We desperately needed to some cash in Paksé because we were going to Don Khong and we knew there were no ATM's there.
We tried 3 different ATM's in Paksé & all of them gave the "down for maintenance" message, receiving no money & no receipt. Now when we are back home we see that the transactions have been taken from the account anyways, 300 euros have been taken from the account & we did not get that money or receipts.
We will contact our bank & BCEL, along the way we found some people in Luang Prabang & Vang Vieng who had the "down for maintenance" message & were affraid the money might have been taken from the account anyways.
THIS HAPPENED LIKE A MONTH AGO JULY 2009
I strongly advice all travelers to avoid using BCEL ATM's in Laos, try to use your credit card at the bank. It will safe you a lot of money & stress.
If anyone has some advice on how to handle this please post it here.
#1 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
You are not the first on Travelfish to complain about these BCAL ATM's. I've also had a problem (in April, last).
I don't know which country you call home, nor where you are now.
If you are at home, you'll find most banks are 'wised up' about these issues. There are other similar 'posts' here on Travelfish so if the silly sausage at the bank counter is a vacuum-head, refer them to Travelfish & BCEL. Once past the sausage and talking to a manager, you'll note that the bank has methods to check the transaction and refund where necessary. If not, try your travel insurer (but there's usually an excess, so bank first).
If still away from home, contact your bank by email alerting them to the fact/s, and indicating you will address the matter on your return. In your email, ask them to begin checking the BCEL transactions (they won't, but at least you tried).
Thanks for your reply, we are from Belgium & are back home now. We'll go to our bank & sort it out.
#3 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
In Laos it's cash and carry. In Thailand, don't use stand alone ATMs. Use ATMs at banks.
#4 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
It's a bit too late for that now but ok. We contacted our bank & they are handeling it now I'll let you know how it turns out.
#5 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
"Its hardly "cash and carry" here Mac"
It is for me Rufus. First of all, I don't trust much of anything in Laos. Not based on experience, just gut insinct.
Secondly, I don't feel like carrying a bunch of worthless Kip around that I can't use or exchance when I leave the country. So I would rather deal in Baht.
#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
i also have had the SAME probel with bcel..this is what happened
in phonosavan i tryed to use the atm to withdraw cash but it also said down for maintaince,over 2days i tryed this 6times as i was desperate and had hardly any cash...but on the last time instead of saying down for maintaince it said 0KIP balance and i thought that was strange as there should of been $1000nzd in my account
to my horror when i read my bank statement it said that the 5times id tryed to withdraw money...it had actually come out of my account!!but not the machine because said down for maintence and i waited to make sure no money come out each time.
anyway i contacted my bank back home and went into a bcel branch
,they werent very helpful or professional at all i showed them my passport and a copy of my statement highlighting the missing funds.after about 30mins waiting,i was asked to fill in a claim form which was very basic,then being told that that atm wasnt for international eftpos.
and that the money would be refunded(actually i had to ask they didnt tell me)but couldnt tell me when.
so that was on the 15THJULY almost 1month ago,i went into the bcel pakse brance to ask about the funds (had been about 3weeks)as soon as the man at the desk had read my statement they told me to go outside the front of the bank to the exchange office
here the man wasnt very helpful,he then gave us the phone and said it was the vientaine head office,i was put on to a lady that spoke very little english but she said it was being PROCESSED
so now it is almost a month and still $1000nz which i actually need is not there.i have emailed bcel 5times and no reply.my travel insurance doesnt include cash ,my bank at home has been very helpful but even they can only do so much!
i really loved laos but i had to say did ruin my trip and the bcel are very unprofessional and unhelpful.
please msg me if u have had any luck getting your money back as i am really not sure what i can do to get mine back!!
#8 imissmarmite has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 3
I can't help on the matter you raise. But, have you tried getting a loan &/or advance organised from your NZ bank so that you can continue on your journey?
I know the interest rate & setup fee will be (relatively) high. But, its YOUR journey and this may be the price you need to pay to continue on in (relative) enjoyment.
I'm not kiwi, but my hunch is that your bank would probably like someone to guarantor such a loan, maybe a parent/friend/etc. And, they may be able to assist.
Hope this helps
For those knocking BCEL. I have had three accounts with them - Kip, Baht and USD, (now only Kip and USD). I have always found them to be professional and very helpful. Maybe it helps to be polite and also to speak some Lao.
imissmarmite, I find your story somewhat confusing. You say you used the ATM 6 times. The maximum withdrawal allowed from a BCEL ATM is 700,000 Kip. 6 x 700,000 = 420,000 Kip, which certainly does not add up to $1000 NZD. So something in your story does not add up, (excuse the pun).
