So you're travelling in some exotic land far from home.

You go to withdraw money from a local ATM so you can have some local currency.

But the ATM swallows your card! If you're lucky you might get a useful reason displayed on the screen, but it usually involved contacting your bank far, far away.

Now assume it's not an ATM installed at an actual bank.

What normally happens under such circumstances? Can you get your card back from the ATM or must you get a new one issued from back home? If you can get it back, how long would that normally take?

Now there could be complications:

You can't stick around in this town and you can't contact your bank at home immediately due to time differences with home, being a weekend or public holiday, need to catch a flight, or as it was in my case, I had to cross the border or I would be breaking the terms of my visa.

Please don't submit answers on how to get money wired etc. For this question I want to focus on getting the same card or a new card.

  • 1
    If this varies to the extent that it's a totally different procedure for each bank, then that's an answer I would accept if you can show it. Otherwise I'm assuming most of the time banks deal with it in one of a small number of ways. Sep 12, 2013 at 10:44
  • I've never found a bank that didn't have 24x7 numbers for lost cards, normally with the ability to access reverse charged calls if you're international. You do have the phone number from the back of all your cards stored somewhere, right?
    – Doc
    Sep 12, 2013 at 21:10
  • @Doc: I also didn't realize that some countries don't have a way to make reverse charge calls. I don't want to go into my current version of this experience but you can find it in our chat room. I wanted this question to have answers that other people could find in the future. Sep 13, 2013 at 2:40
  • 5
    This question is about the ATM eating your card, but is missing the food-and-drink tag! Sep 13, 2013 at 5:01

5 Answers 5


First of all, it depends on why your card is retained. I can think of at least three common situations:

  1. You have entered a wrong PIN too many times.
  2. Your issuing bank has decided to cancel and retain your card, e.g. because you have exceeded your credit limit and they want to prevent you from charging the card at "offline merchants". This may of course be a mistake by your issuing bank.
  3. A failure (software or mechanical) in the ATM prevents it from returning your card.

In the first two situations, you are unlikely to get your card back.

The wrong PIN count is recorded on the card itself, so even if you got it back, it would be retained again the next time you are trying to use it. The wrong PIN counter on the magnetic strip can at least in theory be reset, so that the card itself is reactivated. This can however only be done by the issuing bank. If you are using a card with a chip, the chip may permanently deactivate if you exceed the number of allowed wrong PIN entries. In this case, you need a new physical card.

If the card is retained on request by your issuing bank, the cause is not specified through the ATM network, so the ATM operator would not know why your bank wants the card to be retained. Common practice is to not return such cards to the holder. After all, the operator must assume that your issuing bank requested the card to be retained for some reason. In this case, the card is not necessarily permanently deactivated, but can be reactivated if you are able to solve the issue with your bank. This may of course mean a lot of hassle for you and may require you to convince both your issuing bank and the ATM operator to get in touch with each other, so that you can get your card back.

In the third case, if the ATM swallows your card without obvious reason, you are likely to be able to get your card back. Even if it's not solved immediately, the ATM operator will have no reason to further retain your card, and return it to you. If the ATM is not located in a bank office or you are using the ATM outside the opening hours, there is of course no one immediately available to do this. In many cases, you can find a phone number for customer support located on the ATM. They may or may not be able to help you.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to reliably prevent any of these situations from happening. Even if your card is retained by mistake, do not expect too much effort from the ATM operator to help you with a swift solution.

There are however a few things you can do to mitigate the consequences of a retained card:

