China: Catch 22 With Chinese Characteristics (Part Three)

Shenzhen Travel Advisory

Having your passport stolen and not being allowed to return home is bad enough. But you’re lucky because your wallet wasn’t lifted. So what happens when you try to withdraw cash from an automatic teller machine and “Please Contact Your Bank” appears on the screen?

If having your passport stolen, not being allowed to go home, and having to sleep on a hard massage table is not bad enough, what happens when you attempt to withdraw cash from an automatic teller machine (ATM) and your attempt fails?

Because I can’t go home and I can’t stay at a hotel, I decide to have 3 hour massage at a spa because spas in China usually let you spend the night if you have a 3 hour treatment.

As with hotels, massage parlours in Shenzhen are not supposed to let you in after 8 pm without a passport, but I manage to convince the young lady at the counter to do it. 

I change, have a well needed shower, and have a one hour foot massage in the main hall followed by a 2 hour body massage in a private room. I also consume 2 large beers.

When my massage ends, the 2 narrow massage tables are shoved together, I’m given a blanket, and I try to settle down for the night. It’s not easy.

The massage tables are not the least bit soft. I toss and turn. I wake up sore all over because of the the very hard massage tables, which have very little padding.

I go downstairs, shower and shave in the changing room, and have a complimentary meal in the main hall.

Three hour treatments don’t just allow you to spend the night. You also get a meal.

Fortunately, I hadn’t eaten dinner at the spa the night before because I had already eaten before I got there. So I get to have breakfast without spending any more cash.

After paying and tipping the therapist, I’ve got 100 rmb, or US$16, left over. I head straight for the Hang Seng Bank branch on People’s Road South and attempt to withdraw cash from the ATM.

Hong Kong Monetary Authority

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority passed regulations going into effect on 1 March 2013 requiring cardholders wishing to withdraw cash from ATMs outside Hong Kong to activate overseas withdrawal capability before travelling.

I’m not expecting any problems because I applied for overseas withdrawal capability a couple of weeks earlier. So I’m flabbergasted when I attempt to withdraw cash and the following message appears on the screen: “Please Contact Your Bank”.

The branch is closed. I don’t know this yet, but it won’t reopen until Tuesday because Monday in a national holiday. 

Fortunately, I never closed out my US bank account. I am charged a hefty US$25 per withdrawal so I’m loathe to withdraw money from the bank’s overseas ATMs, but I’ve got no choice.

The bank doesn’t have many branches in Shenzhen, but I’m able to locate one with the help of the concierge at a nearby shopping mall. I pull out the daily maximum.

Fast Forward

Before continuing my story, I’ll fast forward to my return to Hong Kong 7 days later.

As soon as I’m back on Hong Kong soil, I head straight to the nearest ATM machine, which is operated by a partner bank. I attempt to withdraw cash and get the same message I got in Shenzhen.

I take the train to Sheung Shui and head straight to the nearest branch of Hang Seng Bank. I walk in and politely demand to speak with the branch manager. It takes some persuading, but eventually I’m given an audience with him.

An hour later, it is confirmed that:

1.) I had applied for overseas ATM cash withdrawal capability;

2.) my application had been successful;

3.) it should have gone into effect immediately; and

4.) I had sufficient funds in my account to make the attempted withdrawal.

Apparently my card had malfunctioned, and a new one will be issued.

Comment and Analysis

I cannot tell you have much grief these new banking regulations have caused. Many people were not aware of them and were caught off guard when trying to withdraw money while travelling abroad. I was one of them, and this is what pisses me off.

The ATMs never told you your card wouldn’t function so you would just give up and figure out another strategy.

When you tried to make a withdrawal, you would be told that you had exceeded the daily maximum so you would try again inputting a smaller amount. When you tried this a second time, inputting an even smaller amount, the same thing happened.

Following the 3rd attempt, you would be told you had exceeded the number of attempts to withdraw cash within a 24 period. So you would try again the following day.

I would sincerely like someone at Hang Seng Bank to explain to me WHY their ATM machines were not programmed to inform account holders that their cards could not be used to withdraw cash from machines outside Hong Kong rather than telling them that they had exceeded the daily limit.

This would have prevented a lot of needless running around and unnecessary confusion.


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