I had a similar problem recently.
We arrived in Vientiane where we jumped in a pickup truck which would bring us to the center via an ATM as nobody had local currency (Kips). After 3 ATMs refused to give money finally the fourth seemed to cooperate but then the unthinkable happened. The machine swallowed my card and no cash came out. I checked online and saw that money had been deducted from my account.
It would take another 24 hours and 3 trips (1 hour round trip) to the banks head office before I would retrieve my card and get refunded for the phantom withdrawal.
I blogged about it here
hi rufus thank you for doing the maths these are mine
fees charged $48
total $888nzd so i am sorry it was not approx none the less it has been very stressful as this situation is out of my control.i do not understand if they can take money out of my account automatically but cannot tell me when they money will be refunded.
i went into bcel twice,each time a passport the proper documents and a smile as i know that getting agitated does not help any situation.
each time i was polite clear and patient.
put yourself in other peoples shoes that this has happened to rufus
what if u were in a new country,and this happened and there was nothing you could do to fix it but wait,i tell you it has been so stressful it is alot of money to go from the account.
obviuosly u live there,speak some of the language and have a better understanding of how there system works.
#12 imissmarmite has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 3
p.s thanks bruce moon
i let my bank know as soon as it happened and they were very helpful but still no word from bcel.
i am currently backpacking thru thailand and and moving to london in 2wks so have had to dip into the savings
#13 imissmarmite has been a member since 10/8/2009. Posts: 3
For your own info, a withdrawal from an ATM of another financial institution MUST be approved by your bank. It's all automated now, but that's the law.
Like all banks, my hunch is that your bank would like it best if you can sort it out. I'm not suggesting you act immediately, but when you go back to kiwiland, ask the bank to verify the transactions (they'll know what you mean). Without verification, they have to refund you the transactions (and their added costs). All the banks have insurance to cover this.
In the meantime, quietly let your bank know that as the ATM transaction wasn't 'authorised' (ie. BCEL charged a fee but didn't deliver the goods as the contract between you and them in the ATM action) when you return from your travels you will want your bank to refund ALL.
A simple move may be to write a letter to your bank, listing the telephone (or other) contacts you've had with your bank & BCEL, and the result you have had to date, and alert them that when you return, you'll be pursuing it further. This way, there is a written record (and banks LOVE written records). And, make a photocopy & send home for when you return.
ps. It's only 2 weeks till you can get marmite (i'm an Aussie, but I prefer marmite - no-one stocks it in Asia [you can get vegemite, but.. :( ])
"The maximum withdrawal allowed from a BCEL ATM is 700,000 Kip. 6 x 700,000 = 420,000 Kip, which certainly does not add up to $1000 NZD. So something in your story does not add up, (excuse the pun)."
It doesn't add up because he was ripped off. It isn't suppose to add up. It's a scam.
#15 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Well, too many reports here and elsewhere of this happening in Laos. Nice to have ATM technology becoming more widespread in the country, but obviously the infrastructure, and most certainly the backup (if something goes wrong) is not up to it. This thread seems like a good argument to take travellers cheques.
#17 dclayw has been a member since 20/10/2008. Posts: 22
As for what to do to prepare, I was in the region in April, last.
Yes, there were difficulties with BCEL ATM's.
1/. they didn't accept US/UK cards (appears their data connection to US/UK was down).
2/. in Huay Xai & Luang Prabang the ATM's were 'down' for a while, but when 'up' worked OK.
As for currency, I had been advised by some resident farang that Baht was interchangeable. I found that to be the case. I made sure I knew the mid-market exchange rate (www.xe.com/ucc/) and used often.
Bruce, I disagree with your last post. Baht is NOT interchangeable. Yes, most restaurants and hotels will take Baht, but it is not the official currency of Laos. The government is making a concerted attempt to get people to use Kip. I think this should be supported. In many places the exchange rate if you pay in Baht will be somewhat poorer as well.
You may be right regarding the 'official' stance. I was telling it like I found it. And, knowing the mid-market exchange rate, whenever there was a discrepancy with prices, I'd merely say how many Baht I was prepared to pay.
Your comment is interesting in that I paid the the applicable fee in Baht at the Laos 'immigration' border entry offices at Huay Xai, Tai Xang, and also at Nong Khai (on a past visit).
Hmm, I do agree with Rufus and in the Lao government's stance. And besides, I frequently find that in most cases, the traveler gets a better value since Lao merchants will round-down to to the traveler's disadvantage whether it's using Thai bahts or US dollars instead of the Lao kip. It starts to add up after a while.
But back to BCEL's and ATM technical difficulties . . .
