Its a normal day in China, and you go into your wallet to find your ATM card, needing it to buy something at the store, or maybe to take cash out. Uh ohits not there. Youre mind is racing. Where could you have lost it? Was it stolen, dropped on the ground, maybe forgotten in your apartment somewhere? Then you come to the realization: you forgot it in the ATM you used the other day. Fear not! There is a solution, and I just had one of the more difficult experiences getting my card back, so everyone can learn from my forgetfulness.

Its like this

First, lets take a step back. Im not sure how it is in other countries, but in China, nearly all ATMs will have you fully insert your card into the machine, and it will keep it until your transaction is done. Rarely (or maybe never) will you find one where you insert and take the card back before you put in your PIN and proceed with the withdrawal. Also, the machine first dispenses your cash, then you have to tell it that youre done and want your card back. Then it will give you your card.

I think this makes it easy (if you are forgetful, or dont have your wits about you) to take your cash and go on your way, leaving your ATM card in the machine. If you take your cash, and then dont interact with the machine for 60 seconds or so, the ATM will assume youve left and will eat your card, storing it inside, and not allowing anyone else to grab your card.

So, lets assume this has now happened to you. What next?

First you have to identify which kind of ATM you have just used. Is it

1) An ATM attached to (or inside of) a bank or

2) An ATM kiosk that is not attached to a bank. It could be inside a subway stop, convenience store, on a street corner, etc.

If you are in situation #1, and the ATM is at a bank, take a second and breathe a little sigh of relief. Youre life just got a little easier. All you have to do is go into the bank, and tell them that their ATM ate your card. If you can find an English speaker, great. If not, try this Chinese phrase: qǔkuǎnjī chīle wǒde kǎ. This means the ATM ate my card.

If you are in situation #2, take a series of deep breaths, because this will likely not be an easy process. This is what happened to me, and it took me about 2 weeks to retrieve my card. Ill give some tips that the end on how I avoided a massive inconvenience. First, go back to the offending ATM, and look all over it for a phone number you can call. Write them all down, because you may not call the correct one the first time. Then, call them up, and try to get an English speaker on the line. If you cant, and dont speak any Chinese, Id suggest having a colleague, or your Ayi help you with this.

Once you get ahold of someone, youll want to tell them the location or address of the ATM, and when it ate your card. When this happened to me, I lost my card in an ATM that was inside a convenience store. I called the number, and was routed through a couple different people before I got through to the right person. I was told that a worker comes around once a week to refill the ATM and collect any cards that were eaten by the machine. Then, the cards are all held at a single bank head office location in the city. So, I would have to wait about 7 days, and then call the phone number for the head bank office to see if they had my card. Since there is only 1 telephone number, it was almost always busy, but I finally got through to someone, who told me they had my card, and the address and time I should come retrieve it. Pay attention to the times. Most often, even though normal people work M-F 9am-6pm, the specific bank office will have hours like 9:30-11:30 then 1:30-4:30. You dont want to trek all the way out there only to find youve reached them at their 2 hour lunch break.

Im not sure about in every situation, but in mine, I needed to tell them the number of the card. Chinese debit cards do not