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I am planning a trip to eastern/northern Europe - this will be my first time traveling outside of the United States. My plan was to have a set amount of USD converted to foreign currency, then put most of my expenses on a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, then just pay the expenses when I return home. It will be a backpacking style trip, so I won't be staying at one hostel/hotel any more than a couple of days.

A thought came to my head when a coworker was mentioning pickpockets in a certain city. What if my wallet is lost or stolen while abroad with all of my currency in it? What are my options in order to obtain a replacement credit card while traveling? What steps should I take to prevent losing all of my money & cards at once?

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There are two main strategies:

  • Avoid carrying at all. Many hotels have a safe in-room or have a secure storage near reception where they can keep valuable for you. Anything you do not expect to need with you for the day is good to leave there. This obviously creates a gap when you switch hotels or are between cities, so see the next option.
  • Do not carry it in one place. At the simplest, put some cash in different pockets and I would do that with credit cards too. There are tons of other ways to keep money on your person: a money belt, shoe, hidden pocket, shoe, holsters, etc.

These are your best defense. If you get pick-pocketed, they will unlikely get it all. If you can robbed and asked to hand over everything or searched, they may get everything but it depends how creative you are.

In the unlikely event that it all gets taken from you, you must usually file a police report if you expect to make an insurance claim. Otherwise, call your credit card company or bank and ask for replacement cards. Depending on the type of card you have and if the bank has a local presence, you may get one in less than 24 hours and some even provide emergency cash as a service.

You can make this more easy by keeping relevant phone numbers and account info somewhere. One physical copy is nice to have but an online version can save you. Remember to have it in very secure server to avoid identity theft issues.

  • > Depending on the type of card you have and if the bank has a local presence, Just wanted to comment that on my experience, it was directly Visa which provided an emergency card replacement in 24hs, and according to their website, this is available everywhere except for Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Crimea and other countries listed on OFAC. – Nazareno Lorenzo Sep 29 '17 at 17:54
  • I would like more information on the replacement thing. When my wallet was stolen while abroad, I called to cancel my Visa and Mastercard cards, and all the banks said "we'll give you a new one when you get back". – Martin Argerami Sep 29 '17 at 20:39
  • @MartinArgerami - That depends on the type of card. One my cards was cloned and got cancelled while traveling and I called my bank. They said they would send me one home but then I pointed out that this was a VISA Infinite and they sent a new one to my hotel the next morning. So it depends on the class of service, if your agreement says rushed replacement cards and emergency cash advance, then that is what you can get. – Itai Sep 29 '17 at 22:33
  • @Itai: I guess. My Visa Infinite does not mention rushed replacement in the agreement. – Martin Argerami Sep 30 '17 at 2:33
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Where are you traveling? The 'good' thing is getting pickpocketed in most developed or developing areas is the same as getting pickpocketed at home...you lose the wallet and whatever is in it.

So, the same rules apply:

  1. Be careful
  2. Don't carry more than you need
  3. Report any cards stolen immediately
  4. Keep a spare in a secure location
  5. Don't carry any travel docs unless absolutely necessary
  6. Don't risk getting hurt over any amount or money

if you have alternate cards, it may not be worth trying to get a replacement while traveling.

  • +1 but I'd add: "Keep a copy of your travel documents in a secure location." – martin.koeberl Sep 29 '17 at 15:39
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    In many countries you have to carry your passport all the time, certainly as a tourist. Besides, moving from hostel to hostel, you can not leave it behind. – Willeke Sep 29 '17 at 15:46
  • @JonathanReez many countries restrict second passports to business travelers who can demonstrate that they need the second passport because of frequent visa applications. It's not likely to be a solution for a tourist. In the case of the US, the second passport is available only for travel to a country that would otherwise deny entry because of a stamp in the first passport, or because the first passport is unavailable because of visa processing. See fr.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/passports/… – phoog Sep 29 '17 at 16:04
  • @phoog in the case of US passports it says right on the page you can get one if your first passport is in a foreign consulate. So just apply for a visa, get a paper confirming you did so, and then apply for a second passport. Or say you want to go to Iran before going to Israel (or vice versa). There are also many countries which would issue you second passports without a question (e.g. Czech Republic). – JonathanReez Sep 29 '17 at 16:07
  • @JonathanReez that's $110 for the second passport, plus the foreign visa application fee, which seems awfully expensive just to have an emergency backup passport. The second passport is valid for only four years, so keeping a second one available at all times costs more than 3.5 times as much over time as just having the one. I'd rather take my chances and then apply for a replacement or an expedited application if it ever becomes necessary, and I suspect that the vast majority of tourists will come to the same conclusion. – phoog Sep 29 '17 at 16:56
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Others have already addressed how to avoid loss of all cards and handle replacements of ones you do need to replace, but one really important ingredient is what you do in the mean time while you have no money. Having a purely electronic way to make payment can help with that part of the problem, at least when you're in a location where you can find places to use it. This could include:

  • having a PayPal account and knowing your password to it (but be careful not to access it from sketchy computers or change the password ASAP after you do).
  • having memorized the number for a credit card you did not carry with you and did not lose (i.e. one you didn't call to cancel after the loss/theft), so you can let merchants who are willing to trust you a bit enter it manually or use it online.
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Never carry all eggs in one basket. If you have all money and credit card in one wallet, in case of lost, you're out of financial means. In that case you should contact your embassy/consulate, they could lend you emergency funds that would enable you to return home.

The best option is never to have all money in your place. Put a part of your money in wallet, a part in another wallet in your belt etc. At best you should have enough money to return home in your backup location.

Unless your bank has its agencies in Europe, it might be unrealistic to get credit card replacement. If they have, it should be possible to pay out money without credit card, so you won't be left out of money. But better be safe then sorry.

As a general rule, when travelling, never assume you will be able to use your credit card or ATM card. Use it for paying for extras which you don't need, but always have enough money to cover your necessities, like transport and hotel.

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    Ever heard of international mail? There are even ways for banks and credit card companies to get you a new card within 24 hours even when they do not have agencies in Europe. – Willeke Sep 29 '17 at 15:47
  • @Willeke 24 hours... a very good joke... it takes 1 to 3 weeks on average to ship from US to Europe... – Rg7x gW6a cQ3g Oct 2 '17 at 6:55

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