#22 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136
Bruce you also paid what 700 baht more for that entry fee? I'm sure Bob knows it down to the santang. Good idea to pay in the currency they ask for. It's pretty standard to take a pile of thousand baht notes, which one changes to kip to spend.
Houses and motorcyles are bought in baht as are monthly payments on same, but for restaurants and transportation and that kind of thing you're going to pay a heck of a surcharge.
I watched a woman in Muang Sing trying to buy a pack of cookies in the market with a couple hundred baht. Couldn't make heads or tales of it. Merchant woulnd't take any baht, lots of back and forth in some language I didn't know, couldn't make out one word, not Lu, not Akha. Customer had lots of yellowish gold all over. Hmong from Thailand.
If rumor control calls the ATMs unreliable. It sure might put a damper on tourism.
Sort of slipping off topic, but regards currency use in Laos, we're in the process of switching all the listed accommodation prices on Travelfish into kip (we used to mostly display them in US dollars, or in a couple of cases, baht).
Because during the last research jaunt through far northern Laos, almost without exception the guesthouses priced, and expected payment, in kip. Yes there are a few exceptions to this, Huay Xai still has a few places pricing in Baht, and Luang Prabang, well some of those places are soo expensive, we'd need an extra line to fit all the zeroes in if couldn't use dollars.
Generally speaking we use the currency the guesthouse quotes us in and there seems to have been a substantial shirt in this over the last couple of years -- perhaps due to the govt policy mentioned above.
are there any atms from other banks than bcel in vientiane and luang prabang? or ist this a general problem with all atms?
#26 buecax has been a member since 15/7/2009. Posts: 44
A contributor wrote last week that there are ANZ brand ATM's in Vientiane, and some of this brand expected in Luang Prabang soon (I don't know how long 'soon' is).
Given the BCEL issue, soon may not be long.
I heard that the Lao government wants their citizens to use the Lao Kip for all transactions. It is possible to pay your Guesthouse in dollars & in most restaurants you can pay with Baht or dollars as well.
But remember that most of the times they use a bad exchange rate. The best exchange rates can be found at banks, the best rate we found was at a Vientiane bank on the riverside.
Btw no news yet on the lost ATM money.
#28 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
Hi Bruce at #25 I was responding to this
"I paid the the applicable fee in Baht at the Laos 'immigration' border entry offices at Huay Xai, Tai Xang, and also at Nong Khai (on a past visit)."
If you are talking about the visa when they ask for USD then yes you are paying a substantial surcharge for using baht. Don't know the actual surcharge but it's substantial.
Somtam from discussion with guest house owners there seem to be a few different reasons. A lot of people got caught out when the dollar dropped seamingly overnight. Most places used to price in USD, they they'd have to deal with all the crumpled singles, fives, tens, and twenties that were useless except as giving change to tourists, same with Thai 100s. Now they can take the 20 and 50 thousand kip notes people use and buy supplies, pay staff etc. Also when you switch your prices from 8 dollars to 80 thousand kip you increase your price without seeming to do so.
When will you stop bleating and get your facts right.
If you were standing beside me and observed the interaction, I suggest you would have the knowledge to have a view.
You were not there, you don't know what transpired, and you now pull assertions out of your cake hole to write rubbish.
Bruce, what Somsai said regarding a visa is quite correct. The current fee for a visa in Baht is 1500 Baht; the fee in USD for an Australian is $30.00. Given that the current exchange rate for Baht to USD is 34.8, you would pay an extra 208 Baht on today's rates.
You are also joining Somsai's stupidity.
In relation to my post #21, you'd be right for the Nong Khai cross. However, not for the other two. That I didn't buy a visa there is beside the point, the fact is I was asked to pay money. And, I used baht, and I paid in Baht at a rate commensurate with the mid-market rate (give a bit) on www.xe.com/ucc/.
To put MY side bluntly, I told the bloke that the US$ 'fee' being imposed was XXX Baht and handed that over. He wanted more, I argued (as you'd expect me to). I got my visa stamped and was on my way. Similar deal when leaving.
If I can do it, I assume others can too!
So, like that other clown, please ensure you refer to FACTS.
Bruce, you stated: "Your comment is interesting in that I paid the the applicable fee in Baht at the Laos 'immigration' border entry offices at Huay Xai, Tai Xang, and also at Nong Khai (on a past visit)."
The APPLICABLE fee is 1500 Baht, if you decide to pay in Baht.
"To put MY side bluntly, I told the bloke that the US$ 'fee' being imposed was XXX Baht and handed that over. He wanted more, I argued (as you'd expect me to)."
So Bruce, you intimidated a border guard, cheated and stole money from the Laos Government? Do I have it correct?
