Bank Cards

Cut-off Abroad

Not much can compare to the stress caused from getting all of your “ducks” in a row arranging money plans to travel an extended period of time.  For me, juggling two accounts (because international fees are a ridiculous black hole) doubled the amount of time devoted to this seemingly endless preparation.  An eternity seems to be dedicated to being placed on hold or talking like a robot to an automated machine.  Once you finally reach a human to explain your travel plans, you feel as if you’ve won the New York Marathon…. at least that’s how I felt this past summer as I prepared to live in Italy for four months.

Opting for a data-free phone lifestyle, I have rarely ran into frustration with being off of the grid and running only on random (& weak) European wifi.  I have a separate Italian phone that gets the job done if I’m ever in a true emergency; even if it’s so cheaply made and small I could easily crush it in the bottom of my bag.  I never realized how much of a lifesaver the little thing would be when it was my only option of communication with the American banking world.

Now, fast forward to an adjusted lifestyle accrued from well over a month of traveling around Europe.  Keeping my bank account at home open for easy transfers to my international Charles Schwab debit card was a smooth process in which I became well-versed.  I sometimes had a shortness of breath when it came to putting my card in the ATM when I was outside Italy, with fear that it would be randomly rejected.  I always make sure to have an emergency bill tucked away “just in case.”  It seems silly to have money that you don’t touch, until “just in case” becomes reality.

Traveling around Milan for two days, I decided to make a purchase on a treasured gift, and my card was declined… twice.  Thinking it was a fluke, I dug into my emergency stash and called it a day.  Luckily, I had enough cash on me, and even a little back at home to get by if there was something truly wrong with my account.  After crashing just long enough back at my home in Firenze, only to get up before the sun rose for a Venice day adventure, the thought of a potential card problem never crossed my mind.

It wasn’t until I thought about going to the bank machine to get some cash for the infamous gondola ride, that the idea of a real problem was occurring.  After my card was declined at the ATM, I immediately made it my mission to get to the bottom of this annoying “fluke.”  Luckily, I am blessed with generous and understanding friends who were willing to spot me cash here and there throughout the trip until I was able to figure out my issue.

Calling the bank once I got back from a busy 3 days of travel was the absolute LAST thing on my mind, but sometimes (most times) being an adult consists of doing non-fun things.  So, I pulled out the infamous Italian cell phone that I had stored away hoping to never use.  After being guided in twenty different directions about what toll-free Italy-to-America number I should use, the Schwab representative on the other end of my chat conversation was nice enough to save me some grief and call the respective department himself.  Finally directed to a human, I find myself standing out on the laundry terrace at 1am (time differences rock), and softly yelling into the speaker of the phone (that I can’t even find).  It was quite the sight bearing that there’s a noise law in Florence at night, so I’m sure my courtyard neighbors were thrilled to hear a loud voice overemphasizing every word with hope the message went through with the weak signal.

The news I never wanted to hear came through the chintzy speaker, “your card has been blocked due to a cross-counterfeit issue.”  The best part?  There’s no way to unblock the card, so I needed to be issued a new card.  Issuing a new card entailed filling out a form and sending it in, then waiting until the end of the week to hopefully receive my FedEx rushed package.  I immediately took care of the form to expedite the process, being one step closer to a resolution.

The company handled my issue quite well and every representative I encountered was more than accommodating and helpful.  My initial and only issue was that I was roaming Italy with no notification of a faulty account.  Roughly 5 days later my new card was issued and things were back to normal.  The time in-between was frustrating; all of my hard-earned money was just sitting in my account, and all I could do was stare at it.  I was excessively mindful of my cash transactions until that package came, which gave me a broader perspective on mindless spending.  On the other hand, how mindless is everyday gelato if it makes you happy?

While on one of the many interactions I had with a Schwab representative, I was told that Italy is one of the most common countries to have the problem of counterfeit fraud happen (of course).  This cautionary move my bank made did potentially save me future grief if anything truly happened to my account balance, but having the sense of being financially stranded is something I never hope to experience again.  So my biggest piece of logic advice is to make sure there’s always an emergency stash of Euros hiding “just in case”; because it could happen to anyone, at any time!


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Category: StoriesStudy Abroad


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