Help! The ATM Swallowed My Bank Card

Three years ago I was heading out for five days of vacation in Hong Kong and Macau for the Chinese National Day holiday (the first week of October). I was going to the Shekou port to catch a ferry to Macau when on the way I decided to stop at an ATM to get some cash to exchange (Macau and Hong Kong, despite being part of China, both have their own currencies).

I stopped at a Bank of China ATM in the metro station outside of the ferry pier. After I had completed the transaction I was counting my money when I noticed there was a timer with only a few seconds left displayed on the screen. I hadn’t taken my card back yet, so I reached out to grab it.

Just at that moment the timer hit zero and the ATM locked my card in a death grip and sucked it from between my fingers back into the machine! Needless to say I was a bit dismayed. I had been in China for a little over a month, and losing my bank card did not make for an enjoyable start to my first vacation.

I had no idea what to do about my card, so I made the mature, intelligent decision to just leave it be and figure it out when I got back.

When I returned from my trip I went to the nearest Bank of China branch and explained my situation to them. First, since my bank card was with the Bank of Communication, I had to go to my own bank and get them to sign off on a lost bank card slip for me. Then, since the ATM that ate my card was in a metro station, I would have to go to the Bank of China Metro ATM Headquarters (or something like that) in order to get my card back. This headquarters was conveniently located at the Luohu metro station, about an hour on the metro from where I lived.

I should take a moment to explain the importance of going through all this effort to get my card back. In the US if you lose a bank card you can simply cancel it and get your bank to send you a new one. In China your card IS your account, so if you lose it you can’t just get a new one for your account. Instead you need to get an entirely new account, and the effort and stress involved in that would be considerably more than that of an hour long subway ride to get your old card.

Everything worked out in the end though and I got my card back without too much additional hassle. Now, three years later, I sit writing this post after another ATM just swallowed the very same card. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now, but those ATMs are quick!

Fortunately this time around the ATM was in a branch of the Bank of Communication a short walk from my apartment. I simply had to return to the bank the next day with my passport (a necessity for any banking business as a foreigner in China).

Over the course of my three years in China I’ve often been warned to watch out for pickpockets and keep an eye on my belongings when I’m out and about. But in my experience the greatest danger is closer to home. So if you’re in China be sure to watch out for pickpockets, especially in crowded areas popular with tourists, but also watch out for those ATMs. They’ll snatch your bank card up faster than you can blink!

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