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"I've Lost My Bank Card Overseas!!! What Do I Do?!"

April 25, 2013  •  172 Comments

Debit cards.

So you're traveling overseas, wallowing in current experiences and future memories, when you open your wallet and discover your credit/debit card is gone!!! You only have about $40 in cash, and on top of that, you are driving a rental vehicle that needs to be delivered to a location over 1000 miles north. What do you do?!

Well, first off, relax. Here, in Australia, everyone says, "No worries", and I have fully embraced this. Worrying never helps anyone or anything. You cannot resolve any situation by worrying about it. You need to keep a level head.

A few weeks ago, I lost my debit card (and cell phone) at Rainbow Beach, and at first, I was worried. Then, I realized I could do nothing to fix my problems that way. So I stopped worrying, accepted my situation, and did what I could to resolve it.

What did I do? I brainstormed. I had an ExxonMobil card, and I had seen some Mobil gas stations (called "petrol stations" here in Oz), so I drove to the nearest one to use the card and fill up my campervan's tank. Unfortunately, I discovered that Mobil had sold its holdings in Australia, and most Mobil stations had been replaced by BP stations. Those that still bore the name "Mobil" were, actually, owned by seven other companies. Just my luck.

But I had another idea. I had an Australian bank account set up, and if I transferred some money from my American account, I could withdraw it from the Australian bank in cash. However, I had lost my debit card on the night before Good Friday, and in Australia, everything important closes from Good Friday to April Fool's Day (banks and post offices alike). Yes, they are closed for April Fool's. It's not a very funny joke...

Thus, I had to survive on $40 for four days. I drove from Rainbow Beach to Hervey Bay, where I had heard there were internet cafes. This information was true, thankfully, and I stumbled into Fraser Roving hostel, where they provided pay-per-use internet and phone services. Both of which I desperately needed.

Throughout the debacle, I learned a great deal about traveling without money, so here are some important options to consider:

Western Union. Moving money for better.

Western Union

Western Union is your amigo. With Western Union, you can transfer money from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. So, when you find yourself in a pinch, your family and friends back home can wire you money, which you can collect from a Western Union agent. In Australia, these agents are Australia Post offices, but they vary greatly all over the world.

The process is simple. Someone wires you X amount of money (considering conversion and service fees). He or she can either wire the money directly into your bank account or wire to a Western Union agent for a cash pickup at at any Western Union agency. In my case, I received the money as cash from an agent. My family wired me the money, and they were given a MTCN (Money Transfer Control Number). This number is VERY important (for cash pickups, at least), so whoever sends you the money MUST give you this number. Other than that, you just need to fill out a form with rather basic information and present the agent(s) with two forms of I.D., preferably a passport and driver's license.

If you know your bank account information (might want to set this up on Western Union's website before traveling overseas), you may even be able to wire money to yourself, but I recommend keeping a person you know on hand, so he or she can send you money in case sending to yourself fails.

PayPal

PayPal is great for making online purchases without storing your card numbers on multiple websites. Because of this, you can make online purchases without a credit or debit card. In fact, you can even send someone money via PayPal. If your bank account is linked to your PayPal account, you can easily access your money directly from your bank to make any necessary online purchases. (Example: buying a plane ticket.) This makes escaping a foreign country when you're broke that much easier.

Work

In addition to the above two options, if you have a visa that allows you to work in the country you're currently exploring, like I do, you can get a job and make money. Now, of course, in some cases, this is easier said than done. For unskilled workers and/or those with temporary visas, you may have a tougher time finding work. But, in many cases, if you don't find work right away, most hostels offer free accommodation in exchange for a few hours of work. By doing this, you will have much more time to find paid work.

Prepaid Cards

Prepaid cards will not help you retrieve your lost money, but if have your hands on some cash and need to make some over-the-phone or online purchases, they are incredibly useful. Visa offers a number of cards that allow you to "load & go" and use them exactly like credit/debit cards. In Australia, the Australia Post offers their own version (also Visa), which I highly recommend. For obvious reasons, the travel versions of these cards are your best choice, not just for traveling overseas but also for using them when you return home.

Prevention

Lastly, the best cure for anything is prevention. You can't always avoid accidents, but you can take steps to prevent them. In my case, I could've prevented my debit card loss by securing it inside my backpack, and I could've prevented my cellphone loss (well, actually, I didn't "lose" it; it got wet and short-circuited) by doing the same. No, I hadn't expected my leisurely hike through the woods would end with a terrible struggle through the surf, but that doesn't immunize me from being unprepared. So, when traveling or preparing to travel, here are some things to remember:

-Always secure your belongings. This seems like common sense, but sometimes, you can be caught off guard. Like when the tide unexpectedly rolls in, and you are suddenly immersed in the surf.

-Avoid going anywhere alone. If you must do so, tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return. This ensures that, if you end up in a tight spot and are running late, someone will send help.

-Carry around cash, and keep cash stored in a secure location. I'm serious. In this ever-increasing electronic market, cash is taking a seat on the backburner, since credit and debit cards have accelerated the purchasing process. Yet, cash will always be necessary, especially if you lose your cards and don't have a bank account (generally, travelers don't have bank accounts in the countries they're exploring).

If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments, and I'll add them to my list. Happy travels!


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