Beware of home loan salesperson tactics

This is the story of my encounter with a dodgy home loan salesperson. I am writing this to expose all the ugly tactics she employs (yes i’ve just intentionally disclosed her gender). In fact, i will expose her name later as i think she deserves to be named and shamed.

This is the 3rd home loan i have signed up for, so by now i am fairly familiar with the process. It should be as easy as deciding on the package you want, providing all the supporting documents, getting the approval and finally signing the agreement. All went well up to the point of signing the agreement. When i flipped to the second page of the agreement, i noticed the home loan package quoted isn’t what i asked for. I took up this loan through my property agent, who communicated very clearly the package i chose. How could it be that the agreement was prepared for a different package? Allow me to enumerate all the tactics, pretence and lies she employed.

Tactic #1 – Prepare the agreement for the home loan package that pays the highest commission regardless of what the customer say they want (especially if communicated through the property agent), and assume customers are idiots who know nothing about home loans.

I really wonder how many victims have fallen for this tactic of hers. When i voiced out that the agreement wasn’t what i thought it should be, she just pretended to be ignorant of the package i was talking about (pretence #1). How is it possible that a home loan salesperson not know all the home loan packages that his/her bank offers? I went on to quote the exact interest rates of the package i wanted, and she must have stared blank for a minute or so, wondering what to do to still close the deal. Finally, she went aside to make a phone call (a phony one no doubt, pun not intended, just to buy time – pretence #2). When she came back, she said if i wanted to change to the other package, i will lose a $500 legal subsidy incentive (lie #1). She went so far as to calculate and show me that even with the savings in interest i get if i take up the other loan package, i will still stand to lose $300+ because of losing this incentive (lie #2). She then attempted to divert attention (tactic #2) by asking if i knew what SIBOR is. Hmm.. lets see, i have a website advising people the difference between SIBOR and SOR, and home loans in general. Do i know what SIBOR is?? I took a glance at the agreement and saw that the criteria for getting this incentive was to simply sign the agreement within 2 days of it being offered. Obviously, if she prepared the agreement afresh for the other loan package that i wanted, i will still have 2 days to sign it. So i suggested doing a re-application. Her reply to this was that my loan will not be processed on time (lie #3).

Processed in time for what?? I have almost all the time in the world to get a loan. Basically, she is trying to get me to sign the agreement no matter what. This is the first time i have encountered a home loan salesperson who doesn’t give the customer what they want! Isn’t it the right of the customer to choose whatever they want, and upon indicating the choice, to be served accordingly, even if it means you have to redo the agreement, especially if it was your mistake in the first place?! Of course, it wasn’t a mistake in this case. It was all planned for.

She went on to try to convince me that the package is attractive, by showing me how much installment i will be paying per month. Here’s another tactic she used:

Tactic #3 – Use a financial calculator and pretend that the calculation is very complicated.

I seriously don’t know what parameters she punched in, but everything was grossly under quoted. Before this, i had already done a comparison of some loan packages which had comparable interest rates to this one, and the monthly installment worked out to be around $1.1k+. The figures she came up with were $940+ (lie #4). Such a figure is only possible if you stretch the number of years of loan to at least probably 35 years instead of 31 as stated in the agreement. I also remarked to her that there is a huge jump in interest rate between the first and second year (0.5%) and i felt this was going to make a significant difference in the interest incurred. She then showed me that i would be paying only $970+ in the second year, a mere $30+ increase per month (lie #5). I couldn’t stop raising my eyebrow throughout as everything looked suspicious. From experience, i already know that even a 0.1% increase in interest can be significant. I didn’t do my own calculations on the spot and i really should have. The formula is simple – Interest incurred per year = Interest rate (in percentage) / 100 X Amount Owed. In my case, the second year interest would increase by about $1700 (corresponding to the 0.5% increase in interest rate). Now $1700 / 12 = $141, which is a far cry from the $30+ increase she was showing.

