The Diabolical Debit Card Situation in Lebanon

If you’re a (miserable) account-holder at a Lebanese bank and you reside in Lebanon, you’re probably in possession of a debit card. After all, that’s the only God-forsaken method of siphoning some of your locked-up assets from the bank. And by siphoning, I mean extracting via trickle method. One miniscule drop at a time.

The current predicament that cardholders face however is the rejection of their plastic wallet accessory by a vast number of retailers. Months ago, gas stations across Lebanon unanimously stopped accepting card payment. Then supermarkets and grocery stores, in a show of solidarity, enforced a 50/50 approach: they'd only accept 50% payment by card and 50% by cash. We’re talking about retailers like Spinney’s, Carrefour, Le Charcutier, Stop and Shop, O&C, and the likes.

A range of epiceries, or upscale grocers like Aziz, haven’t accepted card payment for at least a year – understandably, they don’t want to deal with local banks, heinous capital controls and having to forego a portion of revenue as commissions thereof.

Up until a few weeks ago, McDonald’s accepted debit, but “in light of the current circumstances,” they now no longer do. Burger King followed suit just this past weekend, and I suppose it won’t be long before Dunkin’, Starbucks, and other international chains jump on the bandwagon.

Lebanese debit cards are being more and more useless as fewer vendors accept them as a valid method of payment. (RIDO/Shutterstock)

If we’re considering local dining out/takeout eateries that accept card payment, here are the few of which I’m aware that are still willing to swipe (or tap) your card: Roadster, Zaatar W Zeit, Bartartine, and Deek Duke, all of whom are owned by the same parent company. Tomatomatic, Classic Burger, and Furn Beaino also aren’t griping about the swiping, and perhaps that is so because they prioritize sales volume over profit margin.

Some joints flat-out charge a fee for any card-based transaction. So while they’re willing to take your debit card, they’re going to slap a premium on its use. For example, Kababji and Gelato Show apply a 30% uptick on your bill. Say you purchase products from one of these vendors in the amount of LBP 100,000 and elect to pay by card. You will be billed LBP 130,000. Steep? I’d say.

Pâte à Choux, the iconic patisserie in Antelias, charges a more reasonable 10% for card transactions.

Just the other day, I discovered that the sporting goods shop Decathlon, situated inside Le Mall Dbayeh across two floors and hundreds of square meters, accepts 70% payment by card and 30% payment in cash. (On an unrelated note, Decathlon easily boasts the best refund/exchange policy I've witnessed in Lebanon: you have 30 days to secure a refund and a whopping 365 days for a product exchange!)

How long will it be before debit card payments are denied everywhere in Lebanon? For those subscribing to Central Bank of Lebanon’s Circular 158, that imminent and inevitable blow will ultimately be the bane of our collective existences. In the way of a recap on the stipulations of the circular, depositors who held USD-denominated checking or savings accounts prior to the year 2019 are able to withdraw, on a monthly basis, USD 400 in cash and the equivalent of USD 400 in Lebanese pounds LBP at a designated rate of LBP 12,000 to $1. That amount, which works out to LBP 4,800,000, is dispensed half in cash (i.e., LBP 2,400,000) and the other half exclusively at points of sale (POS), via debit card. Soon we will have to forego that LBP 2.4M as fewer and fewer institutions accept our pathetic plastic.

Anyone else proud to be Lebanese?

If you wish to add any other vendors to the list of accepting (or not accepting) debit card payments, comment below.

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