What to do when your credit card is lost, stolen while traveling overseas

Here's how to minimize the impact of losing your card while abroad

Cynthia Drake
Personal Finance Writer
Uncovering quirky, offbeat financial stories

Lost, stolen credit card while abroad: What to do

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You’re traveling abroad when the unexpected happens: You go to check your wallet, and your credit card is no longer in its trusty slot. Or you’ve lost your purse altogether. Or the ATM swallowed your debit card completely, and you’re standing there in disbelief.

What happens next is a blur – maybe you have the wherewithal to call and notify your credit card company. Maybe you file a report with the police or contact the bank that owns the ATM that ate your card.

In the end, you’re still left with a non-working (or non-existent) cards in a foreign country.

It happened to a CreditCards.com reader who was traveling in Africa. “An ATM malfunctioned and did not pay out the amount withdrawn,” the reader explained. “The bank canceled my debit card … I will now need to pay $50 for the emergency replacement of a card because of a machine malfunction.”

Here are some steps you can take before traveling to minimize the damage of losing your card while traveling, what to do if and when your card is lost – including how to order a replacement card – and what you should do when you return back home.

See related: How to get cash while traveling abroad, with no fees

1. Before you travel

As a responsible cardholder, assume that if anything can go wrong, it will.

So, how can you minimize the damage?

  • First, record your credit card information as part of your normal packing routine. 
  • Take a photo of the fronts and backs of your credit cards, or copy down the information on a sheet of paper or in a secure online document.

“Make copies of not only your credit card, but your passport and travel itinerary as well,” says frequent traveler Robin Lee Allen, managing partner at Esperance. “Keep these on you inside a travel security pouch; not in your luggage or hotel safe.”

Allen also suggests to know and search the location of U.S. embassies and consulates where you are traveling. And register your itinerary with your country’s consular service before you leave.

  • Take the step of looking up the international contact number for your credit cards; some have local numbers based on the countries where you’ll be traveling.
  • Finally, make sure to take along a few different payment options – and keep one of them, such as a prepaid card affiliated with Mastercard or Visa, in a reserved hiding spot. Think of this as your emergency cash.

See related: 9 things you need to know about prepaid cards

“We don’t think people should travel with just one card,” says Linda Sherry, representative for Consumer Action. “We even advise people to maybe buy some currency before you leave. Another thing people can do is get a prepaid card as a backup. Put $500 on it. You can typically use them overseas to make purchases.”

  • Memorize or record in a secure place any PINs associated with your credit cards that would allow you to get a cash advance if you needed it.
  • Withdrawing cash from an ATM using a credit card will likely incur a cash-advance fee – usually, 5 percent of the amount withdrawn – plus a high interest rate that is charged from the moment the cash is withdrawn. 
  • However, when you are in a bind in a foreign country, a cash advance might actually come in handy.

You may also wish to link your card(s) to a mobile payment app on your smartphone, such as Apple Pay.

See related: 4 key questions to ask when considering a cash advance

2. When your card is lost or stolen

The first thing to do when you realize your credit card is lost or stolen is call your card issuer.

  • If you’ve done your due diligence, you’ll have this number at the ready – otherwise, look it up online. 
  • If your cellphone doesn’t work internationally, you might have to get creative and use Skype or similar internet-based phone services.

“Call the number that was listed on the card to report it lost or stolen ASAP,” says Allen. “Also request emergency card replacement and cash if your bank offers these services.”

Most major credit cards offer zero liability for fraudulent charges.

  • According to the Fair Credit Billing Act and Electronic Fund Transfer Act, if you report a stolen credit card before any charges are made, you’re responsible for nothing.
  • If you wait two billing cycles before reporting a lost or stolen credit card, you could be liable for up to $50 in charges. 
  • Lost or stolen debit cards need to be reported within two business days, during which you are only legally liable for up to $50 for any fraudulent charges. From two to 60 days, your liability could be up to $500.

Do you have a backup source of payment or cash? If so, you can continue with your trip as normal, and skip to no. 4. If not, read on.

See related: Replacing lost credit card? Want it fast? Expect to pay

Major card issuers' policies on lost, stolen credit cards


Credit card issuer How to report lost/stolen card Replacement cards Cash advance options Other options for accessing money
Discover By phone at 1-800-DISCOVER, or 1-801-902-3100 outside the U.S., online or through the card’s mobile app.

You can also temporarily freeze your account.

No fee.

Overnight delivery available upon request.

Replacement card must be delivered to address listed on cardholder’s account.

Available.
Fees and rates vary.
Once the account is canceled or suspended, cardholder no longer has access to their card via virtual wallets.
Wells Fargo Online, from the Wells Fargo Mobile app or by calling 1-800-TO-WELLS or 1-925-825-7600 (international collect calls). You will receive a new card with a new account number.