Finding this very strange, I told her i have experienced quite a drastic jump in my current home loan monthly installment when the interest rate went from 1.2% to 1.7%. She went on to show me that i would be paying $1.3+k for the installment when in actual fact i was paying $1.8k! I’ve already made it clear that it was a loan i was servicing (for which she should be able to infer that i would know the exact monthly installment i was paying), but of course, the lie must go on.. she has to pretend she’s right (pretence #3, almost forgotten to count) even though i can easily show her my bank statement.

She also mentioned that the package she offered had the lowest first year fixed interest rate (lie #6). As i have never considered taking up a fixed rate package, i did not do any research beforehand and could only take her words for it. Eventually when i checked up later, i found out that it was a blatant lie. Another bank offered much better first and second year fixed rates (1.28% and 1.68%) compared to what her bank offers (1.45% and 1.95%). Given that these are fixed rates, i would definitely cough up almost $1.2k MORE over 2 years by taking up her inferior package. This drove me almost to the boiling point. As you can infer by now, i actually signed up the package. I fell victim to the hard-sell, even though every cell in my body was telling me the whole thing was going wrong.

Anyway, the next day, i sent her an email, presenting facts that clearly shows she told at least 2 lies, and requested for a change of the package. She finally returned a call and said she will try to appeal. Never did she apologize for the trouble i have to be put through. I mean, regardless of the package i take up, the bank will earn minimally $12k (and i’m being conservative here) in interest over the 3 years i have to stay with them to avoid having to pay back the legal fee subsidy. $12k and i get such service?? Quite appalling.

And what was the cause of this whole incident? greed, unfortunately. For 1k more in commission (ok this is a speculation, but i’m guessing it cannot be more than 1k), this lady was willing to trade away her soul. I mean, what meaning is there to life if you’re willing to constantly compromise your integrity for materialistic gain? “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

I hope by now you would agree with me that this person deserves to be named and shamed, so here goes: J. Phua, Standard Chartered Bank, HDB Hub.

Stay tuned as i await the outcome of the appeal.

Update: the bank has agreed to change the package (can’t imagine it’s possible for them to decide otherwise). Gonna keep this posting up here for a while for the benefit of everyone.

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How to choose a home loan package

Congratulations! You have already taken the first step by reading this posting! It will probably help if you read some of my other postings too! By landing here, you are probably already thinking that the internet is gong to help you in finding the right home loan package. If you notice, i have a Home Loan Rates link on the top right hand side which is grossly outdated but is still attracting visitors (about 250 visits per month). Let me share with you the website you should go to for the latest home loan rates.

Disclaimer: i am in no way affiliated with this website, nor am i getting any kick-backs for bringing you there (which, to be honest, i am a little reluctant to promote any other website for free). Here’s the site: http://www.smartloans.sg/

You basically get the latest home loan rates from all the major banks in Singapore in a few clicks, literally (tip: you can stop at the point when you see the chart). With this “comparison platform” (i would like to call it a “competition platform”), you probably just have to look at the top 5 results and choose one. Here’s a tip on reading the results: the list is sorted in descending order of “Total Interest”, which is for the entire loan period (typically 30 years). However, you will never stay in the same loan package for more than 3 years (2 years in fact, there are very few 3 year packages as banks realize people are less willing to be locked-in for 3 years nowadays), so just look at the first and second year monthly installment/rates (click on the “Rates” tab). The one with the lowest first and second year (if you opt for 2 years lock-in) installment/rate is the one to go for.

If you’re looking for fixed-rate loan packages, the choice is a NO-BRAINER, since what you’re paying is FIXED for the lock-in period you sign up for, so just go for the loan package that cost you the least interest for the 1 or 2 years, and there will be no fluctuation in interest rates to affect the outcome.

Anyway, all the best to your home loan hunting, and here’s wishing you save lots of money.

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Guess which loan package banks want to sell you

a. Floating rate package (inclusive of SOR or SIBOR pegged loans)

b. Fixed rate package

Answer: b

Why?

