The Outsider's Insider

A Guide to Living in Yerevan

The Joy of Paying Your Utilities and Taxes in Yerevan – I am the Weirdo June 2, 2010

Filed under: Tim Straight,Uncategorized — outsidersinsider @ 7:10 am
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THIS POST WAS CONTRIBUTED BY MY GOOD FRIEND AND MOST EXPERIENCED YEREVAN EXPAT….TIMOTHY STRAIGHT

I have lived in Yerevan for nearly ten years. I think perhaps, maybe, hopefully, I have figured out how to pay my utilities and taxes, but well, I’m not quite sure… Now, mind you, I am the expat here, so all this is MY problem. I am not complaining. I just see an amusing story in all this.

UTILITIES

A list stating the electrical bill for each apartment is posted on a scrap of paper in the stairway during the first days of each month- for all the neighbors to see! I can just hear the neighbors all clucking assuredly ‘AAAHHH…he used 30.000 drams worth of electricity last month…he’s the one with the jacuzzi in his living room…weirdo.’

Electric Bill for Tim's Whole Building

My gas bill is read off each month and recorded dutifully on the gas company computer. They just don’t tell ME how much it is, thus potentially taking the numbers OTA (Out of Thin Air).

My water bill is based on a water meter in my apartment. Not once the past four years has anyone ever come to read it. So, I guess they are guessing and might be taking these numbers OTA, too.

Tim's Water Meter

My mobile phone bill is neatly sent to me as an SMS each month. Bravo…they get it.

Now, PAYING all these bills is another matter indeed. Until a couple of years ago, one had to go to any post office in the city and give them your land line number. They would bring all your bills up on the computer- electricity, gas, water, and land line phone. Not a bad system actually, except for the long lines of PWEs (People With Excuses) trying to get to the counter ahead of me (widow, uncle died in The Great War, doctor’s appointment in five minutes, whatever). Now, in my special case (remember, I’m the weirdo here), I have to give the land line number of the old, dead owner of my apartment, as I only have a mobile, no phone in the house. Thus, upon having batted down all the PWEs, I give them the telephone number I have never had (564488).  Staring at the screen, the kind woman behind the counter calmly asks ‘Are you Sergey Galstyan? I say ‘Yes, I am’. They never blink. Never. And I pay my bills, never knowing if they are simply OTAing, as I never ever get a bill, a meter reading, nothing.

Then a few years ago, a couple of companies started putting pay terminals in supermarkets, drugstores, and even on the street. You can pay your utilities through these. Fantastic! Use the blue ones, as the orange ones take a hefty commission. They generally work really well, and allow me to avoid going to the post office to deal with the PWEs.

Utility Bill Pay Machine

Howeeeeeeever, none of the machines recognize my gas subscription number, so it’s back to the post office to pay that one. This creates another problem.  If I have paid bills on the machine, the machines don’t give change. This means that when I pay 20.000 drams towards my 18.500 mobile phone bill, there is a 1500 dram credit on my account. The ladies at the post office have NEVER in their lives met someone who would pay extra on their bills (go ahead, say it…weirdo!) so they assume that I owe that 1500 drams and want me to pay it again. Thus, I have stopped using that wonderful, effective machine at the local supermarket and have gone back to dealing with the PWEs at the post office in order to pay my assumedly OTA utility bills. Go figure.

TAXES

I had lived in Yerevan for about eight years before I even knew there was real estate tax, car tax, etc. That’s because I was just supposed to KNOW that from yes, OTA….be my guest, this time with a roll of the eyes…WEIRDO!  Never in all my years here have I seen a written notice or received a telephone call about it. Perhaps poor, dead Sergey Galstyan is really wishing I would pay my taxes so that he might rest in peace?

Anyway, taxes are collected by the ZHEIK. And yes, it is as awful a place as the name would indicate. In my case, it is tucked away in a basement way far away from where I live, and is staffed by a bunch of really really really overdressed and really really really sour ladies. It is at the ZHEIK that you pay your real estate tax and your car tax, as far as I can understand(I am still not quite sure, but can’t quite bring myself to ask ‘Are there any other taxes you want me to pay?’ as that would bring on a chorus of, ‘YES, WEIRDO!’). I have actually taken a radical step and hired an assistant to deal with the decidedly overdressed and sour ladies. I simply can’t cope with them.

