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A few years ago, I was traveling in Thailand and I lost my debit card. Well, I guess I didn’t actually “lose” it. I “left” it. But even though dealing with a lost debit card abroad wasn’t ideal, it all turned out okay in the end. Here’s what to do if you lose your debit card while traveling… or just leave it in an ATM, like I did.
How I Ended Up With A Lost Debit Card Abroad
It started when I went to the ATM outside of the grocery store to get some cash. I put in my debit card like usual, took out some Baht, and tucked the money safely into my bag. But I forgot that in Thailand, the ATMs give you your cash before they return your card. And so with my money in hand, I turned and walked away.
And just straight up left my card in the machine.
The machine didn’t malfunction and eat the card. Nope, this one was all me. I took my cash and left my card sitting there, poking out of the card reader, all by its lonesome.
I was planning to go on an island tour that day, so I strolled down the road toward the pier where my group was meeting. I walked about half a mile under the tropical sun thinking about going snorkeling and contemplating buying my fifth Thai iced coffee of the day.
Then it hit me. I didn’t even have to check my wallet. I knew I left my card behind.
Of course, I immediately did check my wallet even though I knew it was gone. I could see the tour boat up ahead, but I turned on my heels and frantically panic power walked back to the ATM. Wishfully, I had been hoping I would get there and still see my card sticking out of the machine, but that wasn’t the case.
So I kind of just stood there in front of the machine with no idea what to do. For about 10 minutes, I tried pushing all the buttons in random order. Sometimes I pushed them softly like I was trying to crack a code. Other times I pushed them firmly to show that machine that I meant business. Nothing happened, obviously.
I went inside to ask if someone in the grocery store could help me. They didn’t know what to do either because the ATM was owned by a third party bank.
I went back outside and tried my third strategy, which was just standing with my arms crossed while staring daggers at the ATM. That’s when a nice man walked past and, after seeing the look on my face, said, “You’ll need to call the number on the machine.”
He’s the only reason I managed to get my card back in a reasonably calm manner, so whoever you were, thanks.
What To Do If You Lose Your Debit Card In An ATM Abroad
Aka, you just left it there and walked away.
1. Turn off or freeze your card.
It’s normal to feel totally frazzled when you find yourself stranded without your ATM card. Keeping a cool head will help you solve the problem faster. Take it from someone who definitely didn’t stay calm… panicking didn’t help much.
First, you’ll need to turn off or freeze your bank card. Most banks have a way for you to do this in their mobile banking app. If you don’t have the mobile banking app or aren’t sure how to do it, you can also call your bank and ask them to freeze the card temporarily.
With my bank, I was able to log into the mobile app and turn the missing debit card off. This means that no one will be able to use the card until I turn it back on again. Even though I was pretty sure my card was inside the ATM, I did this as a precaution in case someone else grabbed it before I returned.
3. Take a photo of the ATM information panel
ATM’s usually have a sticker on them that says the machine number and customer service phone number. It looks like a little gray box with identification information for that particular machine. Take a photo of the ATM information panel so you have it for future reference.
4. Call the number on the ATM
To get your card back, you’ll need to go to the ATM company directly. Usually, the ATM is run by a bank so you will call their banking line. Navigate through the menu until you get to talk to a person. When I called, the closest menu option was “report a problem with an ATM.” This got me through to a customer service representative quickly who was able to help.
5. Tell them the number of the ATM and what happened
When you get through to a person with the bank, you’ll need to provide some information so they can help you get your card back. Use that photo you took earlier to provide the machine number. You’ll also need to provide the date and time you
lost left your card.
Using that information, they will tell you what day they are sending someone out to that ATM. When they come to open the ATM, they will collect your card and bring it back to their office. Then, you can pick up the card.
It usually takes 1-2 days to get the card back depending on how often they send someone out to the ATM. If you’re leaving before your card will be rescued, see the steps below.
You should get a case number and they will tell you where their nearest branch is. They will also say what day and time to come in and get the card. Write down your case number for future reference.
6. Getting your card back
When the day comes to get your card back, take your passport to the branch location they provided. You have to fill out some paperwork but the process is very simple and fast.
Once you’ve completed the paperwork and they’ve verified your identity, you’ll get your card.
7. Turn your card back on
Contact your bank or use your mobile banking app to turn your card back on. If you forget to do this step, you won’t be able to use the card and it might get flagged, so this is important. Once you turn the card back on, go have a celebratory treat because you made it through!
One of the main reasons I was able to get my card back so easily was because the ATM I used was affiliated with a well-known bank. If you have a choice, always use the ATMs that are linked with reputable banks. I try to stick to banks whose logos I’ve seen on buildings and advertisements in the area I’m visiting. Avoid using unmarked ATMs and never use one that doesn’t have a customer support phone number on the machine.
Getting A New Debit Card While Traveling
If you leave your card in the ATM you’ll probably have it back in a few days, easy peasy. But if it isn’t in the ATM like you expected or you lost your debit card in another way? No problem, here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Continue not panicking. Again you will make it through this!
- Turn off or cancel your card. Call your bank right away and let them know what happened so that no one else can use your card while you get a replacement.
- Contact your bank and have them send you a replacement card to your future destination. The best place to have your bank send your card is a hotel or friend’s house in the area. It can take a long time (sometimes even 1-3 weeks) for international shipping so make sure to adjust your travel plans accordingly.
How To Get Money Abroad With No Card
While you wait for your new card to arrive, you might still need cash depending on where in the world you’re traveling. Here’s how to get by while you’re waiting on your new debit card to arrive.
- Pay for as much as you can with your credit card or online in advance. Many hotels give you the option to pay with a card online or pay when you arrive. Pay online to save your cash.
- You can use a service like Western Union to send yourself some cash. In some countries, using cash is much more common than using a card. You might need more cash to hold you over and Western Union is an easy way to send yourself money. Look on their website to find locations around the world.
- If you’re going out with friends, offer to put the entire bill on your credit card and have everyone pay you back for their share with cash.
- If you are traveling with a companion, transfer them money through a service like Zelle or PayPal and have them withdrawn the money for you from the ATM.
I’d always heard that it’s extremely important to travel with more than one card. After this experience, I understand why. Now, I travel with multiple cards just in case. It’s much safer to go out with one card and leave the other ones securely back home.
It’s also a good idea to keep your cards in separate places while traveling (like one in your luggage, one in your wallet, and one in your backpack) in case you misplace a bag.
At the end of the day, what could have been a very stressful situation turned out to be only slightly inconvenient. Thankfully, the man walking by told me there was an information panel right on the ATM where I could get help. I had used a bank-owned ATM so they were able to find the card for me and I retrieved it in just a few days. Now, I’m careful about traveling with backup cards so I don’t have to panic if I
lose walk away from mine again.