Banks want to secure their bottom line. You might think you are getting some form of security in going for fixed rate, when actually, this is also true on the other side of the fence, the bank also gets secured income for as long as the lock-in period you have signed up for, right? And banks being banks, you can be sure that they have done their math to make sure they don’t lose out, meaning, what they offer you is what they think the interest rates will be capped at (and more) within the time frame you are locked-in. Say a bank offers you a 2 years lock-in fixed rate package whereby the rates are 1.5% first year, 1.6% second year (by the way these are REAL rates and these are quite low), that probably means that the bank is predicting that interest rates will stay an average of 1.55% over the 2 years loan period. Of course, the bank is taking a risk of losing out in case interest rates actually go up a lot more (but banks can’t be stupid right?). As a borrower, you are also taking a risk! Most people probably have the mentality that a fixed rate package is “safe”. This is true in the sense that you will not be paying more than the fixed-rate you have signed up for. But at the same time, you would have already signed up the risk of paying more than you have to. To illustrate, assuming your loan amount is 300K. Every 0.1% being added to the interest rate means you are paying $300 more per year. There are many who will avoid risk at all cost. For this group of people, fixed-rate is the way to go. But for the rest who are willing to take some risk, do include floating rate packages in your consideration.

Since banks are probably more interested in selling you their fixed-rate package, guess which package comes with more incentive to their sales staff? If you encounter sales staff who try to hard-sell you the fixed-rate package, you should just walk away. Quite frankly, i am saying this because i just had such an encounter. As a customer, you have the right to choose whatever package you want. Don’t be swayed by what you are told, do your own math! The simple formula is this: Interest Rate in Percentage ÷ 100 X Loan Amount = What you will be paying in 1 year. Let me re-iterate this, every 0.1% more could be very significant.

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Cheaper home loans makes the news

News about home loan rates appear in the newspaper very sparingly, and this just happened last Saturday, showing up in the Straits Times with the headline “Cheaper home loans in store”. In a gist, the article says that “KEY interest rates that determine mortgage levels have fallen steeply, promising cheaper home loans but even leaner times for those with bank deposits. “¦ The falling rates have followed the trend of the rates set by the United States Federal Reserve, which continue to be at historic lows. They have also come as the Singdollar has been allowed to strengthen since April.”

Indeed, USD has fallen drastically against SGD recently, resulting in the Swap Offer Rate (SOR) falling to 0.29426 on Aug 11, 2010, the “lowest in at least 10 years”. This is good news to mortgagors, with savings to look forward to for perhaps an extended time.

To answer the question of whether SOR-pegged or SIBOR-pegged home loan is more attractive, they are actually more or less comparable. To quote actual examples, UOB offers SOR + 0.99 (which works out to 1.3%), while SCB offers SIBOR + 0.75 (which works out to 1.31%).

The article points to Bloomberg as the source of the Swap Offer Rate, which i have just come to realize provides updated rates shortly after the daily rate is determined at 11am, and even gives a chart with data from up to 5 years ago. This kind of makes my SOR daily chart redundant. I would recommend going directly to Bloomberg if you’re interested in getting the most authoritative rates, and to make use of the interactive charts they provide. I will continue to update my chart daily as far as possible, in fact now to use the rates published by Bloomberg (instead of the day-old rates previously). Hope you continue to find this site useful!

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Android Apps Mini Review

FreeApp

You can probably find thousands of “My Android Apps List” postings out there, here’s mine (standard built-in apps excluded):


Essentials

HTC IME Keyboard – Beats Swype which i was using initially. Tapping on each letter still gives a better chance of recognizing the letter intended (any error is limited to the alphabets surrounding the one typed) compared to swiping (the path of the swipe could include a long string of unrelated characters).

Google Pinyin Keyboard – The de-facto keyboard for Chinese characters entry. Includes text prediction for English word entry.

APN OnOff – Widget for quickly toggling data on or off. Just tap on the widget to toggle, can’t get any easier than that.

Handcent SMS – Lots of debate on which is the best SMS app. Didn’t try any other but this one just works for me. Most important feature is probably the SMS pop-up and quick reply. Threaded view of messages work fine too, though it is not so much a concern for me how the messages are presented.

