The Expat Game in Reverse (Canceling Services)

December 10, 2012

So I've finally had to confront the inevitable reality of our family soon leaving South Africa when faced with the necessity of canceling a whole bunch of services. Which, you'll remember, I so painstakingly signed up for almost three years ago. It was like reliving those early days in reverse.

Thankfully, canceling isn't nearly as laborious as signing up. No one asks you for passport copies or lease agreements, for one. And most of it can be done over the phone or via email, or even online.

But even canceling things is not without its pitfalls here in South Africa. For instance, you could once again run into the problem that you're only the spouse and therefore not allowed to cancel. So one piece of advice upfront: If your spouse leaves before you do to take on a  new assignment halfway around the world, it might be a good idea to get a bunch of his or her passport copies certified in advance (any police station will do it), or, even better, to transfer account privileges to you, just for the purpose of canceling. I'm sure the latter would leave you grumbling to no end that you didn't think of that sooner, like for all those times you've called up Telkom at month-end to buy extra gigabytes because invariably you've gone over your cap, and being told you're not privileged to fashion such transactions.

Most services have a one-month cancellation policy. So as long as you cancel a month in advance, there is no penalty. Or you might even be able to cancel anytime during the month leading up to departure, as long as it's before the billing is done.

Just in case you're ever in this situation, here is my list of services to cancel. Maybe you'll want to earmark this for future reference.

  1. Electricity (Eskom)
  2. Water/garbage (City of Joburg)
  3. Cable TV (Multichoice)
  4. Insurance (Standard Bank)
  5. Tracking service (Netstar)
  6. Bank account (Standard Bank)
  7. Garden Service (Jean's Garden Service)
  8. Recycling (Mama She)
  9. Pest Control (Rentokil)
  10. Musical instrument rental (Lovemore Music)
  11. Post Office Box (SAPO)
  12. Domestic Help (UIF)
  13. Cellphone (Vodacom)
  14. Phone (Telkom)
  15. Internet (Afrihost)

The services you want to pay the most attention to are the ones you have an outstanding debit order for (or an automatic charge on your credit card). The service provider will need to cancel the debit order with your bank, so you need to notify them at least a month ahead of time. All the others? Frankly, you are entitled to just say "screw them." Or at least think it, because we are in polite company here. First of all, you're moving overseas and your credit history here in South Africa hardly matters, and secondly, chances are that you already got screwed by them plenty.

But just for the purpose of giving you a blow-by-blow account should you ever need it, I've gone diligently through all the steps for you. Such is my dedication to helping you, fellow expat. Sorry if the below post is a bit boring, but it's hard to find excitement in the cancellation of services.

In my case, numbers 1 and 2 were easy, in that I didn't really have to cancel anything. Our landlord is the account holder (which, if you'll remember, caused some issues with Eskom, because we kept being billed for "interest" accrued, as it later turned out, due to the previous tenant's sloppy payment history) so there will just be a little bit of accounting to be done between us to figure out what amounts we'll be responsible for versus the new tenants (because of course the billing cycle doesn't coincide with month-end), but that's all. Oh, and just for the record, I idly considered withholding R795 from our final Eskom bill, the amount of those interest charges plus reconnection fees I've never been able to get back over the course of the last 2 years, even though God knows I tried valiantly. But then I thought of the poor tenants coming in after us and inheriting our account, and saddling them with the same burden all over again. Power turned off because outstanding payment, power turned on again after charge of a reconnection fee, etc etc. I just couldn't bring myself to do that to them. Chances are, they are fellow expats. Heck, they've probably even been reading this blog and know who I am!

So, dear successor tenants, consider this as one for the team.

Number 3 was achieved entirely over the phone. You call up Multichoice, give them your customer number or your ID number, tell them on what date you'd like the DSTV service canceled, and choose whether  you'd like the refund sent in the mail or applied directly to your bank account. You don't have to return any equipment as you typically purchase the PVR decoder upfront, leaving you now to do as you see fit with it. For instance, you could try and sell it to a newly arrived expat, which was my plan until our decoder broke just two weeks prior to leaving. Same as the fate of our microwave and one of the TVs. Honestly, I appreciate these appliances helping me out in a way by removing the need to make decisions as to what to do with them, but could they have lasted just a few weeks longer until such time that we are actually leaving? Anyway, I haven't received said refund yet but in this case am cautiously optimistic. Not that I really care, just being able to cancel these things without incident is a moral victory already. But of all the South African service providers, Multichoice has always been the most professional. You can lament their meager programming if you want, but their service is good.

Similarly, number 4 was so laughably easy that I've been a bit suspicious if it really can be true. I sent an email to the person at Standard Bank Insurance Brokers who's been sending me our contract and updates to it, saying that we are ending our insurance by year-end, I got sent an acknowledgement, and that was it. I already did the same when I sold the car and it worked like a charm. I even got  an unasked-for refund to account for the prorated fee that month. So - if you're a new expat and looking for insurance, you might want to go with Standard Bank, just for the peace of mind of knowing it will make your life easier at the back end.

Number 5 was also easy, and instantaneous. I sold the car, called up Netstar, and they canceled the service right away, as well as the debit order. No prorated refund there, however, at least not that I remember, but the monthly fee is so low it hardly matters.

