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Backup ATM card?

Is it prudent to open a second ATM account prior to traveling internationally? We have a credit union ATM, and will have 2 credit cards for emergency use. I have read that a second ATM card is a good idea-just wondering if this is widely practiced. Thank you!

Posted by
11613 posts

I have never taken a second ATM card, and have never needed one. I try to use ATM cards during regular banking hours at regular banks (ATMs are usually outside or just inside the bank entrance), in case something goes awry - like the machine eats the card.

Posted by
6907 posts

Yes, if you'll be gone for a few weeks and it's your only access to cash. Our local credit union had a breach while we were gone for six weeks, closing down access to our accounts with the cards my husband and I were carrying. Luckily, we had a back up account at another bank. In a case like this, your other choice would be an expensive cash advance on a credit card, which might be easier, though costly, for a short trip.

Posted by
4152 posts

We travel with access to a few different accounts. This enables us to move money around and if we happen to lose a card or have one stolen all of our money cant' be taken. It's really up to you if you want to go this route. IF you use a money belt or secure bag this won't be such an issue but I like to be prepared and have a back up plan.

Donna

Posted by
3455 posts

Solo travelers certainly need two ATM cards, drawn on chequing accounts in different banks. Never carry both in the same wallet. Two reasons: One, in case one card gets lost somehow. Second: Sometimes (rarely) one card doesn't work while the second will. A couple can carry duplicate cards for the same account which lessens the urgency of the first reason. The second, however, is a good reason for back-up.

Posted by
167 posts

I use a credit union for my banking also. Have 2 checking accounts, each with an ATM debit card.
Have carried my 2 debit cards for years of travel. As others said, carry in separate locations in my packs.
IMO this is a good idea for all, but especially for sola travelers like me.

Posted by
629 posts

I also read somewhere on these forum pages to make sure your ATM card is linked to a checking account and not a saving account. Some people have had issues when the card was linked to a savings account. Just another thought to throw out there. Happy travels :)

Posted by
20718 posts

The card has to be linked to a primary account. IF the primary account is a savings account it will work just fine. The issue is that 99% of the time you do not have a choice as to which account to withdrawn from. I have encountered a couple of ATMs that did give a choice but that is extremely rare.

Second, it always a good practice to have backup and most smart travelers do that. Cards can fail to work for a range of reasons other than being eaten. If you are out of cash and your debit card doesn't work - what do you do? If you have a pin number for your credit card (most do not) you can do a cash advance on your credit card. That will be expensive but at least you have access to cash. If you are not carrying a second debit card then be sure to have the pin numbers for your credit cards.

As an old engineer who prefers back up and redundancy we actually carry three debit cards and three credit cards with pin numbers. Within a few days of being on the ground we do use our back up debit cards one time just to make sure that they are working. In all of our years of travel, have never had to go to the backup. So while you probably could get by with one debit card, I would not want to try.

Posted by
339 posts

I do have separate accounts from my husband so that if there is a problem with his card (has happened in Granada on a strike day), another card worked well. We travel to Mexico every year and sometimes there is a problem with one card but another one worked. We have run into finicky ATMs.

Posted by
2898 posts

People who imply that because they've never had a problem you don't need a back-up card are giving you bad advice. Cards can be stolen or lost; or, for a variety of sometimes inscrutable reasons they don't work. We had an experience of that. We were fine in Portugal. The day we crossed the border into Spain, our Wells Fargo atm card stopped working. Several calls to them failed to uncover the reason. They kept assuring us there was no problem, and we continued to be unable to access our funds. Fortunately, we were traveling with friends, who kept us in cash by letting us charge all meals and reimbursing us. Since then we travel with cards on two different banks, as well as two different cc's. (Maybe this is an obvious point, but we each carry different cards. If you have to cancel a card because of loss or theft, a second card on the same account probably won't work.)

Posted by
1102 posts

My husband and I each carry a debit card, plus a third from our joint account. We also each carry a credit card. Never had a problem, but I would rather be safe than sorry.

And as Frank said, we use all three at first, just to make sure they work.

Posted by
2235 posts

What Rosalyn said! Also, be sure to contact all of the banks issuing each of these debit or credit cards, and advise them of the dates of your travel and what countries you will be in, so your transactions do not raise questions of possible mis-use. You should also ask about your daily withdrawal limits, and ask to raise those if called for. That is also a good time to make sure you understand any fees involved in using the various cards overseas, so you can mostly use the cards with no or lowest fees.

Posted by
5378 posts

Card on a second account doesn't weight much, but it's extremely valuable when a specific ATM doesn't like your main card. I carry my Schwab no-fee ATM card plus the debit card on my regular BofA account (charges a fee but it's better than being cashless. ) And yes, I have had to use the backup card once in the last three trips.