Advanced Task Killer – Again, there are lots of debate on whether task killer apps are needed for Android. My take is, probably. Even if it does not help in conserving battery life, at least it helps to conserve memory. Also, you may notice that some apps gets launched on their own accord, which gives me a discomforting feeling. I would try to uninstall these apps if i can help it, otherwise, at least get them killed off automatically when they start running without my knowledge. I have tried Task Manager before using ATK, and the way it uses notification to inform you on tasks killed is simply annoying (you could turn this notification off, but then you don’t get notified at all). ATK simply pops up a quick message to tell you it’s killed some apps, and this works even when you’re in the middle of playing games, without disrupting what you are doing. Basically, you could say ATK is install-and-forget-it, which is what most background utility software should be like.

Astro/ES File Explorer – Most first-time Android users would wonder, where’s the file browser/manager? It’s probably included as one of the built-in apps that comes with your phone, but you can probably just forget about it. Just download and use Astro/ES, you won’t need anything else. My preference is slanted towards ES in terms of usability. It has a multi-select mode which seems to be lacking in Astro. Both also come with the tool to allow you to back up your Apps to the SD card.

Skyfire – My browser of choice. I have also tried the built-in browser and Opera, neither could display the Google adsense page correctly, which Skyfire alone is able to. It also allows you to toggle between Desktop and Android mode. Quite frankly though, it feels laggy. While scrolling down the engadget website, it pauses for a few seconds between each page-down. It is also slow in responding to switching between tabs. Will have to put up with these until Froyo, on which i’m pitching my hope on a dramatic improvement on browsing experience.


Other Useful Apps

Calendar Pad – A calendar replacement app which displays the detailed event item text in the monthly calendar view. Makes it much easier to see what’s supposed to happen on which date in the month. It also provides a 1X1 widget for you to display today’s date which otherwise isn’t shown at all on my phone home page (useful for non-HTC phone users i suppose).

Stitcher – Podcast player that comes with a widget to pause/play. Bookmark your favourite podcast content sources and your daily commutes (especially if you drive) will never be boring again.

ShowNearby – Shows you places of interest around you. It even includes AXS machine and ERP gantry locations (and no wonder, since this app is developed in Singapore). It’s interesting (delightful even) to see the little red triangles adjusting its orientation to point to the direction where the place of interest is, even as you turn the phone around. Select the place of interest and you get the option to see the map and streetview. In the map view, you are given directions on how to get there. Simple and intuitive, amazing!

Meebo IM – IM client supporting most IM protocols out there. Feels a little slow in general but works.

Astrid TasksGTasks – Synchronizes with Google Tasks, which, presumably, since you are already using a Google phone, you have a Google account (GMail, GTalk etc.), so why not also use Google Tasks rather than having to sign up and synchronize with yet another provider. If you are a task-oriented person who loves to check off a task list (like i do), you definitely need a task list application besides the standard calendar app (which strictly speaking doesn’t quite give you task list features). The web interface (part of Google Calendar actually) of Google Tasks is quite nice by the way, better than this GTasks app. The ability to synchronize with Google Tasks is the primary reason you need this app.

Gmote – Use your phone as a remote control to play media files on your pc. While it works quite reliably, i dislike the fact that the Gmote server which you have to install on your PC handles the playing of media files instead of other programs (say Windows Media Player) that you already have on your PC. You might have a preference to use Winamp for playing music and VLC for video playback on your PC for example, but you can’t use those with Gmote of course. There is actually a VLC remote app that allows you to control the VLC player on the PC. Besides using the VLC player for playback of media files (for which you can be sure it performs well), it has the added ability to add a folder to the playlist and to play in shuffle mode, features which are surprisingly missing in Gmote. Quite unfortunately though, the VLC remote app was done as sort of a Google-sponsored student project which isn’t actively developed and supported, and i have had issues with reliability. Anyhow, the concept of using your phone as media playback remote control is quite cool if you have a HTPC.

Update: see recommendation for Froyo here

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Samsung Galaxy S Review

Hummingbird

My previous attempt at reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S/Android ended up being more of commentaries on Android in general. Here’s the follow up real deal, a practical month-old-user review of the Galaxy S.

The best part about the phone is of course the screen. 4 inches-full of bright, vibrant and high contrast (black is really black) goodness, it makes most other phones look washed out. The phone is also quite slim and lightweight. Dropped the phone twice and it survived, so i guess it’s sturdy enough.