Now if you learn one word in Russian, learn ‘SHTRAF’. Yes, it’s a word, not an abbreviation, and it means penalty or punishment. That is what you have to pay if you don’t pay your OTA taxes. I, for the past four years, have been in a pitched battle with ZHEIK, refusing to pay SHTRAF. ‘How can I pay SHTRAF on a tax that I never knew existed?’ is my argument. But they have a rule, and they are not bending it. For them, I am a PWE.

I used to get really angry and frustrated about all this. But now, I simply find it amusing. I might just even pay my SHTRAF, who knows…. It is I who am the expat.   They all know and understand the system, and religiously implement and use it.  I am the weirdo, not them.

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8 Responses to “The Joy of Paying Your Utilities and Taxes in Yerevan – I am the Weirdo”

  1. I just want to THANK Tim for writing this! It was so much fun to collaborate, and I hope to do it again soon! Tim, you have been here the longest, and you have the best attitude. You’re the BEST!

  2. vach Says:

    Great writing Tim. I enjoyed it.
    I actually find it easier paying my bills in Yerevan. You don’t get any junk in your mail box (witch doesn’t even exist here), you don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to have a special box to sort your paid and unpaid bills. All you have to do is go to the post office anytime between the 10th- 24th of the month and pay them all at the same time. I have noticed that 12th- 16th are the days of big lines, but before and after that is tolerable even for my Armenian(line hating) standards. Also lot of the banks provide that service, so for all of you who don’t speak Armenian, that might be a better shot ( since some tellers in some banks do speak English). There has been an online system for several years now, but I haven’t tried that yet.

  3. Matt Ash Says:

    Tim, I can totally relate to your electric bill situation.

    The first month that Annie (my wife, for those who don’t know) and I saw our bill posted on the first floor of our building our energy consumption was twice as much as the next highest and four times as much as the third highest.

    We were so embarrassed, and confused as to how our neighbors could get by using so little electricity.

    The following month we could be found waiting as long as possible before turning on our heaters.

    “We can’t use the heaters! Our neighbors will think we’re decadent westerners!”

    Actually, this might be the answer to our energy consumption issues in the west – just some good old fashioned Armenian social pressure.

  4. Tigran Says:

    Dear Tim,

    Twenty First Century is already here:)

    You can start using http://www.arca.am by registering a virtual credit card using your credit card from an Armenian bank. This way you could pay all your bills from your home PC. You could later settle your credit card balance using on-line banking again from your home PC. As simple as that.

    I also hate PWEs, even though I am an Eastern Armenian (may be it comes from my law-abiding parents).

    On another note, you do not need to pay local taxes (property and vehicle) at the ZHEK (an old name for HOA/condominiums). You could get the bills at the Local community (Kentron or others) and pay at the post office branch located at the community building.

    OTAs can be controlled, as the utility companies are required by law to provide start and end of period meter readings: phone companies being the most user-friendly, gas and electricity being fairly user-friendly, while – you are right – water meter readings need to be controlled.

    In fact, it does take a lot of time to track and pay the bills. But you still can optimize the process.

    Oh, and you can overthrow those “overdressed and sour ladies”, as they work for a Home Owner Association that you are part of and have a voting power.

  5. Great outsiders insider indeed! Cant stop laughing!)).

    Reminded me the day when I laughed on your determination to cross the street using the crosswalk. Then you said you might be well succesful in openning a comedy show and making jokes of this sort: I usually stop at the red light. Ha Ha ha.

  6. Ruzi Says:

    “Staring at the screen, the kind woman behind the counter calmly asks ‘Are you Sergey Galstyan? I say ‘Yes, I am’. They never blink. Never.”
    Hahahaha, that was quite funny. We say “we would lough if that was not so sad”.
    Dear Tim, I understand your amuse as being a foreigner. yet it strange you haven’t get used to lifestyle since last 10 years. Anyway I have to say that I am totally agree with Tigran about online payment and I don’t think that it wouldn’t be convenient for you. As for bills and water/electricity meters etc. You’d better be a bit attentive. If you control them 1-2 times by calling the companies and asking clarifications you’ll see the change.

    However for my own apartment & mobile bills I pay at a bank by giving them my land line number and generally it takes up to 10-15 mins.


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