Have you had an ATM disaster while traveling? We did

Have you ever had an ATM disaster while traveling? We did on a recent trip to Mexico. We learned a lot from it and want to share it with readers in hopes that if you ever encounter one, you’ll know what to expect. We also put it out to some fellow travel bloggers and have their ATM disasters to share and the takeaways from them. Hopefully, this will never happen to you.

Our ATM disaster at Banco Santander

The ATM on the left is the one that ate our money at Santander Bank in San Miguel de Allende, photo Sandra Kennedy

The ATM on the left is the one that ate our money at Santander Bank in San Miguel de Allende, photo Sandra Kennedy

It was our next-to-last day in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. We were heading to Veracruz the next day and wanted to make sure we had enough pesos. We were on a historic walking tour in El Centro, the historic district. Our group was quite international. When we past Banco Santander’s ATM adjacent to El Jardin, the city’s main square, I decided to stop and get some cash. The machine rejected my card. I should have taken this as an omen. I didn’t. Steve tried his card. A receipt popped out indicating the money had been taken from our bank account, but alas, no money emerged from the slot.

Receipt for our ATM disaster in San Miguel

The receipt for the non-existant money, photo Billie Frank

It was almost 6pm. I quickly called our bank in the US, told them what happened and asked for help. They said we’d have to deal with Banco Santander. There was an 800 contact number on the ATM. We called and they told us there was nothing they could do and sent us back to our bank. We were in a closed loop. Arturo, our Mexican guide offered to meet Steve at the bank at 9am the following morning when they’d be opening their doors for the day.

The next morning the two met at Banco Santander. The bank representative was very polite, but told Steve there was nothing they could do. Another call to the bank yielded the information that there was nothing they could do until we returned home when we’d have to go into the bank in person and fill out a complaint form. We weren’t going to see that money again this trip. Luckily we had dollars. When we arrived in Veracruz we went to a cambio (money changing office) and got pesos.

Balloon Vendor El Jardin, San Miguel de allende

A balloon vendor in El Jardin brought a lightens the mood after our ATM disaster photo/Steve Collins

The outcome

When we arrived home we went to the bank and filled out the form and then waited and waited. It was supposed to take a few days. Three weeks to the day of the ATM disaster we finally got the money back.

The takeaway

We learned a lesson. Use an ATM only when the bank is open. Banco Santander told Steve that if he’d alerted the branch to the incident within a half-hour they could have remedied the situation immediately. Also, if you’re not sure exactly how the machine works, ask a bank representative to come out and show you how to use it. If something goes wrong, you’ll have a bank rep right there.

Other travelers’ ATM disasters

Sunset in Utila, Honduras, courtesy 1 Dad 1 Kid, photo Talon Windwalker

Watching the beautiful sunset in Utila, Honduras is a g great way to chill after an ATM disaster photo/ courtesy 1 Dad 1 Kid,

Talon Windwalker of 1 Dad 1 Kid had an ATM issue in Utila Honduras. Here’s his story:

The ATM Disaster: “After a month on the island I discovered that someone used our card info, which apparently was lifted from an ATM machine with a fraudulent card reader on it, to withdraw money from my bank account. Luckily I caught it the day they did it, so an immediate block was put on my account. I use a PayPal card as backup, but there was a problem since I had logged into my account from Honduras even though I had been regularly updating them about our travels. That took about 3 days to clear up. Then the challenge of getting my replacement card began. Utila has no street addresses, and apparently FedEx doesn’t like that. After almost 1-1/2 months, I finally got a replacement card by sending it to a friend who was in Canada visiting family and was coming back to the island.” You can read Talon’s entire saga here.

The takeaway: Check your debit card balance daily. Always carry a second and even third card with you in case of problems. If doing long-term travel, find out your bank’s card replacement policy in advance. There’s more information on detecting credit card “skimmers” here.

Always remember your card

Kuta Main Street, Bali, courtesy The Global Couple

Kuta Main Street, Bali, photo/courtesy The Global Couple

Here’s what happened to Petra and Shaun of The Global Couple, two twenty-something New Zealanders traveling the world. Their disaster had a happy ending.

The ATM disaster: “We were in Bali and had been enjoying days filled with sun, cocktails, and delicious food. Then an ATM put a dampener on everything. At home, ATMs spit out the card before the cash. Never having used an ATM overseas before, we didn’t know it would be the opposite in Bali. We withdrew some cash, and forgetting we hadn’t gotten our card back, walked away and enjoyed the rest of the day. Until we noticed our card was missing. Looking at our balance we found that our account had been wiped clean in multiple transactions, one after another. Someone had found our card inside the ATM and had taken everything! Upon returning home we fought with the bank, as our account should have been blocked as soon as the withdrawals exceeded the maximum daily limit, but it wasn’t. We ended up getting all our money back!”