Battery life is pretty good actually (lasting the whole day in my case) if you turn off APN (i.e. data) when you don’t need it. I also use a static wallpaper rather than livepaper, as well as a task killer to conserve battery. To find out what consumes the most battery life, go to Settings -> About phone -> Battery use.

Data connection reliability varies depending on location, and it is sub-par more often than i wish it wouldn’t be. In fact, using a Samsung Z800 HSDPA modem at the exact same location as the phone proves to be much more reliable. This is probably attributed to the higher power available and the less complex software that has the single aim of keeping the data connection up and running on the USB modem. Lets hope the upcoming Froyo firmware would improve the phone on this aspect.

General usage of the phone feels ok on the whole, though you’ll never feel the raw power of the Hummingbird A8 1GHz CPU except when you play graphics intensive games, which work very well on the phone. With Android 2.1 onboard, quite frankly the phone performance is still slightly disappointing. Again, lets hope Samsung delivers on their promise of a Froyo firmware soon.

The Samsung Kies PC software the phone is supposed to work with is quite crappy. On one installation it refuses to connect to the phone and on another it crashes upon starting up. To be fair, Samsung does update the software frequently, but quite frankly the previous experience puts me off from bothering to try again.

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S is a worthy phone i have no reservations in recommending.

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Samsung Galaxy S/Android Review

samsung-galaxy-s-phone

Kind of a belated review. Just upgraded from a Nokia E65 to a Samsung Galaxy S three weeks ago. They both actually cost the same amount of monies but 3 years on, money buys you much more technology, as you can see in the comparison chart below (from gsmarena):

  Nokia E65 S$398 (2006) Samsung Galaxy S S$398 iPhone 3GS 8GB S$388
3G Network UMTS 2100 (384kbps) HSDPA 7.2Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps HSDPA 7.2Mbps
Weight 115 g 119 g 135 g
Dimensions 105 x 49 x 15.5 mm 122.4 x 64.2 x 9.9 mm 115.5 x 62.1 x 12.3 mm
Display TFT, 16M colors, 240 x 320 pixels, 2.2 inches Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 480 x 800 pixels, 4.0 inches TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 320 x 480 pixels, 3.5 inches
CPU Dual ARM 9 220 MHz processor ARM Cortex A8 1GHz processor ARM Cortex A8 600 MHz
Internal Memory 50 MB storage, 64 MB RAM 16GB storage, 512 MB RAM, 2GB ROM 8GB storage, 256 MB RAM
Card Slot microSD, up to 2GB microSD, up to 32GB No
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11b/g Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Bluetooth v1.2 v3.0 with A2DP v2.1 with A2DP, headset support only
Camera 2 MP, 1600×1200 pixels 5 MP, 2592 x 1944 pixels, autofocus 3.15 MP, 2048×1536 pixels, autofocus
Additional Camera Features Videocalling, Video Record CIF (352 x 240) 720p@30fps, Secondary VGA Video Call Camera, geo-tagging VGA@30fps, video geo-tagging
Additional Hardware Features   3.5 mm audio jack
Stereo FM radio with RDS
A-GPS
Accelerometer, Digital Compass,
Proximity and Light Sensors
A-GPS
Accelerometer, Digital Compass,
Proximity and Light Sensors
Radiation 0.87 W/kg (head) SAR EU 0.24 W/kg (head) SAR EU 0.45 W/kg (head)

Hardware component cost must have shrunk quite a bit over the years. Also, in comparison to the iPhone 3GS, the Galaxy S hardware is clearly superior in just about every aspect. Note that the quoted price here comes with a 2 years binding contract with the telco. It’s interesting to observe that just weeks before the Galaxy S was released, the iPhone 3GS was retailing at a hefty S$518, which no doubt is not a competitive pricing.

Now on to the software: Android. Must say that it is still nowhere near the silky smooth experience on the iPhone (disclaimer: i have never used an iPhone extensively before, this comes from just observations of other people using the iPhone). How Apple achieves this – dedicate all the processing power to rendering the sweet animations that tickles everyone. Click or swipe and the phone responds immediately with the animation showing the desired application is launched. Doing this scores big on user experience. I suspect this was the reason multi-tasking wasn’t supported in early versions of the iPhone – there was just not enough processing power to guarantee that the user experience will remain top-notch.

