An Expat Account of… ABITAB, An Efficient Method of Bill-paying
When I was a businessman in Canada, I paid my bills either directly in person at an office, such as the offices for utility companies, or by mailed check. Later, when the internet became commonplace, I found I could pay a number of bills online. Still, there were some payments that required traditional methods of payment. In Uruguay, there’s a different way to handle payments. It’s called Abitab, and it’s a one-stop shop for bill payment.
I guess it might seem a bit old-fashioned, but you pay most bills in Uruguay in person with cash (no checks) at your local Abitab. You just hand over your bills and your personal Abitab identification card. Bar codes and cards are scanned, you pay, you get a receipt, and you leave. It is really very simple and efficient.
Abitab offers payment collection services for utility companies and other services. For example, when we had some work done by a Montevideo-based architect, we were billed for each phase of work as it was completed. All we had to do was go to Abitab, give the architect’s Abitab number, and pay. No problems at all. Furthermore, with 435 offices in this small country, there is always an office nearby.
Abitab provides convenient services for business owners by providing the following transactions: tax collection and local taxes; social security contributions; collection of subscriptions and installments; credit card and loan payment; retirement, pensions, and salary payments; and transfers and money orders.
Abitab also offers other products such as lottery tickets, phone cards, live concert or event tickets, and related businesses such as travel agency services. Every time you use Abitab services you are rewarded with Abitab “family” loyalty points, which can be redeemed for products or special entertainment events.
For the previous three years, we have paid our property taxes and the annual licensing fee on our car at the local municipal offices. These have been painful experiences. These offices seem to be overstaffed, yet cannot, somehow, efficiently deal with the masses that appear each January trying to pay their taxes and fees. Each time, we have spent the better part of two days accomplishing our payments. For some reason, it never occurred to us that we could use Abitab for these payments as well.
This year, we took our receipts from last year to Abitab. They scanned the bar codes, which opened our municipal accounts, gave us the new tax and fee amounts required, and we paid. Wow! So much less painful. Why do all those other people stand in lines at the municipal offices? Maybe it is because most people cannot afford to pay all their taxes at once and pay in “quotas” – several small payments. Perhaps Abitab is not set up to handle these quota payments. I don’t know. I do know that we will never again face those lineups in the municipal offices.
In other countries, banks handle some of the services provided by Abitab. Here in Uruguay, banks did not seem to want any of this business, so Abitab, and a competing company called Red Pagos, filled the need. We think it is a great and efficient service, and there’s something real about going down to your local Abitab office where the staff recognize you and you might encounter friends who are also paying their bills. Sometimes it’s alright to be a little old-fashioned.