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Losing a Credit or Debit Card Abroad

I was on an adventure-packed backpackers' trip to Europe a few years ago. Quite a noob to the concept of credit cards, all I had taken along were two debit cards and cash. The trip was exhilarating until one day, in Holland, I became the victim of a pickpocket. My wallet was gone, along with one debit card and all the Euro I had. I was shaken by the horrific experience that followed. I don't speak Dutch, and those Dutch guys hardly knew much English. Communication barrier made it very difficult for me to seek help and support. My trip almost got derailed! Thanks to my other debit card, I managed to make it back to India, safe and sound. However, the dreadful incident taught me a good lesson, and I am here to share with you the lessons that I learned.

Losing a Credit or Debit Card Abroad

Potential Dangers of Losing a Card

Losing a card doesn’t necessarily indicate the physical loss or theft of a card; your card’s sensitive data and information could be stolen, which is much more severe than just losing the physical card. Your credit and debit cards are your primary sources of funds during travel. No one is naive enough to carry a thick wad of cash while traveling. If you lose your cards, you will be stuck in an alien land with a lot of difficulties. Apart from the inconvenience, you would also be at risk of financial frauds.

  1. Cash flow:

    When you lose a debit card, your hard-earned money is in jeopardy. If thieves steal your debit card and empty your account, you will have a tough time managing your expenses and paying your bills. However, a false play with credit cards just increases a hypothetical credit balance which doesn’t drain your pocket.

  2. Fraud:

    Financial frauds are rampant and tourists are the easiest victims. If you lose a credit card, and it is used to commit financial fraud, you don’t lose much. As per RBI's guidelines in 2017, if the bank is in any way responsible for the fraud, you have zero liability. If your own negligence results in the fraud, you would have to bear the entire loss until you report the unauthorized transaction to the bank. The bank shall bear the liability of any illegal transaction that occurs after you have reported the issue. On the other hand, fraud committed through lost debit cards put you in a vulnerable position as the fraud protection policies for lost or stolen debit cards are quite weak. The bank might not cover the fraudulent charges, and the lost amount might never be reversed.

  3. Resolution:

    The banks take a lot of time to resolve issues pertaining to a lost or stolen debit card. They have time up to ten days to investigate your claim and it might take even longer to replace the funds in your account. If the account concerned contained all your savings, then you would have to manage without money for a long time. Such a situation would severely affect your finances. If you complain about a lost or stolen credit card, the bank’s money is at stake and hence they will act immediately to resolve the issue. You need not bother a lot as you will not face much hassle.

    We know that credit cards are not only safer than debit cards but also a better choice for daily spending. Losing a credit card is easier to deal with than losing a debit card. However, the most important fact is that you stay so cautious that you don’t lose either. You must be prepared to face an emergency.

Steps to Take If You Lose Your Cards Abroad

Whether you lose your cards, someone steals them, or they get stuck in a faulty ATM - hassles are endless. It can be extremely inconvenient, but you can quickly redress the issue when you are in your homeland. If such incidents happen in a foreign country, especially if you do not know the local language, you are in serious trouble! Before you move out of your comfort zone (which, in this case, is your country), you need to know what steps you should take and whom to approach if you are in such a crisis.

  1. Get the Right Mix

    Before you take off, fill your wallet with debit cards, credit cards, prepaid forex cards as well as currency notes of the destination country. Your primary mode of expenditure should be through prepaid forex cards and credit cards. These cards are safe and have good anti-fraud features. Refrain from using your debit cards and try to keep them as backup options. They are unsafe as they are the keys to all your savings; and if they fall into the wrong hands, all your money will be gone.

    As you pack for your trip, you should split up the cards and cash amidst your baggage. In case you lose your wallet, you won't lose all your financial sources at once.

  2. Hotlist the Lost Card

    If you misplace or lose your credit or debit card, you need to hotlist the lost card immediately. The best way to do this would be to call your bank's customer care helpline and request them to block your card. You need to be ready with all necessary information pertaining to your credit or debit card account for verification purposes. Once your card is successfully hotlisted, you can rest assured that nobody can misuse it.

    The banks that operate in large-scale have dedicated helplines for credit or debit card related issues, whereas smaller banks have a general helpline number. You can call in either during an emergency and seek support. You should know the numbers that you must reach out to. However, when you are traveling overseas, the default helpline numbers might not work. Quite a few banks have specific phone numbers for international calls. Knowing those numbers would be an added advantage as you can quickly call and take action. Once you report the loss to your bank, follow the bank's instruction on the steps you need to take next.

  3. Apply for a Duplicate

    The follow-up action would be to apply for a duplicate card. Some banks make life easier for us by facilitating the application online, whereas some banks might ask you to visit the branch in person to submit an application.

    Most private banks have branches or overseas offices in various countries. You could locate them through their website and visit them to seek further help. Some banks might be able to provide a duplicate card right away or by an overnight courier. However, do not expect smaller banks to be so proactive, and also know that such services might be quite expensive.

  4. Use Backup

    You should never step out of your country with just one card in your wallet. It is imperative that you have multiple cards - preferably a mix of different card networks. If you lose one card or a card doesn't work due to some technical glitch, you must have something else to rely on.

    Backup doesn't necessarily mean that you should carry as many cards as possible. When I was robbed and stuck in Holland, my other debit card was barely useful. I needed cash to travel in a cab; I needed cash to make a phone call; sadly, I had none, and I had to walk for 3 miles to find an ATM. You must always keep a bit of cash on you as a backup.

Tips to Keep Your Cards Safe

Before you fly off to another country, make sure that you do the following:

  1. Take photographs of your cards (both sides) before you start your trip and email them to yourself. This will ensure that you have your card details even after the card is lost.
  2. Keep your bank in the loop about your travel plans.
  3. Know your bank's helpline numbers that can be reached from the country you are traveling to. The general tollfree numbers might not work.
  4. Carry a backup card and some cash as well.
  5. Split up the cash and cards. Try not to keep all your money and cards in one place- split them up. Keep some of it in your wallet, some in your handbag, some in your suitcase so that you have something to rely on if either is gone.

If you lose your cards in a foreign land, you should do the following right away.

  1. Call your bank and report the incident.
  2. Hotlist or block the card.
  3. Inquire about the next step to be taken.
  4. Inform the local police about it (in case it was a theft) and keep a copy of the FIR.
  5. Apply for a duplicate card.

To Sum Up

I believe you have a fair idea of what you should do if you lose your cards abroad. However, be on guard and try not to lose your cards. Save yourself from all these hassles. Travel safe, travel smart.

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