What Android does is probably the opposite, cram as many features (and bug fixes) into every release as possible without making the user experience the top priority, and the result is that it gets laggy at times. For a self-confessed geek like myself, this is not an issue. When i have launched a few apps while trying to surf at the same time, i understand that the processor may not be able to cope. This is a tradeoff i’m happy to accept, in return for the flexibility to do whatever i like: multi-tasking, task termination, widgets, app launchers etc. Plus Android being the low cost (free?), open and thus widely adopted OS that it is, there is accelerated development in the hardware department from manufacturers who constantly try to out-do each other.

One thing cannot be neglected though: Google owns Android. The moment you provide your Google account credentials, your gmail, gtalk apps are automatically activated (you almost cannot do without a Google account if you use Android). With syncing turned on, your contacts are automatically copied to your gmail contacts list. On surface, this appears to make synchronization and backing up of data easy, but think of it in another way, now Google knows who your friends are. Your conversations, location, photos, videos, browsing history etc. are all vulnerable to being spied on. This begs the question: is Google becoming the new evil? It is just a matter of time before we start hearing paparazzi news sourced conveniently from the single point where all personal information is converging – the smart phone.

To wrap up, it’s worth pointing out that owners of the Galaxy S can anticipate a performance boost when Samsung releases the Android 2.2 Froyo firmware. There’s much promise in Android..

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SOR/SIBOR pegged loan exit strategy

I have mentioned in my previous post that those of us who have taken up a SOR or SIBOR pegged loan may find ourselves at risk of having to pay a 1.5% penalty when doing a full redemption not on the rate repricing date.

When you sell your house, it is practically impossible to time the transaction such that you can do a full redemption exactly on the rate repricing date, and this being the case, you’re likely to have to pay a 1.5% penalty on your outstanding loan amount. Now that is a hefty and probably unfair penalty as it applies even though you are not bounded by any lock-in.

The way out of this is to, well, exit the SOR/SIBOR pegged loan by doing a conversion to a no lock-in floating rate package. You can do this provided you are not within any lock-in period. Now, a no lock-in floating rate package is what makes most sense since, firstly, you want to do the full redemption anytime soon, and secondly, floating rate packages have lower rates than fixed rate packages, and they’re likely not going to change within the short period that you’re planning to do the full redemption. So there you have it, your exit strategy.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Bali

Jimbaran

Do

  • Visit Kintamani to get a nice view of Mount and Lake Batur (you can opt to dine at Lakeview Restaurant, which is basically a place for tourist groups, to soak in the view over lunch. The food is nothing to shout about, plus your driver probably gets some kickback for bringing you there, but all in all it’s not too bad)
  • Try the Luwak Coffee on a visit to a “coffee plantation” (which is a typical set up to earn tourist dollars as with most other tourist attractions in Bali, and again, some kickback to the driver is probably involved, but it’s worth it), the most expensive coffee in the world at over US$65 per 100g, produced from the excretion of coffee beans from the Asian palm civet after having been eaten and digested
  • Have grilled seafood for dinner while watching the sun set over Jimbaran beach
  • Get a Balinese massage/spa (as many times as you can arrange for during your stay)
  • Visit Kuta/Legian beach, these are probably still better than most other beaches despite being ultra congested with tourists
  • Do your shopping at Matahari, which has practically everything you want under one roof including art and craft, without having to bargain over the price (unless you enjoy doing this) and dine at Dulang Restaurant just next to it, arguably among the best food you can find in Bali at down-to-earth prices
  • Be prepared to pay 150,000 Rupiah per person for the airport tax on your departure. This is NOT included in your air ticket

 

Don’ts

  • Agree to the deal too quickly when doing price negotiation while shopping. Take it slow and pretend not to be interested
  • Take the taxi at the airport without pre-paying the taxi fare. The taxi booth is on the right side of the terminal exit. They will quote you 3 times the official rate if you didn’t pre-pay first.
  • Drive on your first trip there. The traffic “rules” are quite different. Leave it to a hired driver which doesn’t cost very much anyway.
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