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What if you are out of the country, and an ATM eats your card?

Let me set the scene for you:

You’re in a foreign country- let’s say Thailand. You don’t want to walk around with a ton of cash, but most places don’t accept card. (This is true in many non-American countries. You need cash for most everything.) You’re in Thailand and a little short on cash after buying too many things at the market, followed by having a few too many Singapore Slings the night before. In need of a little more cash, you head to the nearest ATM. You stick your card in, and the machine immediately spits it back out. That’s weird. So you stick it in again. The ATM sucks up your card, says something along the lines of “Thank you” on the screen, and the screen goes back to the main page. You want to hang around to find someone to fix this situation for you, but your boat is about to leave! What do you do?

If this scenario seems oddly specific, it’s only because this happened to me. I did not have enough money to be traveling in Thailand in the first place, due to my lack of planning and leaving my job two months before my trip. Then the ATM ate the only gateway I had to my last $200. Aside from taking a sketchy (and illegal) cash-only job to raise a little dough before my flight home (in a week), I was really at a loss for what to do.

If an ATM takes your card at your local bank, it’s a hassle, but you can just go inside and they should be able to eventually retrieve it for you. What happens if you are in a foreign country and the ATM eats your card? I decided to start with the same method.

See if the Bank That Owns the ATM Can Retrieve Your Card

Just as fair warning, this option probably will not work. Most ATMs are operated by third parties, so the bank doesn’t have access to get inside the ATM. Usually these third parties come to maintain the ATM 1-2 times per week, meaning that it could be up to a week (or more!) before you can get your card back, if they can even do it.

Pro tip: Try to use the ATM during business hours so you can easily report it to the bank just-in-case it gets eaten.

Since my boat was leaving, I snapped a photo of the ATM and jumped on my boat, hoping the nice people at the bank back on the mainland would be able to fix the situation for me. Spoiler: they weren’t. They said that if they could extract the card from the ATM, it wouldn’t be for another week. I would then have to return to the island to pick up my card. I did not have the money for another boat ride, even with the card, so that was not an option.

Get a Friend or Family Member to Send You Money

If you still have a card from another bank, then this should be pretty easy. There are plenty of apps out there where someone can send you money quickly (like PayPal) and you can then just take the money off of the other card. Preferably from a different ATM.

If you don’t have any other cards, don’t worry! Another great option is Western Union. Some banks allow you to send money via Western Union through your online banking, but many make you come inside your local branch for security reasons.

Pro tip: First visit the Western Union where you plan to receive your money, so you know you have all the correct info the first time. Don’t just trust the info you may find online.

To do this, you need to go to the Western Union closest to you. Ask them how to receive money. They should have a little piece of paper with all the info that your friend or relative needs to send you some cash. You give them the info, and your friend or relative just needs to go into the bank and send money to you. You then pick it up at your closest Western Union. The best part is you have to decide on a secret code word to pick up the money. You show your ID, tell them the code word, and they give you the cash in the local currency! So easy.

This is how I survived the last week of my month-long Thailand trek. Thank you to my friend who sent me some cash! Fun story- he’s now my boyfriend and we live in Europe together. So if you go down this route, just know that could be an option for you too.

(And if you’re planning a trip to Europe, you should check out my post: The Best Ways to Get Around Europe!)

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