I started my current long-term trip almost eight months ago with three debit or credit cards on me. I thought would offer plenty of redundancy in case of any problems but I was wrong… as now I have zero bank cards.
One card got cloned in Honduras and had to be cancelled after I found out 1500 GBP was taken from my account (the story of which I wrote here). Another card mysteriously disappeared from my bag, possibly dropped somewhere accidentally. My third and final card got eaten and destroyed by an ATM in Lima after I stupidly entered the wrong PIN (it was a backup card I hadn’t yet used before).
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you are fortunately still several steps away from having to busk or beg your way home. As I quickly found out, there are many backup methods for getting money out abroad.
1. Ask a fellow traveller for help
Get someone else to take money out and pay them online. This assumes you still have online banking access or can use a service like PayPal, and that you know another traveler who trusts you. This is not a great permanent solution but it can help you in a pinch.
2. Get a new card sent out and have it forwarded to you
Unfortunately most banks don’t send cards abroad – only to a registered address in your home country – so you will have to ask a trusted person to send it to you, like a member of your family. Waiting for a card to arrive is not ideal as this can take a couple of weeks depending on where you are, but if you are on a big trip it may be worth staying in holding pattern somewhere until your fresh bank card has arrived.
3. Use Western Union
Ever noticed those yellow-on-black Western Union signs at banks or post offices around the world? I never realized what Western Union was for until I was stuck abroad without the ability to use ATMs.
Western Union is amazing for sending money internationally without having to use a debit or credit card. You simply transfer money to a Western Union account and then collect the cash at any Western Union office in the designated country. You can transfer the money yourself if you still have internet or phone banking access, or your family can do this for you.
You will need to bring a photocopy of your passport and some patience (filling out the forms can take 20 minutes or so).
4. Use Azimo (if you are from Europe)
Azimo is another great way to send money abroad, and it’s often cheaper as unlike Western Union it doesn’t maintain its own offices around the world. In some cases there are actually zero fees depending on your home country and where you are sending the money to. Check the site for your specific situation.
So there you have it: four ways to survive and continue your trip even when you are without your bank or credit cards.
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