I’ve run out of money while traveling in another country – what can I do?

There a hundreds of circumstances that could leave you without money when traveling abroad. Maybe you budgeted poorly for your trip. Your wallet and/or credit cards were stolen. Perhaps your hotel charged you the incorrect amount. Whatever the cause, it is certainly a crisis, and one that you had not expected.

While I have lost my wallet during a trip, it happened in Los Angeles, where I was able to visit a branch of my bank the following morning. When you’re outside of the United States, though, there won’t be a Bank of America or Wells Fargo on the next corner. And, if you’ve just run out of money, that might not be of much help to you anyway.

Here are a few tips inspired by recommendations from the U.S. Department of State, for those who have become “destitute” abroad, regardless of the cause or circumstances.

Option 1: Get Help From Home

Contact your family, friends, colleagues – anyone you know. Ask them to help you by making a deposit into your bank account, wiring money, or sending money via WesternUnion or some similar service. If you don’t have a way to reach your family, the American Citizen Services unit at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate can assist you.

Option 2: Contact Your Bank or Credit Card Company

If you’ve reached your credit limit or overdrawn your bank account, call to ask for an advance or temporary credit limit increase. Explain your situation fully, and they will often be able to help with a small courtesy.

If you’ve lost your credit or debit card, your bank may be able to deliver a new card to you, using an expedited delivery service. If the new card will not get to you in time, ask about the possibility of receiving a wire transfer from your account to a foreign bank nearby. This can be arranged, on occasion.

Option 3: Repatriation Loan from the U.S. Department of State

If you have exhausted all of your options and have still been left without money or any way to get home, a U.S. Embassy or Consulate may be able to loan you the money for an immediate return to the United States. The loan program was established to provide:

“…emergency loans to assist destitute Americans abroad who have no other source of funds to return to the United States. They include Americans temporarily abroad who are without funds because of unforeseen events such as theft, illness, or accident; individuals suffering from serious physical or mental illness who need to return to the United States for medical care; Americans residing abroad with an alien spouse needing assistance to escape an abusive situation; and individuals caught in a disaster or emergency abroad who need to be removed from harm‘s way.”

Repatriation loans are a last resort, as they will provide you only with the money for the next available flight to the United States, and cover the costs of food and lodging for the period before your flight. You will sign a repayment agreement, and your passport will be restricted from being used for anything but a return to the United States. This restriction is lifted once the loan has been repaid in full. Very few Americans are given this loan each year, and it is meant only for emergencies. Your request will not be based on creditworthiness, but in demonstrating that you have no other means of returning home, whatsoever.

To see a copy of the loan application/agreement borrowers need to sign, click here (PDF). Read more about how to handle a financial crisis abroad at www.travel.state.gov.

Bonus Option: Use reward currencies

If you’re like me, you’ll have a stash of points and miles that can be used at hotels and airlines for award redemptions. I always keep a minimum number of these in my accounts should an unexpected emergency arise. Although I’ve not had to use them due to a lost wallet, I have relied on points/miles to cover travel expenses surrounding unexpected events like a death in the family or evacuating natural disasters (hurricanes are a thing in Florida). In 2019, I booked a last-minute airline ticket with frequent flyer miles after I found myself in a Singapore hospital.

Even if you aren’t a frequent traveler, it’s not a bad idea to stash rewards currencies for the times you could use them the most, like last minute travel.

Have you encountered a situation where you were without money during a trip or vacation? Please share what happened and how you resolved the issue in the comments below.