Numbers 7, 8, and 9 pretty much went the same way. I always pay these services upfront for the next month or even quarter, so cancelling them was just a matter knowing when to cut off the payments and sending a notification email.

Number 10 was a matter of returning the instrument in question to the place we picked it up from (insert big sigh of relief here that I remembered to keep it away from the packers), made easier by the fact that I have good friends who will volunteer to do such things for me (thanks again, Natalie!) to save me time during the hectic week of packing. Emailing the return receipt to the person in charge of rentals made sure that our credit card won't be charged from now on.

I haven't attended to Number 11 yet but was told all I have to do is return the key to the nearest Post Office. PO Box rentals are paid for a year in advance, and I doubt there'll be any refunds, but again it's not a terribly big deal. One thing I've been idly wondering about is whether there is such a thing as a forwarding service, like there is in the U.S.? But then again it matters little: I'm pretty sure they won't forward internationally, and forwarding to a friend's address here seems cumbersome - what, in all honesty, is there to forward? We only ever seem to receive the pest control bill and bank statement in our PO Box to begin with, so it hardly seems worth the bother.

Number 12 is fairly straightforward. If you haven't been making any payments into your domestic's unemployment insurance fund (which you should), it is just a matter of giving your domestic notice. It would also be very nice of you to help her find a new job with friends or by advertising in your estate newsletter, for instance. And it would also be nice of you to pay her some kind of bonus for her loyalty, which will also help tide her over the coming months if she doesn't have a job lined up yet. If you are in fact paying into the UIF on a monthly basis, you need to terminate the employee by filling out form UI-19 (available under the "forms" tab on www.labour.gov.za). It's the same form you filled out when registering your domestic, so use that one as a template and just add the termination date, then email that form to webmaster@uif.gov.za. Technically, your domestic has then the rigth to bring a copy of that form, together with her payslips and last month's bank statement, to the nearest UIF office to claim unemployement compensation, though I doubt that many will do that.

Leaves numbers 13, 14 and 15 to deal with, and there is a reason I've left those till last. The procedure for canceling your cellphone contract with Vodacom is to call up a specific cancellation number and have them email you a cancellation quote. They basicaclly calculate the remaining amount of money over the rest of your contract period and charge you a percentage - not sure exactly, 75%? -  of that. That quote is only valid for 7 days, so no need to request it until 7 days within leaving. Mine came out to R7,000 or something similar. Yikes! And here I thought I had gotten such an amazing deal when I upgraded it after 2 years and got a brand-new iPhone for no added fee. At least now I know where that fee was hidden. Only if you pay this cancellation fee will Vodacom cancel the outstanding debit order, so it seems there is no good way out of this one. Getting a prepaid phone in the first place is probably the only way to avoid this, so once again, something to think about on the front end.

This gets me to Telkom. No surprise that I'd have to tussle with them one more time and give in to their unbending ways. And here I thought I was in good shape, having had the foresight to trek there some time back with Noisette in order to elevate me from spouse status to that of account holder. And, trust me, that is a big deal. It's so nice to call them up and answer all their security questions and NOT have to listen to that humiliating "I see here that you are not the account holder, please have the account holder call us" line. It's frustrating enough to have to listen to their ONE on-hold song over and over again, and to have to inevitably tell them your telephone number even though you JUST punched it in as part of their voice mail query.

Anyway - the problem with canceling your Telkom line is that if you have a 3rd party internet provider (Afrihost, in my case), you have to cancel your data package and line rental with them first. So far so good, I thought, and called up Afrihost, somewhere towards the end of the previous month. They told me to go online to their client zone and cancel my service there, selecting the appropriate date, and all was well. I wrote down the reference number and proceeded to call back Telkom with it. But Telkom, it turns out, isn't satisfied with you giving them a reference number (I have yet to figure out what on Earth reference numbers are even for here in South Africa - all they serve to do is fill up space on paper. And perhaps soothe your irate self by making you think you're doing something useful). They want your internet provider to issue a line cancellation, and they need it one month ahead of time to cancel your debit order. So back I'm on the phone with Afrihost, asking them to do just that. "No mam," was the answer, "We can't do that." If they cancel the line right away, you see, even if they put a future date on it, Telkom is prone to indeed cancel it right away, leaving you without internet.

If there is one thing I'm quite sure of, in light of living in a house without anything in it these last few weeks, it is that I do not also want to be stripped of my internet. Even if it is agonizingly slow.

So I went back and forth a couple of times between Afrihost and Telkom, but it was to no avail. I'll have to wait until the end of December for Afrihost's system to issue an automatic line cancellation notice to Telkom, at which date Telkom will (hopefully) take note of it and cancel our debit order for 30 days in the future, meaning we'll have to pay Telkom for one extra month. It's really not a big deal, as the line fee is only R130 or something similar (I canceled all other Telkom services some time back, seeing as I didn't get a dial tone for weeks at a time - note to future expats: A landline is a waste of time; only use Telkom for the ADSL line and get everything else - including an UNCAPPED bundle, from another provider such as Afrihost).

I've left out number 6, closing our bank account, because that will have to come last, probably only after we've left (with no doubt a few more forms to be filled out allowing us to transfer our money back out of South Africa - remember my foreign currency escapades?), to make sure the credit card charges can be settled and whatever else is outstanding.

Except my traffic tickets from the last 5 months. I'm definitely not paying those.

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