Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Debit Card Nasty Surprises

You have undoubtedly heard from many people that you should cut up your credit cards and get a visa debit card instead. I am one of those people, and I am now sorry I did that. Because I should have kept those credit cards after having paid them off. It would have been much safer for me that way. At least, when one goes overseas. Because if for some reason your debit card gets blocked, you will be up the creek without a paddle in a foreign land eating crow in front of a hotel clerk, a travel agent or an embarrased waiter in a restaurant.Why am I sorry? Well, because I am overseas now, in Auckland , New Zealand. I have a US visa debit card and plenty of money in my account. However, after I have shopped with it for a while, and bought items on the Internet, and traveled from the Philippines to Australia and now, New Zealand, and used my card at all these different locations, my bank, unceremoniously and without as much as a courtesy notice, blocked my visa card. Obviously, too many purchases in too many exotic locales, and, allegedly, as it turned out later, a fraudulent attempt by someone to use my card. Or, so they wrote.Nothing is more embarrasing than having tens of thousands of dollars in your bank in the US and an international platinum visa debit card with a Plus and a Star logo, and having your card rejected by a travel agent in a far away country after you have made all the bookings to go skiing at a local winter resort. How about being rejected at a hotel? Or when you go to a restaurant and want to pay for a meal? Or when you are standing on a rainy street corner, in front of an ATM machine that spat it out and gave you no money “ Contact your bank” the idiot lights are blinking at you! It is like you have no money at all now. Because, for all intents and purposes, you don’t.Thank God I had some cash on me- I always carry it, and I went to exchange it at a local bank. Thank God again it was daytime, and it was not closed. What if it was night time? I would be stuck in a foreign land, embarrassed and having to wash dishes at a foreign restaurant because my visa debit card is now blocked. All while I have plenty of money in my account? How cruel! I want to wring that bank manager’s neck! I would like to see him/her standing on the street corner in Auckland, under a cold August rain. It is winter here in the Southern hemisphere and I am left holding a bag in the drizzle.I try to call my bank to see what is happening. And guess what, their operators are not available. They go on duty early in the morning, US time, but I am in New Zealand and I have to wait until 1:00am for the operator to hear me out. And who pays for the expensive overseas call? I do. And when they put you on hold, you are paying exorbitant rates for waiting because you are calling from overseas. And there is no international toll free number, either at my bank. You can try and call over the Internet, but again, you will have to find a cafĂ© that is open, pay for the computer, buy a calling card and try to call over a choppy network connection. That’s right! Many US banks do not have an international collect number- to them the rest of the world simply does not exist. It makes the whole thing inconvenient, nerve-racking, and plain dangerous. How can you survive without money in a far away country?Finally, I got through after a long hold- I was standing at a bus stop in front of a useless ATM machine and my teeth were chattering from the cold- and was told that there was an attempt by someone to use my card and “ for my own protection”, it was now blocked. It would have been nice if you had sent me an email, you know? Just as a matter of courtesy. How was I to know?Now, it turns out that the bank cannot send the card overseas. They will send it to my US address. I am lucky my mom is at that address and she will send it to me by FedEx. But not now. I am travelling. I will be not be staying at any place for longer than 3 days. So, I did as I used to do back in my teenage years- mom, please send me money by Western Union to tide me over. And what about all these places I was going to go to? I will now have to go without many, many things because I will have to budget my money very carefully. My mom can’t send me too much money. At least, not as much as I want.And you know what else? Many bank numbers, the 800 and 888 ones do not work from overseas and cannot be accessed from many places abroad unless you have a local landline and even then, not every network will allow that. It all creates huge a waste of time and money ; ruins your good mood while you are on a vacation that you were saving for a year for, and it is just perilous. What if you have no money now to pay for the hotel? They can even have you arrested!Luckily, after a long talk, the operator opened my ‘compromised’ account and allowed me to withdraw $700. This will help me for the next few days. And my mom said she would be sending me $500. But who needs all that nonsense? I am now mighty upset and am angry at my bank. And most of all I am angry at myself for allowing myself to depend on the debit card.The lesson is this: have a debit card, but keep your credit cards and take them when you go abroad. Get at least two of those. Buy traveler’s checks. Get an American Express debit card in addition to your visa debit card. And carry cash in a money belt. Yes, I know it is bulky, but so what? It is bulkier getting wet in the rain after you are not allowed inside a hotel.I would recommend carrying at least $5000 in your money belt or some secret pouch. When in a hotel, you can put it in a deposit box. And when traveling, I would carry at least a few days’ supply of money on me. Sure, I run the risk of losing it or being robbed, but it sure beats making your visa debit card your only lifeline. And when applying for a new visa debit card with a bank stateside, make sure the US bank has an international number which you can call collect. Make certain they will deliver a replacement card to wherever you are within two-three working days and, hopefully, if they block your card, they will have the decency to let you know by email or in any other way that it is blocked.No matter how much money you have in the bank, if you can’t access it, you have no money. The aggravations resulting from all this are not what you want to happen on your vacation or while living overseas.I should be getting a new debit card in some 10 days by my best estimates. In the meanwhile, I will not let all these events ruin my vacation and will just go ahead and enjoy it. But I want this happening to be a warning to others- debit cards are not 100

1 comment:

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