Debit Cards while traveling

Starting yesterday in the afternoon I noticed that one of my debit cards was blocked or locked and I could not use it to withdraw funds or pay for services or products. I saw a bewildering variety of errors on ATMs here in Cambodia. None really told me much other than the request was declined. Since the time difference is significant for the US bank I decided to get up early and call them. 

One of the primary services I’ve mentioned before is the need to have a US based phone number that I can use to receive text messages, voice mails, and calls while on mobile or wifi service elsewhere. There are a few alternatives and some cost for the service like Skype or the Hushed App. Others are free and that’s where I’m at. The only real alternative is Google Voice now that its a true wifi dialing service from my iPhone. Simply dialing a US number from Google Voice appears to the caller that I am calling from a US number. That was really important this time since they want a number to text something back to you to verify. They won’t do email verification and really want a number to text to. What happens if you don’t have a US phone number? I asked the CapitolOne representative and they have a second escalation for that to use a US based government ID. I guess like a passport or driver’s license? We did not go there because with Google Voice I could get the text message to my laptop while on the phone with the agent and we sorted it out. 

This brings up a cautionary note and a basic need when traveling forever or for a year or whatever. US banks want to have US numbers to call you back at. They want to text verification messages or leave voice mails for you at a US number. You should plan for this eventuality a few ways and here they are:

  1. Get a second account at a completely different bank and link the two together so you can transfer funds between them. This is almost a requirement if you want sanity on the road. Don’t travel with only one card folks. Also seed that second account with a reasonable amount of security cash. I do about $1000 US in that account.
  2. Get a phone service that creates a second number on your mobile device while you live or wander in foreign places. I chose Google Voice a long time ago for this and it works very well and its free but you choose the one that provides the 2 factor authentication, the verification requirements like text messages, and one that you can get voice mails at. You can see from the debit card adventure I had why this is good.

Not saying that these two methods will satisfy every possible thing that comes up but imagine being stuck somewhere without the method to verify the request to unlock your card and you do not have a second card? Imagine only one card that gets stolen or stuck in a machine or simply stops working. How do you then get money? There are no bank branches in Da Nang Vietnam or Phnom Penh Cambodia to stop in at.

I mention all this because these are the real life things that can happen on the road and I have tried to create a virtual environment where I can bounce back from them. There are other things as well which will make your voyage better. I’ve written them down before here. Just consider the starting point to be careful but also have a backup and redundancy plan in place. Probably a no brainer rule to all this is to not bring a SIM locked phone when you travel. If your phone is locked to Verizon or T-Mobile how will you do mobile data without wifi? I see so many people even unable to use google maps in a place to find their way around. Just get yourself a cheaper phone like an android phone that is unlocked and carry it when you go. I have an unlocked iPhone 7 plus which works very well on all different carriers.

All of this creates the buffer you need to sustain yourself on the road when something happens. The most important things! Passport and copies, money and Debit Cards, personal property and the right technology with you to recover. 

Give it some thought and look at your recovery plan when you go.

Author: Michael Perry

I've been blogging for over 20 years and now am living in Southeast Asia. The blog is about my slow vagabonding wherever I want to go. My home base is in Cambodia but I'm rarely there.