It is irresponsible to go abroad without proper planning. The world is a smaller place, and there are plenty of places where you can go and be safe and secure as you explore, but to go and hope for the best is not good enough. You need a plan for things such as medical care, money problems, bank trouble, and backup plans for your return trip.
Edit: this information has been updated for 2016/2017 with more detail.
If you’ve ever done some serious travelling out of your own country, you may have encountered issues accessing money from back home. Some of these could be your ATM card not working, a machine eating your card, you losing your card, someones stealing your wallet with your card in it, etc.
There are many scenarios — and some of these can end up with you unable to access your funds while abroad. These situations are nightmares that every travel dreads. But they do happen…and if you do enough travelling, it’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN you end up in the same situation.
If this ever happens to you, here’s what to do about it.
The good news here is that you can do some things to minimize the risk of landing in this situation. And if you do end up losing access to money while abroad (theft, card loss, cards not working), you can do something about it while abroad, as long as you can contact your bank or credit card company.
This is something I’ve recently experienced myself, having lost my entire wallet in Thailand which includes all of my bank cards (3 of them), my credit card, and my drivers license. So I can tell you from hand’s on experience that it’s a pain in the butt, but also (depending on your bank’s policy), you can do something about replacing these cards while abroad.
Preventative (Ensure You Have No Problems When Travelling)
Sometimes the best way to avoid a situation is to PREPARE for it first. If you are going to be doing any sort of travelling where you don’t have any access to your bank in your new location (especially if you are going abroad for a bit), then follow these steps to avoid problems.
Have Numerous Money Backup Plans
Online banking means you can move money around very easily. It means you can put a bit of money on your credit card and take it, put money on your debit card, put money on another bank’s debit card, and move your money to online accounts. If one card is frozen or lost, get online and transfer your money to a safe or usable account.
- Carry some cash
- Carry travelers checks
- Carry multiple bank cards tied to multiple bank accounts
- Carry a credit card or two
I can’t stress this enough. DO NOT only bring a single card or method of accessing your money. You should have two or three difference sources. Personally, I like having 1 (or two) credit cards, two bank cards.
The Benefits of Two Bank Cards
I recommend you have two cards for different accounts with the same banks, so you can transfer money between them online if your bank allows these accounts to be linked together in your online dashboard (it’s possible with some banks — you’ll have to ask them).
In my situation, I had one of the cards sent to me by my bank while I was abroad. I was able to transfer money from one of my accounts to the new account that I had a card for and withdraw money.
Have An Alternative Online Source of Funds
There are online accounts that allow you to transfer money to your bank cards and back again. There are even accounts such as PayPal that allow you to have a debit card that you can load up with money and take with you. This functions as a pretty good backup source of money, should you need it. Note that you will need to have easy access to those funds. Paypal, if you withdraw from your Paypal account to a bank account directly, can take up to 7 days, so this won’t help you if you lose your bank card and need funds FAST. But if you have a paypal debit card, you can access your Paypal funds right away. Note, you can only get a Paypal debit card if you are in the US and have a US bank account.
Carry Some Cash With You
The golden rule of travelling abroad. Make sure you have at least SOME cash on you when you travel. You never know what the situation will be when you arrive at your location. Perhaps your bank cards won’t work with the local ATM’s, or your bank freezes your account when you try accessing an ATM withdraw, or you lose your wallet.
Or maybe you arrive at remote location with no ATM’s in the area or non of the ATM’s work.
Don’t be that person STUCK without a means of withdrawing cash from accounts.
Have enough cash to get by, in a pinch, for a couple days to figure out your banking situation.
Also, keep in mind you do want to always have a bit of extra cash spread around and not all of it on you. Leave some in your hotel room if it has a safe; otherwise take a little bit with you wherever you go.
Sign Up for a Travel Rewards Credit Card with No Foreign Transaction Fees
As written earlier, you can take checking/debit cards from two banks, your credit cards, online account cards and hard cash. Take all these forms of payment so that you are not stuck for options when you go abroad.