Contact customer service to discuss rush processing options based on need (additional fees may apply).

Overnight card delivery available within the U.S.

You can also request rush delivery internationally.

Fee for rush delivery waived in cases of fraud.
Options differ based on credit card.

Fee is generally $10 or 5 percent of the amount of each advance, whichever is greater.

See terms and conditions of your account.
If the card was previously added, you can continue to use your digital wallet while you wait on your new card.

Discuss credit, wire and other transfer options with your bank before traveling overseas.
Chase By phone at 1-800-432-3117 or 1-302-594-8200 from abroad.

A new card can be rushed to a foreign address, arriving in 2-7 days, depending on location.

Standard U.S. shipping takes 3-5 days to arrive.

Rushed replacements in the U.S. arrive in 1-2 days.

No fee for standard or rush shipping.

There is generally a cash advance fee  – it may be waived in certain circumstances as a courtesy.

Standard fee is either $10 or 5 percent of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
You can continue to use Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

International rates and fees apply as they do when using plastic cards overseas.
Citi Call 1-800-950-5114 for assistance. Replacement card will arrive in 2-3 weeks if delivered outside the U.S., depending on location, or, in some emergency cases, within 2-4 business days. Call customer service to locate the Citibank closest to your location while overseas.

Cash advance fee is 5 percent.

The 3 percent foreign transaction fee will be waived if cash advance fee is applied.
Call Citi customer service for further assistance.
American Express Call 1-800-528-4800.

American Express will immediately cancel the existing card and issue a replacement.
Multiple delivery options to choose from.

Depending on delivery method chosen, card will arrive within a few days or even next day at no cost.
A cash advance of 3 percent or $5, whichever is greater, applies. AmEx cards added to digital wallets are automatically updated with the new card information when a replacement card is requested.

If an AmEx card has been added, you can continue to use it on your digital wallet while the new card arrives.
Capital One Through Capital One's website or on the Capital One mobile app. Replacement card should arrive within 4-6 business days.

Rush delivery available (fees may apply).
Available for a fee.

Check your card’s specific terms and conditions.
Capital One offers virtual credit card numbers through its virtual assistant Eno.

3. Get creative with cash access

Banks and card issuers vary in the options they offer to continue accessing funds while you travel. Both Visa's and Mastercard’s websites mention that emergency credit card replacements and emergency cash advances are available.

  • These services are not free and will typically include service fees for both an expedited card replacement and cash advance – though they can help you get access to cash if you don’t have another source.
  • Other options that might be available are virtual credit card numbers and mobile payments. 
  • Issuers offering virtual credit card numbers include Bank of America, Capital One and Citi.

“Not many shops would accept a virtual credit card number, but a virtual number can fix you up with anything online,” says Uri Abramson, small-business adviser and co-founder of OverdraftApps.com. “If you have good delivery service in the country you’re visiting, you can survive your trip with online food deliveries, order all your local attractions online and pay for transportation using Uber.”

  • If you use a mobile payment app such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, you might also be in luck.
  • Many companies, including Chase, American Express and Capital One, will instantly generate a new card number for you to use over your smartphone or Apple Watch upon your lost card report.

If none of these options work for you, and you still need access to cash, it’s time to get creative.

“None of it’s pretty,” says Sherry. “You can ask your bank, or family or friends to wire you money. Or rely on the kindness of strangers.”

Allen recommends reaching out to the local expatriate community in the country where you’re traveling in a desperate financial situation.

“Members of the community will have experience with the minutiae of getting along in a foreign country,” he says.

 
 

4. What to do upon your return

To ensure your accounts and information are safe and up to date upon your return, take these steps.

Step one is to review your accounts – and continue to do so, monitoring for any future fraudulent activity. You can enroll in a free credit monitoring service, if offered by your bank or card issuer, or freeze your credit, which is free and prevents anyone from opening new accounts in your name.

“Also, look at where you were having recurring payments,” says Sherry. “Most of the companies you have recurring charges may email you that you’ve missed a payment.”

  • Keep a spreadsheet with information about any recurring or automatic payments, because some may bill every six months, and you might forget something like an insurance payment.
  • If your previous payment method is declined, you risk losing access to the service or product you were using, and you may also be assessed late fees.

See related: How to report and protect yourself from credit card fraud and identity theft

Usually merchants give you plenty of notice before this happens. You can also call them directly and explain the situation. As long as you provide an updated payment method and aren’t a chronic non-payer, you should be OK.

Declined payments for services aren’t reported on your credit report, but they can be referred to a collection agency. So, it’s in your best interest to get all recurring payments shored up with your new payment information as soon as possible.

Since credit card fraud is rampant, some financial experts recommend tying all your recurring payments to a separate credit card that is only used for subscriptions, insurance, memberships, etc.


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Updated: 12-18-2018