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
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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 “An ATM malfunctioned and did not pay out the amount withdrawn,” the reader explained.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
Lost, stolen credit card while overseas: A quick guide
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.”
- 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.
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.
Major card issuers' policies on lost, stolen credit cards
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.
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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