"So Bruce, you intimidated a border guard, cheated and stole money from the Laos Government? Do I have it correct?"
That would be excellent if true.
#34 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
"That would be excellent if true."
Well that is a matter of opinion, Mac. Personally I think it is pretty poor behaviour. Furthermore I think Bruce is having his time of the month today; he did state "the applicable fee". The "applicable" fee varies according to the currency in which you pay it, so he did NOT pay the applicable fee at all.
I crossed the border with Cambodia, it's kind of a scam. Officially you don't have to pay anything but the Lao border officials ask you for 2 dollars & the Cambodian border officials for 1 dollar. I payed these guys in Baht.
If you don't pay they lay your passport aside & tell you to wait ... until you pay. You can be sure that these surcharges go straight into the officials pockets. This reminds me I have to complain about the 25 dollar surcharge you have to pay to leave Siem Reap airport.
#36 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
"Well that is a matter of opinion, Mac. Personally I think it is pretty poor behaviour."
Anytime you can hassle a communist government official it's a good thing.
#37 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
any news on the bcel front?
#38 buecax has been a member since 15/7/2009. Posts: 44
Started a dossier with our Banc, and it's being handeled... which means I haven't heard anything yet.
#39 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
What do people suggest, in terms of carrying money around, whilst in Laos? When I was in Cambodia/Vietnam I arrived with a $100 in cash and then just used ATMs once the dollars were spent. I am a bit nervous, having read what I have about relying on ATMs in Laos, but at the same time I don't want to carry around bundles of dollars with me either the whole trip. Is it fairly easy to get travellers cheques changed in the main towns?
Sorry if this is a daft question, I just have always relied on ATMs mostly for currency and am off to Laos in 2 weeks.
I too use ATMs... but I live here. If there's a problem I can walk right into my bank and deal with it. I know there are masquerading machines that steal account info from people - usually placed in tourist locations. So it's a reasonable fear. The problem in this case is the individual is a tourist. If he's still having an issue a month latter, he's screwed. He has to leave.
#42 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
It's not a case of mascarading machines, and it's not an issue of where you live, it's an issue of broken machines withdrawing from your account but dispensing no cash, reading isn't such a bad thing.
Logan there are many more places to cash Tchecks than there are ATMs, and even when the ATMs aren't stealing your money they are often down for other technical problems. Every bank will change Tchecks.
LoganT I carry a lot of cash cash, have been for years, I don't lose it.
Many places in Laos where you can exchange money, you can withdraw with visa as well. We withdrew money from a bank exchange office in Vientiane & in Pakse. Whilst in Laos we hadn't heard any stories from fellow travellers about stolen money. We only heard about a "smoke some of my weed" setup.
#44 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
"It's not a case of mascarading machines, and it's not an issue of where you live, it's an issue of broken machines withdrawing from your account but dispensing no cash, reading isn't such a bad thing."
You just can't help being a smart ass can you?
It's both, and any other problem you might have with said machine. If you are here for a limited amount of time, it creates a challenge in dealing with the problem - witness the original post.
#45 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
even when the ATMs aren't stealing your money they are often down for other technical problems
illustration (source: Sept 2009 travelog post on Luang Prabang)
LoganT: for your itinerary (on other thread), you'll be able to exchange TCs in the towns you're passing through. if you don't want to carry bundles of dollars, you could spend the kip you get out of ATMs/from TCs first (esp since you can't use kip outside of Laos), & hang onto a smaller amount of dollars as a backup (when ATMs are down/banks are closed). though bear in mind that bundles of kip can be much thicker than equivalent value in bundles of dollars! largest denomination (50,000kip) is worth slightly below USD6.
You used to be able to use Thai Baht - not sure if you still can. But it did create problems tracking your change and running between three currencies.
#47 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Just wanted to inform you all that we got our money back. At the end of August we noticed that the money was taken from the account, we contacted our bank & they started a dossier. So this week, some 2 months later we saw that the money was refunded.
I want to remind you all this was the only negative thing we encountered in Laos, I would love to go back one day, it is a beautiful country.
#49 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
Although I didn't use it myself the Atm in luang nam that - bcel - worked fine for the 5 days I was there. Most people I spoke to used it without problem, also, it is within a booth that is manned during office hours
Good to hear it.
#52 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I was ripped off by BCEL ATMs in Laos 3 times - twice in Savannakhet and once in Vangvieng. In Vangvieng I waited for the guy to come and fill up the machine in the morning; he weighed about 250 pounds and was very surly and rude. Then he took money out of the ATM machine (he had the key to open it) and put money in his own pocket right in front of me. It's a scam, folks. Don't EVER go to Laos.