The more diverse your payment methods, then the less chance there is you will have money trouble abroad.
If you are going to do some travelling, you may want to consider a travel-friendly credit card. These are often called ‘Travel rewards credit cards’ and provide a lot of benefits when travelling.
One of the key benefits is the ‘no foreign transaction fees’ clause (make sure any travel credit card you apply for HAS this). This means you can use your card to pay for stuff while out of your home country and not get slapped with the 2-3 percent foreign transaction fee you would pay normally for using the card abroad. Additionally, these cards often give you reward points or air-miles for using them. It’s a win win.
You can use these credit cards, in a pinch, as an ATM card and withdraw cash from your credit card account. Keep in mind this always comes with high interest fees, so only do so in an emergency. You can avoid this by adding a credit surplus on your credit card before travelling and use the ATM’s to withdraw from this amount — this means you won’t pay any interest since you are withdrawing only from the surplus.
Check If Your Bank Operate In That Country
If your bank has branches in the country you are visiting, then you have a great advantage because you can stroll into a branch and fix most of your problems whilst abroad. Check to see if your bank has branches nearby and find out how easy it is to get to the nearest branch. However, if you are travelling somewhere quite far from your home country, the chances your bank has a branch in your new destination may be very low (note, there are some banks like HSBC which have branches all over Asia and North America), but it’s worth checking anyways.
Contact Your Bank Beforehand to Prevent Account Lockups
Tell your bank you are going abroad and that you intend to use your money in that country. Some banks may allow you to draw money out of foreign accounts, but that will freeze your account if they see your cards being used in shops and restaurants and at ATM’s outside of your home country.
It’s a good idea to notify your bank before leaving your home country to ensure your bank card usage at any ATM works at your new destinatino.
Is There Insurance From Your Bank?
Many banks and credit unions have overseas options for users. They offer insurance and money plans that mean you do not lose anything on fees or that mean you get your money back if your details or cards are stolen. Check on this policy before travelling.
Check Your Bank Fees
Prior to going, it is imperative that you check your bank fees for things such as transfers, purchases and withdrawals. There are many people who have had their cards swallowed by ATMs because they have overdrawn without knowing due to fees.
Check the exchange rates
Fees are one reason that people overdraw, and another is exchange rates. There are times when your US dollars are simply not applicable for payment via a card. If they are, then you will be charged an exchange rate that may drain your funds more than you imagined. Otherwise, you will need to change your money and lose some of it due to exchange rates and fees.
What to Do If You Have Problems with Your Card (Loss, Theft, etc)
If the worst happens and you lose access to a working card, such as your bank card doesn’t work with the local ATM’s, you lose your card, an ATM eats your card, your card is stolen, etc, then here’s what to do.
Contact Your Bank if You Lose Access to a Card
If your card has been lost, stolen, is not working, or has been swallowed by an ATM, then tell your bank right away.
Usually they have 24-hour lost/stolen card lines you can call to inform them. They help reduce your losses , if any fraud occurs with your missing card, and they may also be able to advise you on how to regain access to your funds again. Many banks have an emergency courier service where they can airmail a new card, in the event you lose yours, to you to a secure location for you to pick up — if you have a couple days you can wait for it.
Have Your Bank Card Sent Out To You If You Lose Your Card Abroad
There are some banks that can have a new card sent to you within 24 hours if you are on holiday or traveling. The time can range between 5-7 business days to 24 hours (you may have to pay more for this rush service, bank depending).
If you want a new bank card sent to you, you will need to CONTACT your bank directly. Use Skype to call the bank directly on their 1800 number. You will need a secure location to send the bank card to. Use your hotel or some other location you are absolutely sure you can go back to and retrieve the card. Often for rush service (24 hours), your bank will send via Fed Ex with tracking — you can then track where your card is and when it arrives through that number.
This is what happened to me. As stated above, I lost my wallet in Thailand with all my cards, right at the airport in Bangkok. I foolishly did not have all these card distributed throughout my luggage bags to reduce the risk (probably due to the 15 hour flight and being zonked out from sleep deprivation).
