Original budget plan

As mentioned in my 1st post , I attempted to lower the money I’d need to carry with me on the trip by pre-booking almost all the hotels & internal flights for the month of travel. This meant a fairly detailed (and some might find constricting) travel itinerary. But every $100 I paid upfront meant less cash I’d need to protect and insure against on my travels. High Crime levels in some of the countries I’d be visiting provided most of the motivation to do this.

The original breakdown of my travel cash would comprise of:

  • Citibank Visa Credit card
  • Citibank MasterCard (backup)
  • OCBC ATM card (for cash withdrawals)
  • American Express travellers cheques
  • Cash in US$

Hunt for Traveller Cheques

I had read of cases in which travellers were unable to use their credit cards (as the hotel/merchant were small-timers ) or withdraw cash from the ATM Network. Lets accept it that despite the pervasiveness of the card networks: cash is still king in most of the 3rd world and you’ll need access to plenty of cash for things like food, snacks, taxis, tips & tour guides. I’d known of and used travellers cheques in the past when I arrived in Singapore as an undergraduate student all those years ago. I was aware of the security it afforded compared to carrying physical cash and thought it an ideal backup to my credit & ATM cards.

However, it seems that in the 10 years since I’d last used them, they had seem a dramatic decline and had subsequently gone extinct as a financial instrument. I checked with American Express (their website being unclear , I looked for an outlet only to realise there was none in Singapore). Next I visited HSBC , Citibank & standard chartered. All of whom had discontinued their TC product in Singapore. The major local banks like DBS & OCBC didn’t issue any either. VISA issued an electronic version called a travel-card but I had trouble locating the product in Singapore.

Final cash breakdown

  • separate OCBC bank account + atm (VISA Plus network)
  • 1 Citibank VISA card
  • 1 Citibank MasterCard (backup incase visa isnt accepted)
  • USD $1000 in cash
  • small stash of SGD (pretty useless on the trip)

ATM Withdrawal errors

As you might have seen on my other posts, my attempts to draw cash from ATMs in Argentina had failed with myself being presented with a very generic error:

Different banks gave different messaging (Banco de la Nación Argentina actually asked for consent to levy a fee on the transaction before throwing me an error on the next page), but the result was the same: I was in a foreign land with limited cash to pay for petty transactions (No cab was going to accept a credit card).

Cambio! Cambio! Cambio!

On partically every Argentine street-corner (and most other South American towns) you can hear the chants of the Money changers.

Cambio! Cambio!

Their rates maybe better but given the risk of forged banknotes and the dodgy nature of some of these operators I decided to stick to more regulated Cambios.

Visa is KING

I had brought along a Citibank MasterCard as a backup funding source should my VISA card be declined at any merchant. But at no point in my trip did I ever need to or even be incentivized to use it. VISA is the dominant international player in South America so I doubt you’d need to bother getting a MasterCard.

ATM issues resolved

In Desperation I had sent an email to OCBC support hoping that they might be able to troubleshoot the issue on their end. 5 days later I got a call at around 11pm at night (I was just settling into bed after a long day of walking around the Llao Llao peninsula.

It was the OCBC tech support staff and they advised me that based on the error logs my withdrawals were declined as I was selecting Savings (which I assumed the 360 savings account was) though apparently my account was considered Current account internally at OCBC which caused the mismatch at the ATM.

The next day I tried drawing some cash from a nearby HSBC ATM using the method suggested to me and lo and behold Pesos spewed forth!

The rates were probably not the best, but it beats having to hide bundles of USD on your person.


  • Carry a combination of financial instruments (Cash, Card etc)
  • Don’t be too reliant on ATM networks
  • remote towns run out of cash on weekends
  • draw in major cities
  • avoid drawing cash in shady areas or at night (if you can help it)

Ease of Cash vs Risk-of-Mugging

After mentioning the trouble of drawing cash from ATM you may think carrying all your funds in cash rather than ATM cards would be the way to go. But bear in mind that muggers find cash more convenient too.

[UPDATE] I encountered some fraudulent activity on my Citibank VISA credit card 3 months after returning to Singapore. Fraudsters take their time to strike you when you’re least expecting it. So although there is a downside to using a card on your travels, on the up-side unlike cash you can file a transaction-dispute with your card company.