My Experience Trying to Earn an Income Online in South Africa
The System Has Failed...
I started writing on HubPages in 2008. Prior to this my only income source online was paid online surveys. It took one or two years before I actually made any money – that first Adsense cheque. I scanned it, and I keep it so I can view it from time to time. That was quite a milestone to reach. From there I started getting cheques on a more regular basis, from companies other than Google, too. There was Global Test Market, a paid online survey panel, and a few other affiliate programs.
Things seemed to be going right. But the trouble started last year when I earned a pay cheque from one company. I waited for the full 6 to 8 weeks for the cheque to arrive. It didn’t, and so I contacted them and had them resend it. That cheque didn’t arrive either, and it was the end of the year. Two emails were dispatched to the South African Post Office. One was ignored while the other received a reply. SAPO wanted a tracking number. I didn’t even know if one had been assigned to either cheque, so I got back to the company and asked them. They completely ignored the request to find out what the tracking number was – even if there had been one. They claimed that they’d sent the cheque twice and they’d been able to ascertain that neither one had arrived. They said that they would only send it one more time, and then no more – and on top of that added that my address was an “undeliverable one” and I should try another address – that of a friend or relative. But I knew this wasn’t right, because I’d received cheques from this company before at the very same address.
So I decided to leave it seeing as I knew it wouldn’t arrive anyway. I made one last attempt to phone SAPO and no effort was made to get back to me about the issue. It was just noted down with some sorry excuse about staff shortages. SAPO doesn't seem to care that it cost me a pay cheque. I lost money here after all.
It seems all the mail going from South Africa to an international place, or the other way around, all gets lost in a sorting department in Johannesburg or Epping somewhere, or someone is pilfering the lot. This is a country-wide epidemic it seems.
Update: as of mid-2014, it looks like AdSense publishers can only be paid via EFT in SA, and not by cheque anymore. I save on courier fees and cheque deposit fees and don't have to worry about my cheque not arriving. Result!
Right now I’m nearing the payout threshold on my Google Adsense account again and I’m worried that cheque won’t arrive either – to the point where I’m considering putting a manual hold on my account, or paying a courier service to deliver it so that I can bypass SAPO entirely. But that's an expensive route to take, considering that the bank also takes its share when it comes to deposited cheques too. All of that takes a rather big chunk out of my earnings.
I then realised that partnering with affiliate programs and other companies that only paid out via cheque was a waste of time and effort seeing as I likely wouldn’t receive my cheques by post any more. But even though I wanted to partner with those who offered other methods of payment, I couldn’t, because options are very limited for those living outside of the USA. With Amazon you have the choice of being paid out via cheque or having a direct deposit straight in to your account – the latter option has a payout threshold of only $10 versus $100 with the cheque payment option – but you have to reside within the USA to go with the deposit option. You can also be paid out in the form of an Amazon gift certificate, but what would be the point seeing as Amazon blacklisted SAPO back in 2008 because packages that were supposed to be delivered to customers over here went missing. I believe you can opt to have it sent by courier, but that's a costly way to go. It’s been a well known fact that for years SAPO has been rife with corruption, despite alleged cover ups with claims of staff shortages. So one wonders if they’d even bother sending payments to those living over here.
"It was just noted down with some sorry excuse about staff shortages. SAPO doesn't seem to care that it cost me a pay cheque. I lost money here after all."
Death and taxes...
Of course there are tax concerns too.
Those who earn an income with Google AdSense, Amazon, and other affiliates have to declare that income to SARS. It became necessary to do so several years ago.
Depending on how much you make per year, the income tax applicable to you can be as much as 40% in SA!
So? Use Paypal...
I would also love to sign up with PayPal, because that would open up so many doors for me, personally. I could bypass SAPO altogether (seeing as it would be cheaper than having a private courier deliver payments), and have money put in to a PayPal account, which I could then withdraw into my bank account. Much more convenient, less costly, less timely, and many more opportunities for me.
I first tried this in 2009, but unbeknownst to me at the time, PayPal wasn’t technically available in SA at the time. It was only the following year, 2010, that First National Bank partnered with the merchant account company. And then it was exclusively available to FNB clients and nobody else.