I was able to call up my bank, via skype, explain the situation to them. Normally, my bank requires you to replace a bank card in person at a local bank branch. I had to explain this was NOT possible since I would not be back in Canada for six months. Banks, from what I understand, usually have emergency policies to handle this situation, even if they don’t ‘officially’ replace bank cards if you can’t come in person to a branch.
The bank agreed (after wrangling on the phone with support for a few minutes) to ship me my replacement cards, provided I could use a secure location (your embassy, a hotel, an address). They would not ship to a P.O. Box.
7 Days later, I got all my cards bank — credit card and bank cards.
So it’s possible — just realize it will take you a good week, maybe two, to get those cards back.
Note that if you are replacing a credit card, some cards have emergency replacement options where you’ll have the card Fed Ex’ed to you over a day or two. This is useful if you are really in need of quick funds. The bank cards, however, will take a longer while — at least it did for me with my bank.
Contact Local The Police If Needed (and make a report)
If you think somebody has stolen your account information, or has stolen and/or used your card, then you need to inform the local police. This may help stop the criminal using your card, making clones of your card, using it online, and may help any insurance or compensation claims in the future. Even if you don’t think the local police can help, getting a police report leaves a paper trail an is absolutely necessary if you plant to make an insurance claim.
Contact Your Insurance Company If Needed
If you did take out insurance on matters of money, maybe with a bank, a financial services company, or with your travel agent, then contact them right away. Even if you have proof and police reports that your cards were stolen, you may still be held responsible for losses if you do not inform your insurance company in time. You will also need to file a police report beforehand as well.
Get a Western Union from Family and Friends
If the worst case happens and you lose your bank card, cash, credit card and all other source of funds (including online ones) and you can’t get a new card right away, your next option is to get friends / family to do a western union to you.
This is how you can get some emergency cash.
Western Union have branches in pretty much every country around the world that you can just walk in to collect a payment made to you.
In the worst case scenario if you lose access to all bank cards, credit cards and cash, you can contact family and set up a Western Union or MoneyGram transfer to get some emergency funds right away. All you need to do is have them go to a western union account and set up a transfer to a branch in your location. You can then pick up the money.
What If Your Card Is Frozen When You Are Abroad?
Contact your bank right away to inform them or even to get advice. Often, ATM’s have a contact number you can call right away to get service and help — though this may be a problem if the ATM is in a foreign country.
It’s not uncommon for banks to automatically lock your bank account if you do NOT inform them you will be travelling abroad and then use your ATM in another country (especially if it’s a developing country you are using your ATM card from). The result will be that an ATM machine won’t spit any money out and the transaction will be declined. Any use after this of your card will be blocked UNTIL you call your bank support number to get the account unlocked.
So INFORM your bank that you will be travelling abroad and give them a list of countries you may be travelling to. The bank can put a note in your account so it won’t be locked if try using it while in those countries!
Note: There are many people who enter the wrong pin or enter it incorrectly because the ATMs in the location are different to the ones at home. For example, people in the UK are used to entering four pin numbers however, South East Asia (Singapore / Indonesia / Malaysia) has 6 digits and the UOB (Bank in Singapore) has 5 digits. As you can imagine, a lot of people from the UK lose their cards because they enter their four digit pin numbers and still see two markers for other numbers. They sometimes try to make it fit by starting or ending their pin number with two zeros.
What to do if an ATM Eats Your Card in a Foreign Country?
Things are a bit more difficult if an ATM eats your card while travelling abroad.
What to do RIGHT Away
- Wait 10 to 15 minutes to see if the ATM reboots and spits your card out.
- Check the ATM for a contact number then write that down.
- Then write down the date and time the ATM ate your card and a list of all transactions you made over the last 24 hours (so you know if anything else is added on that day, it wasn’t you).