The takeaway: Before using an ATM in another country, ask someone at the bank how it works. It could save a lot of aggravation. Always check before leaving the ATM that you have your card back.

Deja Vu - two ATM disasters in India

The Chandi Chowk neigborhood in Delhi, the city where Alejandro had his two ATM disasters, photo Alejandro Nunez

The Chandi Chowk neigborhood in Delhi, the city where Alejandro had his two ATM disasters, photo/Alejandro Nunez

Mexican travel blogger, Alejandro Nuñez of the Spanish language travel blog, Mi viaje por el Mundo had déjà vu all over again with his India ATM disasters.

The ATM disaster: “I had the same story twice in the same country, India. It was nothing special, probably something that has happened to any traveler around. Both times I went to an ATM to take out some money, the ATM said it was an error and that it couldn’t gave me the money. Later I checked my bank statement online and the transaction appeared as successful

“The first time was with Citigroup in Mumbai. I contacted them on and in less than 48-hours they solved my problem. The second time was with YesBank in Delhi. They told me to contact my bank which I did. My bank told me they would have a resolution within 60 working days (more than 3 months real-time). At the end of that time I got a negative resolution. I told them I was dissatisfied with the resolution and the call center told me that there was nothing they could do to fix it. I never settle with a no for an answer. I started to look everywhere to fix my problem.”

Alejandro used social media to get a resolution to his problem. He found email addresses for directors at the bank via a Google search. Describing the incident to us he wrote “be careful with the data you share online.” Within an hour he received a response from one of the directors saying they would take a look at his case. Several weeks later he was still waiting to hear back from them.

The takeaway: “ALWAYS ask for the printed receipt of the transaction (successful or not) and if it says there was an error at the ATM, take a photo of it.” There’s another lesson that can be learned from this. Talk to your bank before beginning a trip to see what their ATM policies are in case something goes wrong.

An ATM disaster with a happy ending

Elizabeth and Raj in front of the fateful Changmai ATM, courtesy Awesome Wave

Elizabeth and Raj in front of the fateful Changmai ATM,  photo/              ourtesy Awesome Wave

This last story has a fairytale ending. Today, travel bloggers Raj and Elizabeth of Awesome Wave travel and blog together. They didn’t in 2010 when Raj had his ATM disaster.

The ATM disaster: “In May 2010, I was in Chiang Mai, soaking in the beauty of the historic city. In need of cash to sample all the incredible food there I went to the most “trustworthy” looking ATM - a bright purple one attached to a bank. Same routine different city, right? No. Bye-bye card. Knock knock bank; “Technician will be here Thursday.” It was Saturday. I went back to my hostel, sad and hungry. Later I heard the familiar accent of an English girl. Light bulb moment: I could transfer money from my account to hers using Internet banking and take the cash out on her card. It worked. As my bank had my card cancelled, she was my only source of cash. We stayed close. It’s now 2015 and she is still sometimes my source of cash as she has become the love of my life. We are back in that fateful city, living across the road from that ATM.”

The takeaway: Sometimes an ATM disaster leads to happily ever after.

While not about an ATM disaster, Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes had a debit card experience that came with a valuable lesson. When you request a new card, the bank cancels the old one. You can read her tale here.

And remember, always notify your bank and credit card companies that you’ll be traveling and where. In these days of fraud, if they get an out-of-town ATM transaction and they don’t know you’re there, you probably won’t get any money.

There are a lot more ATM disaster stories out there. Have you had one?









34 Responses to “Have you had an ATM disaster while traveling? We did”

  1. Donna Janke
    January 4, 2019 at 11:59 pm #

    These are good lessons. I will heed the advice to use the machine when the bank is open. Makes so much sense.
    So far, my only ATM mishaps have been at home, when at a busy, somewhat stressed time I forgot to take my ATM card after completing a transaction. In this case, the bank machine was programmed to “chew up” the card if it wasn’t removed within a short period of time and the person had stepped away from the machine. I went through the inconvenience of getting a new card but had no unexpected debits from my account.

    • Billie Frank
      January 5, 2019 at 10:23 am #

      It’s a great lesson to be mentally present when you use and ATM. I’d never had any issues prior to this one. It was an eye-opener!