  • Do not use ATMs outside regular bank offices. If they are malfunctioning and retaining your card by mistake, you are bound to spend much time resolving the issue.
  • Try to use ATMs in actual banks during the opening hours or at least in a location you can stay until the bank opens again on the next working day. In this case, you have at least someone to talk to, who can actually get access to your card.
  • Check with your bank or card issuer in advance which options you have if your card is lost or retained. Do they offer emergency cash on a short notice? Are they able at all to issue you a new card, which is delivered to you on short notice in or near the locations you are traveling to? If not, you should consider a travel insurance with such benefits.
  • If possible, bring at least two ATM cards from different banks. If one of the issuing banks for some reason decides to bar your card, you can use the second card until the issue with the first card is solved.
  • Do not be unreasonably afraid to carry enough cash. I guess this depends on where you are traveling, but my experience is that it is much more likely to run into problems when trying to pay with or withdraw cash from an ATM card than to be robbed.
  • Very sensible and complete answer - thanks for your effort. Sep 12, 2013 at 18:19
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    Another reason: I counted the cash before pocketing the card. The machine ate the card b/c it thought I had forgotten it. It really was for my protection and the bank returned it when I asked the bank - which is why your suggestion "Try to use ATMs in actual banks during the opening hours" is so useful.
    – emory
    Sep 12, 2013 at 18:57
  • 1
    Being robbed at knife-point is probably not the main risk, simply losing your wallet or falling prey to pickpockets is also made worse by carrying a lot of cash.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 12, 2013 at 19:32
  • And always carry a spare ATM card! I have two checking accounts at my bank for this reason (the second is just a backup). In case my first card is ever lost, stolen, damaged, or eaten, I can (online) transfer money to my second account, and withdraw money that way, until I get the issue resolved with the first.
    – Flimzy
    Sep 12, 2013 at 22:57
  • Yes I also think a good strategy is if you travel with a backup card and have already had a problem with your primary card then at least use these extra precautions when you're on your backup card! Sep 13, 2013 at 2:46

One thing you should be aware of is not all cases of an ATM eating your card are merely accidental equipment failure. There is actually a variety of ATM skimmer that prevents the ATM from properly ejecting your card, allowing the thief to come along after you have left, and steal your card:


Many security-savvy readers of this blog have learned to be vigilant against ATM card skimmers and hidden devices that can record you entering your PIN at the cash machine. But experts say an increasing form of ATM fraud involves the use of simple devices capable of snatching cash and ATM cards from unsuspected users.

Security experts with the European ATM Security Team (EAST) say five countries in the region this year have reported card trapping incidents. Such attacks involve devices that fit over the card acceptance slot and include a razor-edged spring trap that prevents the customer’s card from being ejected from the ATM when the transaction is completed.


If the ATM is in a bank agency and it's working hours you can go inside and ask them to give you the card back.

It's not 100% guaranteed that they will give it back. Each bank has its own policies.

Most likely they will identify you (you probably have to give them an ID or Passport), they will make a copy of the ID/Passport and they will return the card.

In case they don't give the card back or there is no one you can ask the card to, it will most likely be sent back to your agency.

Most unlikely but possible, the card can be destroyed for safety reasons.

If you can't recover it from the machine I would definitely ask a new one to your bank, and ask it with urgency status. Many banks have this option, sometime you have to pay an extra for the urgency status.

  • Yes I thought a friend once got one back in Dresden by showing his passport. And I was wondering if they would destroy the card or send it back - but sending would cost money of course. Sep 12, 2013 at 11:29
  • They don't send the card back; they keep it and if not collected it is destroyed. Jul 10, 2016 at 10:28
  • If it you're traveling in your country they will most likely send it back. Specially if it's the same bank. I know several cases like that. If abroad I expect that to vary, but destruction is probably very likely.
    – nsn
    Jul 11, 2016 at 8:24
  • Here in Qatar, if an ATM eats a card of any other bank, it will be kept & destroyed. The issuing bank will block this one, and will issue a new one.
    – DavChana
    Jul 11, 2016 at 13:10

I don't know if it's true for all banks, but I think that you cannot do anything. The owner of the ATM will send your card to your bank.
That happend once to a friend of mine in Germany. Both banks were part of the Unicredit group, however the German office refuse to give the card back and told us they will send it to Unicredit bank in Bulgaria and we should contact them to get a new card.


I realize this doesn't speak directly to your question, but when you travel - don't use your own bank cards - use something like Travel Cash. In the event that your travelcash card is eaten by an ATM, stolen or lost you can be sure there'll be a branch locally & you'll get a replacement immediately.

This also avoids leaking info regarding your own real (everyday) accounts - in a world rife with ATM fraud, it's worth it.

  • 6
    Could you briefly tell us what Travel Cash is and link to somewhere readers can learn about it? Can I really be sure there'll be a branch locally in Vientiane, Laos? Sep 13, 2013 at 2:51
  • 1
    I suspect he's referring to something like Swiss Bankers Travel Cash, but I don't know anything about its benefits/limitations myself.
    – Mark Mayo
    Sep 13, 2013 at 3:14

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