FreshBooks Now Accepts AMEX

September 25, 2008


I have great news for all you small business owners and operators out there in the world. FreshBooks now accepts AMEX for monthly subscriptions!

If you want to start using your AMEX for your FreshBooks account, just login, click Home -> Account Info, and click the ‘Update the credit card’ link to change the credit card we are using to bill your account. If you are new to FreshBooks, just choose AMEX in the list of credit cards to use for your account. As always, if you want to pay by other means such as PayPal, just send us a note and we will send you an invoice for one year’s worth of FreshBooks.

I know what you are thinking, what took you so long?

Well it is a bit of a long story, so bear with me. Anyone who is running a business in Canada but needs to accept AMEX in US funds might find this very informing.

So, back in 2004 we released FreshBooks to the hounds with version 2.1 – it was amazing, you could track time, invoice your clients, and even upload and download documents. The pricing was pretty close to what it is now, and you could pay us with any Visa or Mastercard. We were using a Canadian processor to collect payments in US dollars. Everything worked great until we got our first request for AMEX. After a bit of research, I realized we couldn’t simply add AMEX as an option with our processor. As it turns out, AMEX is a different breed and it requires another account with AMEX themselves to accept it. I quickly setup an account with AMEX Canada, thinking it would be similar to our processor for Visa and Mastercard and we actually started accepting AMEX. We added AMEX to FreshBooks and everything was working great until I realized that something was missing….the exchange. What was happening is that we were collecting in US funds, but AMEX was depositing the same amount to our Canadian bank account except in Canadian dollars.

So for example, someone would sign up for a Shuttle Bus, pay $14 USD, actually get debited that amount from their account, then AMEX would deposit $14 CAD into our account. A bit of a history lesson here, the US dollar hasn’t always been as weak as it is right now. In fact, back in 2005, $1 USD was worth $1.25 CAD. So, $14 USD was worth $17.50 CAD and we were missing out on the extra $2.50. The funny thing is when I asked AMEX about it, they had no idea what was going on and couldn’t explain where the $2.50 was going. They also told us to stop doing this immediately because it wasn’t supposed to work and I’m sure it was creating an accounting nightmare for them.

So, since we wanted to keep our pricing model simple and consistent, we realized we had to get a US AMEX account before we could start accepting AMEX. On the surface, this seemed like a simple problem with a simple solution, just call up AMEX US and create an account. That’s when the complications started to pile up. In order to get a US AMEX account, we needed a US Bank Account and a US Tax ID. In order to get a US Bank Account, we needed a US Address and US Tax ID. In order to get a US Tax ID, we needed a US company with a US officer. Sadly, none of us FreshBookers were American, so getting a US AMEX account was all of a sudden very complicated.

The good news is that I am actually a dual citizen, so I started the long process of getting a US Passport hoping it would eventually lead to FreshBooks accepting AMEX. Believe it or not, it took over three years to finally have all the pieces in place to request a US AMEX account. Last week I did it and within a few days, we were accepting and succesfully processing AMEX payments. Finally!

If you are running a Canadian business and you want to start accepting AMEX in US funds, send me a note, and I can give you some more war stories and advice on how to get this done ideally in less than three years.


about the author

Co-Founder & VP of Operations, FreshBooks Levi is a professional engineer with a BEng from the University of Victoria. Before co-founding FreshBooks as the VP of Operations, Levi managed projects at Apex Systems Integrators Inc., where his clients included Canadian Tire, Nestlé and Parmalat. Levi’s long term goals include: never losing the contest to wear shorts to the office for as long as humanly possible, some day growing back his mullet he had in the eighties and getting on the jumbotron at the Raptors game at least once a year.