#53 jakedanger has been a member since 25/12/2009. Posts: 1
I wouldn't go so far as to never go to Laos. I would just say have enough cash on hand so you don't need to rely on ATMs. I do the same thing here in Thailand, because those scams are run here as well. I only use the ATMs in the town where I live that are affiliated with the Bank where I do my buisiness. I have been using them a long time and feel comfortable with them. But when I travel, I travel with cash.
#54 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Let me set this straight. We weren't scammed because we got all of our money back. It took a while but we got it all back.
Despite the ATM nuisance, I would really like to go back to Laos.
I think the smartest thing to do is go to a Bank booth to redraw money with your visa card, we used one in Vientiane & later on in Pakse. It wasn't really expensive, the ratings were better in Vientiane.
Just remember that all banks are closed during the weekend.
Nothin' but love for Laos. And the British "tubing" community should stop ruining Vang Vieng, because it is a really beautiful place & not an entertainment park.
#56 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
Indeed. No matter where the tubing and associated partying were being done, someone would be decrying it. But there is a seperate thread on this subject.
#58 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Have just returned from Laos on new years day. For this trip we thought long and hard about what funds to take. We decided on a combination of US$ traveller cheques, US$ cash and ATM. We were put off by reports of ATMs not working or even "stealing your money", so we didn't want to rely soley on ATMs.
Money changers seemed more plentiful then ATMs and it was never a problem changing money with them. There was usually a queue at the ATMs. I was pleasantly surpised that no commission is charged in changing US$ cash into kip. When we used US$ travellers cheque we were only charged 1% commission, I was expecting to be charged 3%.
All of our accommodation in Vientaine, VV and LP was paid for in US$ cash so that made it somewhat convenient. They usually give change in US$ cash too.
I know TTs are the "old" way but they are widely accepted and with the added bonus of 1% commission they can work out cheaper then ATMs and are in some ways more convenient. Ofcourse you need to be able to buy the travellers cheques commission free as well, pretty easy to do, at least in Australia.
My advice would be to have some backup for funds. The combination we took for Laos worked perfectly.
#59 dclayw has been a member since 20/10/2008. Posts: 22
Ive always been pretty reliant on atms while away from home and will continue to be, although in Laos i have only used them twice and both times i encountered the problem of a transaction happening but nothing coming out.
Since i cant check whats actually in my bank while abroad i was initially anxious and when back to where i was staying and asked someone to go to a bank with me which they were happy to do.
The money had indeed left my home account but not come to me, the issue was dealt with within a day i wasnt refunded but the bank were in contact with my bank at home and i received emails from my bank confirming this and once i was home there was no hassle as both banks had been made aware early one there had been an error.
I would indeed be hesitant to use atms next time i am in Laos as i'd rather not have to bother spending a day in banks (although the woman who helped me out i became great friends with so it had a good upside). I'd of never considered atm errors to be a scam, they are errors they become scams when you dont chase after them and get an issue resolved.
Nowt like reading the internet to make you worry less is there...?!
I've been having bother all afternoon trying to withdraw money. Got jacksh*t on me; luckily I had a few dollars ($20) to change but when that runs out I'm in bother. I've tried BCEL ATMs (amongst others) and it made all the right noises, even sounded like it was counting money, but then nothing came out.
Thanks to this thread I'll be on to my UK bank tomorrow to check no transaction was 'completed'. I'll also be crossing my fingers that Vientiane's ATMs will be more cooperative by then.
I'm not holding my breath.
#61 lomax has been a member since 21/4/2010. Posts: 2
I'm glad this thread was of use to some people. Like Gorey says I don't think it's a scam, their bank system just isn't good enough yet. All the people who had problems with the ATM got their money refunded so ... no real worries.
#62 pabloeskimo has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 19
Update -what a difference a day makes. OK, so still having bother with ATMs but for those who find themselves short of cash and no friendly ATMs then all you need to do is go in to BCEL branch (just off the riverside road in Vientiane) and they'll sort out a moneygram transfer off your own card. Hey presto, you're flush again!
I'm now off to the backtwatter ghetto of Vang Vieng. Happy days...
#63 lomax has been a member since 21/4/2010. Posts: 2
As regards BCEL...yes they are still stealing money, or lack the security to stop others stealing it. They have refused to investigate my complaint and even threatened me with their lawyer for rasising the matter ! If that were not enough, when I intially complained in the bank I was told by a dim young man that I was 'a liar'....I am not sure why I did not punch him on the nose there and then.
I would advise visitors to Laos to avoid BCEL
#64 afsinlaos has been a member since 19/5/2011. Posts: 1