  2. Nancie
    January 5, 2019 at 4:38 am #

    Living in Asia, I travel with Asian bank cards and credit cards. However, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be problems. I’ve seen myself try to get cash from my Korean bank debit card on a Saturday or Sunday, and nothing. The first time it happened was VERY disconcerting. Even this trip has not been without its problems. I had paid my credit card balance before leaving, but because of the holiday my payment was not taken out on the due date, and they froze my card. When you’ve paid the balance and then your card is refused it’s maddening. I never travel without two credit cards and two debit cards. Again, on this trip, a debit card that worked fine last trip is not working this time. I have no idea why, and thankfully have a second card that is well funded. Never leave home with only one credit card and debit card. Always have a back-up plan.

    • Billie Frank
      January 5, 2019 at 10:24 am #

      You are a pro Nancie! Wonder why card one isn’t working. Would drive me nuts!

  3. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    January 5, 2019 at 5:42 am #

    All I can say after reading these ATM disaster stories is that we’ve been lucky in our travel of two plus years through Mexico, Central and South America. This probably included the same ATM on Utila in Honduras that Talon Windwalker used. While we carry only the card we plan to use that day (usually Charles Schwab) we have 3 different accounts (Capital One and BOA) that we can use if we every have a problem with our preferred card. We’ve set up travel alerts, notify the banks when we move to another county and check our bank transactions by email daily. But otherwise…Here’s to crossing our fingers and remembering your tips!

    • Billie Frank
      January 5, 2019 at 10:26 am #

      I don’t think these things are really common- if they were travelers checks would still be alive and well. But, it’s good to be prepared in case something does occur.

  4. noel
    January 5, 2019 at 7:40 am #

    Wow, these are all very scary scenarios. I always get my cash from ATMs at the airport and have never had issues, but do have international numbers to my cards if any issues do happen on ATM withdrawals

    • Billie Frank
      January 5, 2019 at 10:27 am #

      We had phone numbers for our credit cards, but had to call US on the cell phone for our bank. Luckily, Verizon let me retroactively sign up for their Mexico plan. This could have cost a lot in phone calls.

  5. michele Peterson (A Taste for Travel)
    January 5, 2019 at 8:01 am #

    Great post! What a range of problems (and solutions) with ATMs. It’s never happened to me but in Antigua Guatemala, those card readers are really common and can lift info from your card while it’s still in your pocket or purse. Using a protective case can help.

    • Billie Frank
      January 5, 2019 at 10:37 am #

      Thanks, Michele. Yes those protective metal wallets and card holders can help keep those readers from invading your privacy.

  6. Emiko
    January 5, 2019 at 8:12 am #

    I’m so sorry to hear about your story - but I’m so glad you got your money back! Reading the other traveler’s story was crazy (although I love the one from Awesome Wave:). I’ve been lucky so far after eight months on the road, but these stories are great learning lessons. Thanks for sharing!

    • Billie Frank
      January 5, 2019 at 10:38 am #

      Yes, I loved Awesome Wave’s story. You never know what good things will come out of adversity.

  7. Linda ~ Journey Jottings
    January 5, 2019 at 10:15 am #

    I get the impression these little pieces of plastic are rebelling against their competition - Cash!! As the only time they get swallowed or cause a problem is when they are put in an ATM -
    For purchases they remain in our control and do what they’re told! ;)

  8. Juergen | dare2go
    January 5, 2019 at 2:52 pm #

    Sorry, Billie, that I didn’t get back with my own story; the timing was bad as I was mostly travelling in regions without internet or mobile access (National Park Siete Tazas in Chile).
    But I agree with your conclusion: use an ATM outside, or better inside a bank during opening hours! Never ever use an ATM in a deserted location at night, not only for risk of robbery, the machine might have been tampered with.
    ps: your comment luv is set up wrongly. It wants your WordPress login details to proceed.

    • Billie Frank
      January 5, 2019 at 4:35 pm #

      Didn’t think of mentioning not using them at night- great point. Glad you were able to comment despite the Comment Luv glitch. Wish I knew how to fix it.

  9. Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    January 5, 2019 at 5:43 pm #

    Our financial institution pulled the plug on us for suspicious ATM activity in Central Europe - on only one card associated with our joint account, for legitimate use on our part. When we phoned (at our expense of course), the representative indicated we were “this close” to having the second card deactivated as well. Even though we had expressly communicated with more than one department prior to our trip, they chose to implement safety measures, but these would have been totally insufficient in the case of an actual breach. Policies are often implemented without the slightest bit of logic from the consumer’s standpoint. Fortunately, we were able to get things squared away. I remember saying to the guy, “If you think we’re in a suspect area right now, just wait until next week!” :D

    • Billie Frank
      January 7, 2019 at 12:32 pm #

      Glad you got to the bank before they cut you off. It’s a bit daunting to be traveling without access to funds. I sure do miss AmEx Traveler’s Cheques!

