What do you do when you are in another country and have no cash in your pocket and your bank cards suddenly stop working? And no one locally who can help financially? And a new bank card will take maybe 3-4 weeks to get to you?
This is the predicament I currently find myself. Here’s the story.
Two weeks ago, I was robbed of the “emergency fund” in cash that I normally travel with. This has come in handy on a number of occasions when I’ve lost my bank card overseas, and usually gives me enough money to live on until new cards arrive. I say “cards” because I’ve learned from past experiences that a second, emergency card is a good idea.
Unfortunately, this time, several days after my emergency fund was stolen, both of my Visa cards stopped working – at bank ATMs and at a retail outlet. (Unfortunately, I didn’t try to make an Internet purchase, which probably would have shown the cards were fine.) I even tried the ATMs at 10 different banks. One day they were fine, the next nothing. These were both new cards.
Fearing the worst, I immediately went into a local bank in Batam, where I knew there was a frontline manager who spoke English, and asked her what was wrong. I explained the situation, showed her my undamaged cards. She had no clue and suggested the cards were damaged.
Both cards at the same time, I asked? They were both new, I explained, clearly not pleased with her response.
Could the bank be doing something to block my access, I asked? No, that’s not possible, was the reply.
I had roughly $30 in my pocket.
I was very suspicious that this was a problem with my cards, but with no other apparent recourse, I decided to contact my U.S. bank (again!) by email to cancel my current cards and order new ones, even though they also might not work once they arrived.
I “recommended” that the bank send the cards by courier to ensure they made it to me and to speed delivery. The banks hate to do this but it is essential coming to Indonesia, where I have had 3-4 cards intercepted en route. Of course, the knee-jerk reaction from the bank was to send the cards regular mail, “in a plain white envelope” they considered secure, and which meant arrival in 4-8 weeks, maybe. Furious, I emailed back, explaining again the problem, and they are sending two new cards by courier.
That takes care of 14-17 days down the road, assuming the cards work when they arrive. But since the Indonesian central bank is behind the ATM no-access, due to problems with the currency here, there is no guarantee they will work. At which point, I will need to ferry over to Singapore to use an ATM there, at the cost of $40.
But what do you do in the interim while you wait for your bank cards. It’s a good idea to have people in your home country who can help. I did. A good friend (thank you, Jack!) in the U.S. came to my rescue and sent money via Western Union. It’s not cheap but when you gotta have it, you gotta have it.
It also didn’t hurt to have the basics for about 20 meals in my larder.
So now I’m living as frugally as possible, cutting down on the alcohol, not going out to play pool at night, and just sitting home watching TV. Local food is really cheap and I can get many dishes for about $2, and food at the fresh market is inexpensive (vegetables, chicken, pork, fruit).
I am, however, re-examining my commitment to Indonesia. I’m pretty fed up with how the government is run by the religion and tired of being stolen from (although that’s going to happen in any Third World country). But when the government freezes your money, then that may be the last straw.