Living in SE Asia has its rewards and Difficulties

I’ve been living now in various places in Southeast Asia over a year. Spent six months in Vietnam and then established and received a retirement extension of stay in Cambodia good for a year of multiple exit and entries. All of this was pretty easy stuff to get done. Visas and passports are not terribly difficult when you understand how it works. Take the entry stamp for Malaysia. If you are a US citizen, you get 90 days with no questions asked and you get the stamp in about 10 minutes. When you leave Malaysia, you get an exit stamp in the same amount of time. In Thailand, if you are a US Citizen you get 30 days exemption at the airport of entry. You can then get an extension of 30 days at the Bangkok Central Immigration Office by going there with a few things and some Baht. The whole thing will take about an hour or so even with lines but it may be longer so being patient is a virtue.

There are all those basic things to living and vagabonding around Asia which are not difficult to deal with. Its all written in blogs and expat forums pretty well. What is not covered are the “under the cover” things which can come up. Choices that I made before leaving have a way for better or worse of coming back to visit. As I left last year, it became very evident that Bank of America was not a partner in travel. This bank is probably the worst choice if you live or travel or are a digital nomad or whatever. Financial Service is a soft under the covers thing you decide early on or make changes to that better serve you. Perhaps you find a better bank or two to do your business, receive direct deposits, and protect your money. I hope you find two banks that are completely different entities to protect yourself and then establish a link between them to transfer monies. To transfer the funds, using ACH it will take up to three days between banks. Why would you want to have two though? Just more of a hassle? Easier to lose track of a card?

Look at it this way, banks are not really motivated to take good care of you. The amount you place in the bank is such a minute amount compared to their global reserves or the amounts of their big corporate and enterprise customers. You are a speck on their world. A fly on the windshield of their global ATM presence. But it does behoove you if living in another country to find a bank and presence that will act beneficially and in your interest EVEN IF they are huge multinational conglomerates. Then I think you have to find two of them. So here is why two.

Three days ago I found that a number of fraudulent charges were placed against one of my accounts to the tune of a few thousand dollars. This is the first time in almost 18 months of living in Asia this has happened. The bank then froze the card and let me know how to dispute the charges. Of course, I have to wait days for the fraudulent charges to clear and then I can call the bank and dispute them all and get what they call a provisional credit upon review. The review can take XX weeks or even months but they give me the money back I am out. They also blocked the card I use which basically means any money I have in that account is frozen unless I can move it to another bank and use a ATM debit card there. So I have two accounts in different banks which are more traveler and ex-pat friendly so I transferred an amount of money to cover myself while the bank sends me a new debit card to Thailand. That card will take up to 7 business days to get here and meanwhile the bank is blocked.

Let me ask the basic question. If you only had one card and it was blocked, corrupted, frozen or lost; what do you do? What if you have credit cards and they are blocked too? Let’s just say you use credit cards that are then corrupted or subjected to fraudulent charges. You cannot get money out is the answer. There is no way to rush the system or game it to use the card that the bank has deleted and you would not want to anyways since its been corrupted and broken.

The answer is a second card of some kind that can be used as an emergency or second card but has the same or better international support. My second card is with Charles Schwab. They pay back international ATM fees and are generally a very travel friendly bank while my primary account at CapitolOne is blocked.

So we’ve answered the basic question about problems beyond visas and passports. The money problem. The solution is to have two distinct cards and be able to transfer money between them. How do you report this to the bank if they wish you to call them? Do you use the Thai SIM card that you bought? Use Skype? How do you get the verification codes the bank will send to a US phone number? Believe me that banks are not the only ones that send these codes. Any dual factor authentication requirements for Google or Booking.com or wherever want to send a verification code to a phone. Some will do email as well so perhaps you are somewhat saved. Others though do not. What do you do?

What I’m pointing out with these two things are the under the radar things that can and will happen when you travel or live elsewhere but still do business or have business or money relationships in your country of origin.

Give it some thought. There are the big ticket items. Protect that passport. Understand the visa laws. Be careful going to places. Enjoy the times but travel with care when possible. But then there are the “under the radar” things that can and will happen. My message for the first group of things is to exercise due caution to things like passports. They are your ticket really for going somewhere. The US passport is very powerful like the Japanese passport which is Number One out there in the world today. It is your identification and right to enter and leave. So protect those things. Do not carry that passport around the city streets in a purse or bag. No one asks for it so don’t do it. You risk extending a thing at the first level to a thing at the second when someone steals the bag you are carrying that has the passport but also your entire group of debit and credit cards. Be prepared for things crossing over and stash some cash in the room or carry just enough to get through a day or two. In Vietnam, I would carry about $40 USD for a few days and always had plenty of money. ATM trips were carefully planned and I would go back and lock up the card again. Passports were also secured.

Finally watch for the “under the radar” decisions or choices you have made if you are considering moving overseas or working as a digital nomad or whatever you want to call it. I have only had a few things happen I regretted and each one has kicked a few changes into being. After this thing, I will be using the mobile apps for both cards to lock the cards between uses at an ATM. I will also never again use a debit card for a purchase. If there is something I want, I will go to an ATM, unlock the card, get the cash, and then lock the card again. It all takes just a few minutes but consider the safety you enter into by doing this.

Give the big things some thought but also consider the smaller things that can and will happen. You can never manage all of them down but you can create methods and technologies so that interactions can be easier to manage and track. Phone services, banking, mail services. All of these things have tools to help you no matter where you are. I found them and use solutions for all three.

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.