What you can do if you run out of money while out of country
It is the traveller’s most feared nightmare: not being able to access money while abroad. Maybe the cash machine is broken, the credit card stolen or the card limit maxed out.
It’s happened to me more than once and not knowing how to pay for dinner is scary.
Incident number 1: Blocked account in India
I tried to withdraw cash at 19 (!!) different cash points in India. To no avail. I suspected my card being blocked but my bank was adamant that it wasn’t. I called them up and soon enough they told me I had been right all along. They asked me to fax in a letter stating that I was in India and could not access my funds. A fax? I mean what century do we live in?
Luckily for me, they saw sense and let me send them a picture I took on my phone. In the mean time I asked my family to send me 100 € via Western Union and I only dined at restaurants that accepted credit cards.
Incident number 2: Credit card cloned
A couple of years ago I moved to Spain to study at a partner university for two semesters. Within a month of my arrival my credit card got cloned in the USA and a couple thousand Euros were taken from my card. Luckily my bank noticed immediately and refunded me in full. I did have to cancel the card but was sent a replacement via post. My new card landed within a few days.
Incident number 3: No cash in Mexico
The problem seemed to be similar to India. No matter where I tried to access my funds all of my money requests at ATMs were denied. This time my card wasn’t blocked though, the ATM machines were empty or the amount of cash I wanted to withdraw exceeded the limit. ATM limits vary throughout Mexico and some banks only allow up to Euro 70,– to be withdrawn at a time.
Geocontrol was introduced in January 2015. The idea behind this is to protect your debit card from fraud. If Geocontrol is enabled, cash withdrawals at ATMs are only possible within the EU and some other European countries (check with your bank!). Geocontrol has to be deactivated when travelling outside of Europe. With some banks you can deactivate the feature yourself in your online banking portal, some other airlines require you to contact them directly.
I was able to withdraw cash in the UAE, Kenya and Tanzania without deactivating Geocontrol even though I wasn’t supposed to able to (I did ask my bank to deactivate it for me before I left, so not sure what happened!). I approve of the system in theory but some more tweaking is necessary, in my opinion. It all went well until I got to India and it took me a full day to sort out the problem and to get my card unblocked. It was a good few days before I could use my card for cash withdrawals again.
Cash stash for emergencies
I ALWAYS bring, in addition to my two debit and two credit cards, 100 Euro or 100 USD in cash. Reason being if I cannot find an ATM close by or something needs to be paid in cash right away.
Do bring the cash in small notes rather than one 100 Euro (or Dollar) bill. Nobody needs to know how much cash you have on you.
Tip 1: Don’t keep your emergency stash in your wallet in case it gets stolen. Keep your cash and cards in different places as well.
Tip 2: Always have about 100 dollars in cash on you – either get dollars at a cash machine or preorder them at your bank.
Up your limits
Most cash cards have a weekly limit of 400€ for cash withdrawals. Up your limit in your online banking or call your bank.
Upping your credit card limit may not be as straightforward and easy. Sometimes banks require a certain amount of income to grant higher credit limits. Try speaking to your bank, they may be able to up your limit for a certain amount of time (ie duration of your trip).
Second credit card and/or second debit card
Almost all banks let you order a second debit card for only a couple of Euros. This may come in handy if you loose your first debit card but not if your account is blocked. I opened a second checking account to avoid this problem and also to have some backup money while abroad.
Ask your bank if they will allow you to have two credit cards (US banks are a lot easier to deal with on this!). I own a Visa and Mastercard and they are both issued by the same bank. If for any reason your bank is hesitant about issuing a second card for you, try getting one through an airline (Mona owns the Miles & More Mastercard Gold).
Tip: My parents have my bank details so in case I cannot access one of my bank accounts they can always transfer some money to the other.
Tip 2: Do not keep your backup cards together with your primary cards. Hide them in your luggage or lock them in a safe at your accommodation (if there is one).
If it’s gone haywire
Have money sent to you
The most popular way to have money sent is Western Union. It only takes a couple of minutes to send money to anywhere in the world. The idea is great but do not forget to check where your closest Western Union branch is as you will need to pick the money up in person. Also factor in the handling fee Western Union charges.
A pick-up code is generated which you will need to pick up the money (hence the name!). Do not forget to bring your ID or else you will not be able to get the money.
Example: For someone to receive € 100 in cash in Mexico, I will need to send € 104,90 via Western Union. The (today) exchange rate 18,9652. My Mexican friend will receive 1886 Mexican Pesos if I pay by credit card or 1897 Mexican Pesos if I do a bank transfer. The difference is 11 Pesos, so less than € 1.
I’ll leave this in German, because the exchange rate already changed – I selected to pay by credit card, receive cash.
The concept of Azimo is similar to the one of Western Union, but they provide more options to access the money that is sent. Some grocery shops even pay out the money. Do check online which shops participate.
Example: I once again send my Mexican friend € 100 (isn’t he lucky ;-)). Today’s exchange rate is 19,65 Pesos for 1 Euro. Azimo charges a fee of € 2,99 – so you pay € 102,99 to send € 100. The payout in Mexican Pesos is 1965,38. That’s a difference of approx. 70 Pesos (4 Euros) compared to Western Union.
A lot of hotels, agencies and dive centres accept Paypal as a payment method. Sending money from your Paypal account (top up happens via credit card or bank transfer) is free, withdrawals do incur a small fee.
Paypal works like an online bank account but minus the horrendous foreign transfer fees. Transfers only take a couple of days.
Unfortunately, you need money to get by pretty much everywhere in the world, but you should be fine if you keep a few things in mind and do a bit of pre-travel planning. Always keep a close eye on your belongings and do not keep your cards together in the same place.
Have you ever been stuck without money? What did you do? Have you used Western Union, Azimo, etc. before?
Keep on travelling,