Posted by
2104 posts

I'm with Zoe--1 card, use at a bank ATM and during bank hours. For back-up I have 2 credit cards that I can get cash from if need be, or use for purchases to save cash. I do bring some foreign currency from home and replenish well before absolute need. Solo travel makes me a little paranoid but having back-up methods for cash helps.

Posted by
2525 posts

A back-up ATM card is a good idea and from a different financial institution. My protocol is to carry our Schwab debit/ATM cards and ATM cards from a different bank. The ones from Schwab Bank have unique numbers despite operating off the same account. So, if one is compromised, the other is still safe and functional. The other great features include no international transaction fees, no other fees, and rebates of any fees charged by banks where withdrawals take place. Our other ATM cards contain the same number, charges international transaction fees and no rebates of fees by other banks, so is less beneficial and only an emergency back-up (never used). Consider how you would gain cash if bad things happen? Contacting relatives/friends at home may be problematic given time zone differences and challenges with phone systems if not on some sort international phone plan or familiar with Skype, Viber, etc..

Posted by
3436 posts

Yes, carry two ATM cards that access two different account. And if possible, have one that is Visa and the other MasterCard.

Why? Things go wrong. Sometimes you find an ATM that likes one card but not another. Sometimes your bank forgets you told them you were traveling and cuts you off. An ATM could retain your card for no good reason.

There are several options for a secondary account that will cost you little or nothing. I use Capital One 360 for my secondary travel account (my main account at at a completely different bank not associated with them). No fees of any kind. No minimum balances required. Quick and free interbank transfers so you can move money from your main account wherever that might be into this account as needed. You can open the account online and will have your debit card within a week. Card has worked in every European country I have visited at every ATM I tried.

Posted by
141 posts

Thanks to all for your input!
We will secure a second ATM account and load it before we leave with funding to cover accomodations, etc in the event our primary ATM fails us. I thought it sounded like a wise idea, but thought I would run it past all of you seasoned travelers!

Trip isn't until next September....so I have plenty of time to research... We have reserved all of our accomodations, (all have very liberal cancellation policies and no money up front)....now to wait for airfare to inch down a bit before we buy! ;)
Thanks for always being willing to share your wisdom!

Posted by
11613 posts

Regarding airfares "inching down", I suspect that in view of the recent plane crash there will be more stringent security measures in force, which will cost more to execute, and that cost will be passed on to us.

By the way, I would never discourage someone from taking a second debit card. I just haven't done it. Everyone's advice about having two is sound.

Posted by
31055 posts

It's great to hear that you're going to set up a backup ATM card, as that would have also been my suggestion. Having worked with computers for a number of years (and seeing the problems that can occur), I tend to use the same methods as Frank suggested with several levels of redundancy. I've had problems with my primary ATM card during travels, and have had to use the backup on occasion.

Posted by
7756 posts

I'm glad you're going for a second card as well. Be sure to use it a time or two at home well before you go just to make sure everything works as you expect.

I am late to the comments especially since you have made the decision to get the extra card, but my primary debit card did not work this year the first time I tried it. I tried a different day, same plus different ATM and finally had to email my brother to call the Credit Union to get the stop lifted. I had actually gone in to the CU to do the travel notification and discussed it with the teller but it was not processed properly. I did have a back up debit on my money market account so I was OK for funds but it was just aggravating. Also had had my main travel credit card compromised the Thursday before I left on Sat, so no way to get a new one before I traveled. Fortunately I have several back up credit cards which I took with me. I'm with Frank and Ken on having a level of redundancy!

Posted by
95 posts

Do you have a second card in the US????? Europe is not a third world country. they can overnight you a card. you can take cash out with your credit card (although it will cost you interest--but in an emergency ??????) or use your credit card for most if not all purchases if you plan ahead. Best to have a "back up" credit card in a separate location from the primary. don't worry and have a good time

Posted by
7756 posts

I do have a 2nd card in the US but I can easily call the credit union or brokerage firm in the US which I can't do from Europe as I don't have a phone over there. I could buy a phone there if needed but it seems like it is easier to have a back up set of cards.

In my instance of the compromised credit card, I also opted not have the card overnighted because I was not staying in one spot more than 2 or 3 nights. By the way, the term overnight has various interpretations. Again, in my instance, I discovered the compromise right before the Labor Day weekend. From Thursday when the charge posted and was no longer pending, and they could cancel my card, the earliest they could overnight the card to me to my home address was Tuesday or possibly Wednesday. So in that instance, overnight was actually 5 or 6 days. Same with international...they could not give me a good date on which it might be delivered so didn't want to take a chance on having it wind up delivered to a hotel I had already left.

