ATM Woes: Cutting off Entire Countries

Recently while traveling through Montenegro, I placed my ATM card into a bank machine and experienced a horrible feeling of desperation when it refused to give me cash. It was my first day in the country and I had no local currency on me so I was rather concerned. I immediately tried two other bank machines and received the same message saying my bank wouldn’t authorize the transaction.

This was odd. Just a few days earlier my card had worked in Albania, and a few days later it would work in neighboring Croatia. But, for whatever reason, no matter what bank I tried or what day I tried it, I couldn’t get a Montenegrin ATM to give me cash.

Fortunately, I had a small stash of dollars in a money belt for such emergencies, but it was still an unnerving feeling. What had happened? I had alerted my bank as to the countries I was visiting so that they wouldn’t freeze the account when strange withdrawals started occurring in Ulcinj, so that wasn’t the problem.

Well, as it turns out, banks can shut off ATM access throughout an entire country any time they feel there is a security risk.

Lisa Abend, writing for the LA Times, has penned a short informational piece on the fickleness and woe one can occasionally expect from traveling with an ATM card. Sure, they are wonderfully more convenient than traveler checks, but that horrible pit I had in my stomach from suddenly being without money was not pleasant at all.

It’s not going to stop me from using my ATM as my primary source of money on future trips, mind you, but it will ensure that I bring along a bit more emergency cash just in case the country I’m traveling through suddenly ends up on some fraud alert list.

I advise you do the same.