- If possible, call the ATM contact number on the machine. If you are in a country where you can’t make that call, then visit the bank that ATM is attached to or if not, the bank associated with the ATM. Often the bank can then send a technician to to ATM to help retrieve that card. You’ll have to wait beside the machine if you want your card back on the spot.
- If the ATM is not attached to a bank (we recommend you only use ATMs while abroad directly inside of a bank branch so you can resolve any issues on the spot if they happen), you’ll need to call the number on the ATM. If you can’t get call any number or you have to leave, then you should call your bank and cancel your card ASAP. Don’t leave that card sitting in the machine and forget about it. This is the last option and it will mean you’ll have to get a new card sent to you by your bank, a process that may take 1 day to 7 days, IF they offer it.
What to do to MINIMIZE the risk of ATM issues (ATM’s eating your card, not giving cash, card skimming, etc)
- Have a backup ATM card if you travel abroad. It may be possible to have two debit cards linked to the same account. If your bank does not allow this, then have another card tied to a different account — at least for the duration of your trip.
- Use ATM’s attached to a bank branch or inside of a bank branch. If your card gets eaten from an ATM inside of the bank hosting that ATM, it’s a LOT, LOT, LOT easier to get immediate help and a quick resolution. IF your ATM gets eaten at a remote ATM location like the subway, airport, mall, things are a lot more difficult. It’s also safer on your part — less of a chance to get robbed or your card skimmed at the ATM.
- Get the help of a local to call the bank/atm contact number. If your card is eaten, see if you can enlist the help of a friendly local to call the bank for you and explain the situation. They may take asking on your part, but it’s worth reaching out to locals with your problem. If you are in a public area like the subway, airport, or a mall, you may be able to contact a security card or the help desk to enlist local help. If not, cross your fingers and start asking passerby’s.
- Know your bank policy regarding ATM cards and if they will replace the card if you lose it or it gets eaten. A little homework on your part about how your home bank might handle such a situation will let you know where you stand SHOULD it happen while you travel.
What To Do If You Need Emergency Funds and Have No Money
Say you’ve lost all your cards and cash while abroad. What do you do?
First off, you should contact your embassy. They have some policies in place that can help you and may be able to arrange for an emergency money transfer from your relatives.
But if you can’t get to an embassy or consulate but have access to skype / the internet. You have a couple options.
Western Union is probably the best way to get cash anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours. You will need to contact your family and ask them to do a western union to you. You can pick up that money at a specific local branch, of which there will be somewhere in your area (it’s Western Union after-all). You can use your Passport to pick up the money, once it’s been sent.
For emergency cash, this is the best method, especially if you have NO credit card, bank card, or other methods of withdrawing cash.
Emergency Credit Card Loan
Some credit cards (like Visa), have a special policy in place. If you lose your credit card but need emergency cash, you can call up the credit card department and they will do a cash withdraw on your credit card balance and send you that money, via Western Union (or some other method) to your location. This is useful if you have NO relatives back home who can do a Western Union, but you have a credit card, even if you’ve just lost it or had it stolen. I know this because in my situation, after I called the credit card company reporting I had lost my credit card aboard, they offered to send me money out of my credit card balance, if I needed fast cash.
Note that if you do accept this, you will be paying daily interest — so you want to repay the amount as soon as possible.
Note that if you have to leave your card in the ATM, some ATM’s are programmed to shred your card for security reasons. This is not always the case, but it may happen.
If you are lucky and you manage to contact the associated bank and get a technician to the ATM, you may be able to get your card back directly. It’s best to wait at the machine IF the machine is at a bank directly and you can tell the bank directly the situation. If the ATM is not at a bank, then you call the number on the contact and wait by the ATM. If there is no number or no way to contact them or it’s off hours, then you may be forced to leave the ATM and contact an associated bank as soon as possible.
If you can’t get your card back, contact your bank right away and have them cancel the card for security purposes.
This is often a good idea because there are places that do not accept cards (especially buses and taxis), and it also means you have a backup if your cards are stolen, lost or swallowed.