  10. Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    January 5, 2019 at 5:54 pm #

    Yes, and I sent it to you for this but I guess it didn’t make the cut. I have an atm disaster. Happened in Canada. I was unable to get money out at the airport so I changed some currency I happened to have from a previous trip to Switzerland. Than I tried again in remote Churchill and it didn’t work again. I tried again the next day, no luck. I was able to charge some items, but I had no cash for tipping and small items. I skipped dinner one night. When I got home, I checked with my bank and it was coincidental that just before I left someone at the bank had made a mistake and withdrawn all my money into someone else’s account! It took a long time to get this straightened out once I was home. What a mess! Always travel with a few hundred $$ in cash!

    • Billie Frank
      January 7, 2019 at 12:36 pm #

      I don’t remember receiving and email about your experience Carole. If I responded and mislaid it, I apologize. Thanks for sharing your experience with us via the comment section. We always travel with $$$ but if you have a problem and run out, then what do you do? What did your bank do by way of apology? That’s pretty outrageous!

  11. Irene S. Levine
    January 5, 2019 at 8:24 pm #

    Great advice! Sometimes we are so trusting of ATM’s that we forget that problems can occur! And let’s not even begin a discussion of the fees :-)

    • Billie Frank
      January 7, 2019 at 12:37 pm #

      And phone calls! I’m looking into preloaded debit cards from companies that offer traveler support. It may be a future blog post or addition to this one.

  12. Lisa Chavis
    January 7, 2019 at 7:38 am #

    Great read! Our only ATM mishap (knock wood!) was in Mexico when the machine ate our card after delivering the requested money. It was after hours so we returned to the bank the next day. The bank manager himself came out with a stack of about 50 cards! He asked what the name on the card was and proceeded to go through the whole stack…I imagine he was going to have a long day ahead! LOL!

    • Billie Frank
      January 7, 2019 at 12:39 pm #

      At least it delivered the money first! Glad you were able to get the card back. That was one hungry machine!

  13. Kristin Henning
    January 8, 2019 at 11:21 am #

    After so many horror stories, I feel like I’m always on high alert at a machine, and definitely walk away if I see any dubious messaging or unintelligible options. Once my card was gobbled - I think because I’d entered the wrong PIN. Of course we were leaving that town, so we cancelled the card and couldn’t get another until we were back in the US.

    • Billie Frank
      January 8, 2019 at 12:31 pm #

      It shouldn’t gobble on one wrong pin attempt! I know you travel a lot- good luck with the cards.

  14. Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it
    January 8, 2019 at 4:17 pm #

    My daughter and I traveled together last summer. Her American Express doesn’t charge for money exchange fees which saved us money. My story: it seems every time we travel, our card is being compromised and cancelled the day before we leave. Luckily we keep a different card for these backup reasons.

    • Billie Frank
      January 9, 2019 at 10:03 am #

      That’s really weird. Our ATM card, had it worked would not have charged fees. The other ATM debit card I had did charge fees so we didn’t want to use them.

  15. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}
    January 9, 2019 at 11:02 am #

    I really like the one with the happy ending. My ATM disaster story took place in Penang, Malaysia. I went to the ATM immediately before an appointment. When the bank reloads the ATM machine with cash, they lock the ATM lobby doors and a man holding a rifle guards it. I arrived while they were reloading, but they unlocked the door and let me in once the machine was closed. While I was in there, they opened another machine up and had to lock the doors again. Then, the poor guy spilled all the cash — a big bagful — all over the floor. I was about to help him pick it up but decided that my actions may be misconstrued. Instead I just had to wait in the locked lobby while it was all gathered up and sorted. And I was very late for where I had to be.

    • Billie Frank
      January 9, 2019 at 12:20 pm #

      That story is actually funny to read, though I’m sure it wasn’t for you at the time. I’m glad you didn’t help pick up the money!

  16. Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com
    January 10, 2019 at 1:13 am #

    I’m glad I don’t have a story to tell! Will take note of the advices here, though, for the time when I start on my long-term travel to South America.

    • Billie Frank
      January 10, 2019 at 4:04 pm #

      Look into the pre-paid card option. Also, PayPal may have some options thought they seen to be hard to access while traveling as they are wary of hackers- which is a good thing.

  17. Larissa
    January 10, 2019 at 10:06 am #

    Thankfully I haven’t experienced any of these, however they are all cautionary tales with good lessons. Something to tuck in the back of my brain to hopefully avoid these issues in the future while traveling!

    • Billie Frank
      January 10, 2019 at 4:06 pm #

      Forewarned and all that, Larissa. I sure know more now than I did. Hopefully it will be smooth sailing from here on with everything I learned. The big lessons I got were use cards when the bank is open and watch for those evil card-readers.

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