So yes, this just happened. I am on holiday in a very nice, WARM destination in the caribbean with a friend who lives off plastic attached to a bank account. Well, my friend also happens to live abroad and banks with a french lending institution. Armed with 300 euros and plastic with a first visit to a US territory, off he goes to do some shopping. Day 1 all is well because he had a little US cash and had intentions to get to an ATM to retrieve funds later. Dinner did not cost a lot and it was our only expense for the evening.
Day 2 and we are off to another US territory, so the euros traveled with us. Well, only one shop accepted the euros. Everyone else gave the huh, what face. After having lunch at a local establishment, we hit the beach for a couple of hours, had some food on the road and proceeded to airport to return to destination 1.
Day 3 he is left to fend for himself as I am off to another destination. Well, this is the day he decides to go to the bank to exchange the euro for US dollars and get some money from his bank card. Needless to say, that didn’t go well. Why? He has never exchanged currency before so his final net was about $40 short of the expected amount returned because of bank and exchange fees (even though the euro is higher). Additionally, his card would not work when he tried using his p.i.n. Hmmmm…
Day 4. Armed with only about $200 USD, we set out for the downtown area and to the local mall so he can do some shopping visiting his sister for two weeks and then returning home. Well, the bus experience is okay because that is only .75 cents. Lunch was fine because it was only $26 for both of us (and it was delicious by the way). Then we find a motor bike store which he was desperately seeking to buy bike parts since they were cheaper than back home. He finds quite a few parts and arranges to have the others shipped to him. We proceed to checkout, insert the card into the reader and…. yes, you guessed it… it doesn’t work. The card is tried three times with no success. So, I pay for the items so we can leave and try to find some way to contact his bank. The bank, by this time (3p.m.) is of course closed. The following day is a bank holiday and, well, needless to say, his next stay is a little more expensive to shop than US.
The moral of this story can be taken from the Girl Scout motto: Be prepared. Seriously, it is great to be able to whip out a card, swipe and go, but you always plan for eventualities. Especially when you are dealing with a foreign banking system. This was a sad lesson, an embarrassing lesson and perhaps a painful one, but hopefully he has learned a valuable lesson and will plan accordingly next time.