I can hands up admit that I am terrible with money.
I’m ridiculously bad at saving and I usually drop my money on really stupid stuff, but when it came to travelling around Mexico, I did tons of research in advance when choosing how to deal with my money over there.
I also spoke to two other members of the trek and came to the conclusion that the best thing to do would be to take half my spending money in cash (and then keep it hidden in my suitcase, taking out only what I needed day by day) and keeping the other half on a cash card. That way, if I lost one, there was the other option.
I went with a company called FairFX, which was actually recommended by TrekAmerica – BIG MISTAKE.
I can only apologize in advance as this is more than likely to come across as a whiney, complaining post; although I hope it offers some advice for those of you travelling soon and looking into your money options whilst abroad.
I had so much trouble with this cash card that I almost ended up stranded with no money halfway through the tour. Although it worked out in the end, there was one point that it really got to me bad, and of course all the stress was the last thing I wanted when away.
Here’s my story.
THE WRONG CARD
The first time I tried to use the card, I tried to pay for something in a restaurant and had my card declined. I thought nothing of this, until it happened a few more times and I was even unable to withdraw cash. I compared my card with other members of the tour and one other girl who had a similar cash card pointed out that her card stated USD in the corner, whereas mine said EUR.
They had sent me a Euro card by mistake, despite the fact that I’d ordered a USD one. Still, I was later told that this wasn’t an issue and that the EUR should have worked fine.
Despite the fact that I’d activated it the moment it had arrived, I tried it at a few different cash points where one asked me to activate it again. I tried, but of course this made no difference.
At this point, I tried to contact the company…before promptly realizing I could not find a contact number nor an emergency number anywhere. And so I began to email. The closer I got to halfway through my tour (and running out of cash), the more I panicked.
LACK OF COMMUNICATION
After around three days, I received an email reply simply stating that someone would be in touch soon.
Then I really began to panic. I sent numerous emails, stating that I was stuck abroad with no money and that it was an emergency. I begged for a contact number so I could speak to an actual person and begged that someone just refund the money back into my bank account, but again got no reply till around two days later.
I was absolutely amazed at their lack of communication; what company doesn’t have an emergency contact number – or a contact number at all? And despite the fact that it was an emergency, the only reply I got was an automated email saying someone would be in touch soon.
Eventually I was told what had happened was the card had automatically been blocked from the first time I used it as I was using it abroad – which is odd because, y’know, it’s a travel card which I ordered to use abroad. I was told an email would arrive, asking me to email back to state that it was me using the card abroad and that it wasn’t a mistake, even though I’d already told a member of the team this.
This email eventually arrived in my junk box the following day.
AN UNBLOCKED CARD?
I replied and got my card unblocked, then let out a sigh of relief. My money worries were over and I was finally able to use the rest of my money, just in time for the end of tour.
Oh how wrong I was.
Again, I was unable to use my card AT ALL and ended up going round in circles again; emailing repeatedly, looking for a phone number to contact them and simply being told that someone would be in touch soon.
Any emails I sent just asking for my money to be refunded were entirely ignored which was crazy because essentially it was just a cash card; it wasn’t like I’d brought a faulty product and was trying to return it, I was simply asking for my own money to be moved back to my account.
It came to the last day of tour and all I had left in cash was the money I’d kept aside for my hostel. That’s it.
All I could think was that at least I had money to have a roof over my head for my last few days in Mexico; in fact it didn’t even hit me that I didn’t have money to get from the hostel to the airport on my last day or anything like that. My hostel offered free breakfast and dinner, so although it meant I would stay in the hostel, at least I wouldn’t be on the streets!
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Finally, after so much time going back and fourth, I had a call the following morning where a member of staff was somewhat apologetic after realizing the issue was their fault; the EUR card was now no longer available to use in Mexico and only half their staff force knew this (seriously?!).
The lack of communication between the company and their customers as well as among their staff was absolutely ridiculous, and it still makes me angry to think that had there not been so many communication issues; I wouldn’t have had to go through so much stress and panic.
For some people it may not seem like a big issue. But being that I was travelling abroad for the first time ALONE, it honestly got to the point where I would have been stranded had I not kept money aside for my hostel.
So eventually FairFX agreed to refund my money but did not know how long that would take, so luckily my boyfriend agreed to lend me the money. I soon realized my bank card wasn’t working either (despite the fact that I’d contacted the bank to let them know I was using my card in another country)! I wasn’t having much luck AT ALL.
A lovely couple from the tour were still in Cancun the day after the tour thankfully. I used the money I had for my hostel to grab a bus across Cancun, transfer the money my boyfriend leant me to them, and they withdrew it from their bank account for me.
Had they not stayed on in Cancun for a few days, I would have had no money and had my boyfriend not leant me the money, I would have also been buggered. I am so grateful to them all.
Also, my hostel was cash only and I had to dip into that money to travel across Cancun to try and access money. Essentially I was putting all my eggs in one basket and it that hadn’t of worked, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for my full time at my hostel and would have had to sleep at the airport or something for my last night, lolz.
Still, everything could have been avoided entirely had FairFX just called me after my first email to explain the issue and refunded the money; I would have easily been able to get someone else to withdraw it for me as I would have still been on tour.
SO. The moral of the story is do NOT use FairFX. Although the fact that the card couldn’t be used wasn’t their fault overall, their lack of communication and refusal to just refund the money that was mine caused a whole lot of stress and I cannot even begin to explain how scary it was on the last night of tour when I was so far away from home worrying about my last few days in Mexico.
I will note that they did eventually refund the money (long after I was home), and they also agreed to refund any additional charges I incurred when in Mexico, which in the end was just an expensive phone bill from where I’d been browsing the web trying to find an emergency email, emailing back and fourth and even calling Trek America’s emergency number.
Would I ever use cash cards again? I honestly think that although they sound great on paper, after my experience with FairFX, I have been put off using them completely. I’m sure there are some trustworthy ones out there, but personally, to me, I wouldn’t feel safe using them again.
THINKING ABOUT USING A CASH CARD?
– Never put all your spending money onto a cash card in case of any emergency. Always take half in cash with you.
– Check and double check your card can be used in your country of travel; and not just on the cash card’s website. Look on official travel websites and even do a quick google; the changes to my card being used abroad had only incurred recently when I was travelling, so not all websites will be entirely up to date.
– Make sure you have an emergency contact number for the cash card’s website!
– Double check your card when it arrives and that it states USD or a similar code depending on where you are travelling.
– Check the T&C’s just to be sure you can
get a refund or move the money back into your own account and that this can be done promptly.
Have you ever had trouble with cash cards abroad? How did you come to a solution? Let me know!
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