Posted by
6907 posts

I, too, have a back up card in the States and agree with Pam that the situation is different when within the country. FYI, Pam, most cards have a local overseas number that will patch you through to the US card center, which you can also ask to patch you through to your local bank/credit union.

As for overnight delivery, I can vouch from several experiences that it can take up to a week and that's with us staying in one place. I also wonder if a card would be sent overseas rather than a home address. Does anyone have any direct experience? When our credit union shut down hundreds of accounts, including our primary card, it took a week for new cards to be sent to our home address. One child living in the same town at the time and was able to collect our mail, activate them and sent them on to us. The whole process took two weeks.

I don't think I'd bother for a one-week vacation, but if someone is going to be away several weeks, it makes sense.

Posted by
9363 posts

I travel with two ATM cards, one from my local credit union, and one from an online bank. I can transfer money between them if necessary, though it takes a day or so. I have used both of them in Europe, Costa Rica, and China.

Posted by
3436 posts

John,

Yes, my backup ATM/Debit card works when I am in the US too.

But I don't usually need cash when I am in the US. I pay for everything from hotel rooms and airfare and gasoline to meals and bottles of water and chewing gum using a credit card (which I also carry more than one of). I don't find it that easy to use credit for smaller purchases in Europe.

And I have had better luck with "overnight" deliveries in most third-world countries than I have had in Europe. :-)

Posted by
4509 posts

Though late to the game I will weigh in.

It IS a very good idea to have a backup plan to get cash if your primary ATM card doesn't work or is stolen. That is extremely sound advice. What is flexible is HOW you achieve a backup. The idea that one MUST have a secondary ATM card to be safe is just not true.

Options for getting cash in the event you cannot get cash from your ATM/debit card (in no particular order):

  1. A second bank account with its own ATM or debit card. This can work easily if you are traveling in pairs or a group. Perfect if you already have one but otherwise, this will require you to open - and manage - a whole new account. Best to keep this account card back at the hotel in case your main cards are stolen.

  2. Use your credit card for a cash advance. You MUST know your PIN to do this and many people have either never requested a cash advance PIN or don't know it because they never use it. Yes you incur interest charges right away, but the cost if paid off within a month is minimal and this is an emergency backup - not a source for large amounts of cash. If you have more than one CC, keep one back at the hotel in case your main cards are stolen.

  3. Bring you own currency in cash along and keep stored in a safe place. Then exchange it for local currency if needed. This also costs money in exchange fees, but only if you use it. Otherwise just spend the cash over time when you get home. This option is riskier since if that cash is lost or stolen, it is gone.

Posted by
1666 posts

Thanks for starting this discussion! We are headed to Italy in a month. I hadn't thought of taking a backup until I came across this post.

My first thought was to get another debit card from a different bank. Then I remembered my two AMEX cards. I checked and they are accepted by major Italian bank ATM's. Of course, I don't know the PIN numbers to the cards, I can't find the paperwork. I called AMEX and through their automated system, I was able to get new PINs mailed to me for the cards. Now I'll have two backups to my debit card. My wife and I will carry different cards.

Posted by
646 posts

Probably redundant to add at this point but we carry two ATM cards on from different banks. Partly this is a backup. Partly it's to allow us to amass enough cash to pay for five to seven nights of apartment rental in cash. Our withdrawal limited is per bank, not per card so two cards allow us to take out more at once. We also carry to separate credit cards from two separate banks.

We've never had a problem with the ATM cards in Europe, but it would be a mess if we did and the ATM cards we have don't card an annual fee, so have two of them isn't expensive.

Posted by
544 posts

Hi DougMac,

If you use your AMEX charge or credit card to take out cash at an ATM, there may be fees.

This can be a good option in an emergency situation, but you may want to verify what your fees will be.

For example, on my "Business Gold Rewards" charge card, I would be have a 2.7% foreign transaction fee and an additional 3% fee on the total.

These fees aren't unusual, but AMEX advertises that my card has "no foreign transaction fees," just not on this ATM service.

Also, the ATM would have to accept American Express. I find that it's not uncommon for places to not accept American Express, but I'm not sure about ATMs specifically.

It's all in the fine print,
Nordheim

Posted by
1666 posts

Nordheim,
Thanks for taking the time to make those points. The AMEX card would be an emergency transaction. AMEX has a web site that lists Italian banks whose ATM machines accept the AMEX card. One is the same bank that accepts the primary card I'll be using. We don't plan to spend a ton of money anyway. All major expenses have/will be charged.