I tried again to set up PayPal and link it with my FNB account but it turns out that the service was also now exclusive to credit and cheque card holders. You couldn’t and to date still can’t use PayPal with a debit card in SA – whereas you reportedly can in the USA. I fail to understand the logic here because this basically prevents anyone with a startup business from obtaining a PayPal account and linking it to their bank account, seeing as you need to have an existing job, to show proof of income to get a credit card to use with the service. I’ve read others complain about the very same issue, and FNB has promised to sort this out and make the service available to all account holders, but they’re damn slow about doing it.
You can lose a lot more with a credit card. If the banks are worried that someone won’t be able to pay off debts they incur with a credit card – they have far more to worry about if someone were to get a hold of a client’s credit card details. They stand to lose a lot more than with a client with a debit card, who can only lose what they have in their account. And the bank doesn’t even have to take any responsibility for it, as ABSA has shown in the past.
In 2011, SA’s relationship with PayPal blossomed as it became possible to use the service with any major bank. So that meant Standard Bank, ABSA, Nedbank, etc., in addition to FNB. Apparently the head honcho over at PayPal was so impressed with South Africans and their ingenuity, their will to succeed at setting up their own businesses and working from home. At least about a tenth of the houses in my neighbourhood alone are home to home-run businesses. From B&B’s and beauty parlours to lawyers and psychologists – they’re all working out of their own homes. It’s not like they have much choice. Unemployment is so rife in this country, and the people who do get jobs aren’t employed because of their work experience and qualifications, but based on other factors.
I've been told that even if you can't link a PayPal account with a bank account, you can still receive funds in to a PayPal account - but then you can only spend it online at retailers and sites that will allow it. Not really that useful if you want to have money to pay your college fees. In fact, I've since been informed that you can't do this is in SA. You have to withdraw funds from PayPal to your bank account, and then if you want to buy anything online you have to transfer money from your bank account to PayPal, both transactions costing you money in the process.
I also looked into options like Google Checkout, which was an alternative to PayPal, particularly when asking for donations online on a blog or website. But to my utter surprise, what do you know – it was only available in the USA and the UK, and it has since been retired altogether.
In the end it makes you so frustrated as a young person because you’re not just sitting there on your chair complaining about how life isn’t fair and all. You’re actually trying to do something. The original plan was to raise and save enough money for school or training of some sort because my parents wouldn’t pay for tertiary education. They couldn’t afford it. My results in school likely weren’t good enough to get a bursary either. And forget about student loans – I have no interest in becoming a debt slave at this point in my life, or ever.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s a lack of jobs in this country, so people like me, who are young, with a senior certificate and barely any college education and no work experience have to resort to other means of earning some money, such as freelancing, working online – and you won’t get rich doing it either. Not most of us, anyway.
One tries to get ahead but there are obstacles at every turn; closed doors. We sit here waiting for other factors to be solved or to be improved. We don’t have control, so there’s not much we can do but wait and hope. And I hate that because it wastes time that could be spent doing something more productive.
The only way forward in this country and perhaps elsewhere is self-employment, whether it be entrepreneurship, affiliate marketing, or freelancing opportunities, but the only thing is that in my opinion, this country isn’t suited to it yet. It’s not like the USA, where you can make a decent living from affiliate marketing and other programs online if you work hard enough, and have a bit of web and marketing savvy to go with it.
SAPO needs to be sorted out somehow. Corruption needs to be rooted out, and so-called staff shortages need to be rectified. Banks need to improve their services such as relationships with merchant account companies like PayPal.
They need to make PayPal available to debit card holders – there’s less risk so I don’t understand why they’re so slow at implementing it. Banks also need to reduce their ridiculous fees on converting payments in foreign currency to rands, although you can do this if you fill in reams of paperwork, but they should be lowered altogether. Fees are standardised so you end up paying the same fees for converting a $10 payment as you would a $100 payment. And that makes it barely worth it with the former amount. Having a lower payout threshold with PayPal isn't viable in this situation. You might even end up paying more for the fees than the payment is actually worth. There are apparently, according to some, hidden fees even if a payment arrives in your currency, which don’t show up in your list of transactions. Banks need to be more transparent about charges.
Whether any of this will ever happen, whether things will improve for publishers, freelancers, and others trying to make a bit of money online in South Africa – your guess is as good as mine.
Do you live in South Africa? How is earning online treating you?
Questions & Answers
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