't pay to tow a car that's over a certain age.

lisa July 01, 2006 9:17 AM  

Well ours, for 2 cars a truck and a motorcycle, is over $700 for six months. Ouch. But possibly we'll be down one truck and one motorcycle soon. And towing. I've been hearing (Clark Howard says) that a lot of insurance companies are treating towing like a claim, and they'll raise your rates. And report you to whatever thing they report you to that can make it harder to get new insurance if you want to switch, because it looks like you've had a claim. He says State Farm does it. We may drop our towing coverage, if it's that risky to use! We only pay a couple dollars for it, but still.

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