I don’t seem to have luck with Caixa, a popular bank in Spain. Almost two years ago when we started our world travels I tried to withdraw 500 euros from one of their ATMs in a small village outside Grenada, but the machine gave me 400 euros instead. This had never happened to me before! My receipt said I withdrew 500 euros, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to prove to my bank, Capital One 360, that I only got 400 euros, but I tried. It took some back and forth, but eventually they refunded my 100 euros.
Flash forward to yesterday. We were in Barcelona for one day and I needed to withdraw euros from an ATM. I walked past three ATMs for Caixa and ignored them. But when I reached the fourth without yet having seen one from another bank, I acquiesced and put in my ATM card. It couldn’t happen twice, right?
This ATM asked for my information first: did I want to withdraw? How much? From what account? In euros or dollars? Did I want a receipt? And then, at the end, it asked for my PIN. My fault: I didn’t notice that this ATM presented the keypad upside down; that is, the top row started with 7-8-9 instead of 1-2-3, and so, I entered my PIN incorrectly, and so, my request was rejected. I tried again, entering my PIN correctly this time, but it appeared my card had already been blocked by my bank. I tried one last time at another ATM, but no luck.
When I returned to our apartment, I visited my account online to verify that yes, my ATM card was blocked, and in addition, there was a $1,000 pending amount on hold, which appeared to represent the amount I attempted but failed to withdraw with my repeated efforts.
One of the reasons we chose Capital One 360 for our travels is that they do not charge foreign transaction fees or additional ATM fees, and they have a good reputation for great customer service, which we’ve found true so far. However, I was dismayed to learn that their offices were open only 8 to 8 eastern time, and that, because of the time difference, I would have to wait four hours to speak to someone who could help me. (Note: If your ATM card is lost or stolen, they do have 24 hour service available.)
When I finally spoke to someone from my bank, he was able to unblock my card, but told me he couldn’t do anything about the pending $1,000. He said either it will go away, as it should, or it will be deducted from my account and I’ll have to file a claim. Meanwhile, I couldn’t access or use that $1,000.
By the next day, the hold was lifted, so no big deal. However, I thought that we were lucky we had more than that amount in that account, and in any case, we happen to be in a country that accepts credit cards, which we also have. I could imagine a more lean traveler being stuck if 1) he couldn’t wait the four hours to get customer service to unblock his card so he can access his cash (maybe he has a flight to catch?), and/or 2) that $1,000 was all the money he had in that particular account!
And this made me think that it’s a good idea to have a backup plan for accessing your cash.
Note: Later in the day, I would receive a call from Capital One 360 stating that they DO have 24 hour service at this number: (800) 369-6864. I’m providing it here for others, as I couldn’t find it printed anywhere!)
Alternative Methods for Accessing Your Cash
Here are a few thoughts on how you might access your cash in case you lose your ATM card, or otherwise get stuck. Let me know if you have ideas to add to this list!
1) Have a second bank account available with an additional ATM/Debit card that also does not charge foreign transaction or ATM fees, and has good customer service, and keep these two cards in separate places. The best accounts for these are with Capital One 360 and Charles Schwabb. To learn more about these accounts and others, see this link.
2) In an emergency, go ahead and use the ATM/Debit card for your “regular” bank and suck up to the 3% foreign transaction fee and the extra ATM withdrawal fees. I had to do this once, and it bites! In Switzerland, I put $5 worth of gas in our rental car and I couldn’t find our Capital One 360 ATM debit card, so I used my Bank of America ATM card, which charged me $15 of fees! It cost a total of $20 to put $5 worth of gas in the car! Hey, but if it’s an emergency, you gotta do what you gotta do.
3) Send money to yourself via Moneygram! One traveling friend is doing this because she didn’t have time to get accounts listed in #1 above and wanted to avoid those extra fees. It may be painful, though, as you always have to find a Moneygram location.
4) Have a friend wire money to you through Western Union. You have to locate those Western Union offices, though.
5) In an emergency, very carefully, go ahead and take a cash advance on your credit card at an ATM machine. Because taking a cash advance means that finance charges will apply immediately with no grace period, see if you can’t first transfer money online from your bank to your credit card account in an amount a little higher than what you plan to withdraw as a cash advance. That way, after you take the cash advance, you’ll still have a credit or zero balance on your account so no finance charges will apply. Cool, right? But you have to get the timing right and consider how long it takes to transfer money between accounts before you pull a cash advance. We have never done this before, so this is just theory for us. And we consider it a last resort.
6) This one is just for me: When in Spain, never, ever use Caixa bank. I’m sure it works just fine for others, but I apparently have some kind of bad joojoo with this bank.
Things happen on the road. You might lose your wallet! You might forget your ATM card in the machine (it’s happened to us). Doing what you can to prepare in advance helps with peace of mind. Then let go and enjoy your travels!