Stuck in PayPal Jail: 5 Tips from the Trail

Lisa Atm: Credit: George Rajna, Lisa at the ATM in Bangkok

After all my months and years on the road, I try to convince myself that I am a savvy traveler yet somehow I still find myself in Indonesia in PayPal Jail unable to use my account. I want to share a few tips that I know work about money and help you use my experience to keep you with access to your accounts!

  1. PASSPORT: I travel with an American Passport. I know that I need to renew it long before it is due. I cannot go into most countries if it is within the last six months that is it valid. Seems like they should just change the date it is valid but no one asked me. I always carry a copy of my passport. If it is lost, stolen, damaged, I know I can take the copy to an embassy for help. With the advent of color scans, I now have a laminated color copy in my backpack and a Xerox in my wallet. I also leave a copy with my parents in Los Angeles.
  2. Bank Cards—Many years ago in a mall in Buenos Aires, the ATM ate my card. The mall security man said, “Come back on Monday when the bank opens to get your card,” but in Spanish. I tried to explain that as I worked on the cruise ship and was there only once a month on a Saturday that I would not be back. Luckily for me, I got paid in cash and was able to have a new card sent in the ship via the special document box. For now, I travel with two ATM cards: one from each of my accounts at separate banks. Before you leave home, check the expiration date on all your cards. For this trip, I got a new ATM card so it would not expire during our first year of travel.
  3. Renew Licenses: It is much easier to renew early than to start again so check: when do you need to renew your state driver’s license, or any other licenses like for me my several teaching credentials, DAN (Diver’s Action Network) Insurance and anything else with a deadline or expiration. I highly recommend this option. I did have to do an extra written driving test to get my renewal in advance but if it expires it is much harder to reinstate.
  4. So back to being in Paypal Jail: I always call my bank before we leave the country and let them know where we will be and for how long. Of course, I learned this the hard way. We were away and tried to buy plane tickets online and our credit card was shut down. I was shocked when we tried to use it the next day and it was denied. I did have another card with another bank and that one worked but it is simpler to call in advance. At one bank, I can set up a vacation notice online.

Similarly, I tried to send money with my PayPal account and it asked me several security questions. We were in Indonesia and I was having issues with signing into everything from Facebook to Gmail so I was not surprised at first. However, when I entered my bank account number into PayPal, I was told that was actually not my account number. Since I had my bank account open online, I was a bit chagrined. PayPal then asked me to verify my credit card number, which I was unable to do as that credit card was no longer in my possession since the number had been compromised. At that moment, my account was “limited.” Until I could verify myself, I would not have access to my money or account. In the end, I had to skype with Paypal at1-402-935-2050 (they open at 4am PST) to verify myself.

G Moritz: George and Moritz with Myanmar Kyat at the money exchange, credit Lisa Niver Rajna
To stay out of PAY PAL JAIL: before you leave the country, open your profile and in SETTINGS you can mark your travel plans with where you are going and for how long and then wont get limitations on your account. Once you have left home, you can no longer alter your profile and say where you are going but you can call and they can add a note as my account now has.

  1. Backup plans—I highly recommend you have a few plans for what to do if… George and I arrived in Honduras at the airport two years ago and went to the ATM. But the machine would not recognize his card. “No problem,” I thought as I had an ATM card with a different bank, but that did not work either. We went with door #3 and changed $100 of American cash and were able to take a taxi into town. It is always good to have some cash, or we used to take travelers checks, but it is important when something does not work with your money that you still have access. While in Paypal jail, I emailed my mom in Los Angeles and she sent a few checks from my bank account by snail mail! Or try a pre-paid debit card for those with uncooperative moms! I hope that my hijinks helps you not get stuck on the road.

Lisa Niver Rajna was recently on National Television as science teacher on the show Career Day, she is a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and a member of the Traveler’s Century Club for travelers who have been to over one hundred countries. She and George are spending a year in Asia, follow their travels at Twitter @wesaidgotravel

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Duncan November 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Great tips Lisa ! I cant say ive ever been in Paypal jail before, but will make sure to keep settings up to date in the future.. :)


D.J. - The World of Deej November 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Great tips…I got caught in credit card jail myself trying to buy a plane ticket in Amsterdam. Apparently Amex doesn’t get many plane ticket purchases from coffee shops haha.


Alexa November 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Very useful post! I had a really similar experience when I was in the Philippines. I ended up having to call them on Skype too, and I was lucky that I brought my laptop or else I might have been in trouble.


Andi of My Beautiful Adventures November 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Such great tips! I’ve been in a few tricky money situations myself while traveling…nothing is scarier!


Curious Nomad November 2, 2012 at 5:43 am

Great tips! Having a laminated color copy of your passport is a nice tip.


World traveller November 3, 2012 at 11:44 am

If you scan a copy of your passport then email it to yourself you’ll always have a copy with all the necessary information to hand in the event your passport is stolen.


Nomadic translator @latinAbroad November 5, 2012 at 12:17 am

Good one!


Samuel November 5, 2012 at 5:12 am

Both are great tips. I personally carry a USB stick in a secret location that has a scanned copy of my passport and other important documents.


Nomadic translator @latinAbroad November 5, 2012 at 12:16 am

I didn’t know this about PayPal. Good to know! Will change my settings before I leave to Mexico later this month :)

– Maria Alexandra


Jade - November 5, 2012 at 3:47 am

I have had the most annoying history with Paypal – it randomly does not let me purchase things that it thinks are unusual to my spending habits (woudn’t let me buy a lens I won on ebay for this reason) and even after going through all their security on the phone still would not authorise payment. Then about a month ago they started reversing a bunch of payments I had received from advertisers without the advertisers requesting it – again due to a “security issue” – and then about a month later they limited my account for no reason and wanted proof that my phone number was linked to my address! What a nightmare! I wish there was another company which could provide a similar service


Samuel November 5, 2012 at 5:13 am

I agree with you Jade! It’s frustrating that paypal has the market cornered in this area. I’m glad they have a certain level of security but some of the hassles and hoops one has to jump through is totally unnecessary.


Simon November 6, 2012 at 6:55 am

Good advice! It’s a freakin nightmare trying to deal with PayPal, too. I’m still not out of jail with them (I’m now using my partner’s account) because I can’t be bothered jumping through all the loop holes, made increasingly difficult because I’m a traveller of no fixed abode!


Wends of Journeys and Travels November 13, 2012 at 12:03 am

great tips and the passport lamination is a plus. I have to do this all in my next travel. I have to admit, even a photocopy of my passport is what I am not more inclined into doing until I read this.

Great post too :)


Nicole November 23, 2012 at 4:08 am

We had something similar happen in Bolivia. They had no bank machines. Thankfully we always tuck money aside, but it was a couple lean days of living. Although, we can’t say that we have been in paypal jail before :)


Micamyx|Senyorita December 4, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I had the same experience when I was in Cambodia. The local bank had to call my grandfather just to verify if I’m really out of the country. Thanks for the tip about editing your Paypal settings before pursuing a trip.


grasya January 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Thanks, this is helpful since I’m going to Indonesia soon.. i think i will have to go on the safe side and just bring enough paper money so I wont have to rely on technology breakdowns ^_^


Samuel January 19, 2013 at 2:23 am

Good luck with your trip! It’s always good to be safe than sorry :)


Lisa Niver Rajna June 25, 2013 at 11:28 am

Hello! Thank you for all your comments! We were in India for three months and then Nepal for two more with nearly no wifi! Happy that my tips were helpful! Safe Travels! Lisa


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