A cautionary tale: I travelled overseas with a Capitec account and regret it. They’re a great bank, but not if you plan to use them from abroad

In my previous post I made reference to banking drama and mentioned I was going to share it. I’m not a whiner, but do feel my tale of woe could be useful as it involves sharing information I really, REALLY wish I’d known before take off. So here we go! I also don’t have pictures of me crying into the phone and racking up crazy Skype bills so I’m just peppering this post with good pics. Like delicious food, crazy clothes and super cute cats.

Starting with cats.

When I went overseas I was doing all my banking with Capitec. Their fees just can’t be beat and when the going is good, they’re great. But I can’t recommend them as a bank to travel with and this is why: While over there, I broke the screen of the phone on which I had Capitec’s app. No biggie, I thought. I’d just re-install the app on a new phone. Except I couldn’t. As it turns out, if you want to re-install your app you have to go into a branch. Not so easily done if you’re on the other side of the world. And before you tell me that I can also bank via their website, nope you can’t. It ‘verifies’ your entry via the app. So ja. You really need that app. Or that stupid, ancient token thing that nobody ever told me about. But even then, that’s not travel-proof either because if you lose it, guess how you resolve the issue? In a branch.

In all fairness to Capitec, they say there are ways they can help you re-install the app remotely. This involves escalations and Skype calls and while I initiated all these processes, they never delivered. (I’m now bracing for the moment someone from that side gets in touch with me to go ‘But Leigh! We did make moves! At one point we mailed you asking for more details to assist you – like proof of your identity and location, like a pic of a photo of your card lying next to a Thai till slip!’ And that’s true. They did. But only weeks later, five days before the end of my trip. And when I replied with the information they requested they never wrote back.)

Unimpressed cat shirt is unimpressed.

Fortunately, I could still draw from my account as I had my debit card with me. But I couldn’t make any transfers. Not great when you’ve just maxed out both your credit cards and they’re demanding payment. So, it was at this point that I asked my various employers to rather pay me via my super ancient ABSA account. I hadn’t used it in years, didn’t even have the debit card on me (because who knew you need a ‘back up’ bank?!) but it still existed as I’d always been too busy to close it.

This worked fine for a while. I could use ABSA’s internet banking to pay off my credit cards and pay back the friends and family who’d kindly made certain necessary EFTs on my behalf while I couldn’t transfer anything from Capitec and sat waiting for more employers to fill up my ABSA account.  I could also access cash by transferring what eventually came into ABSA to Capitec and then draw it an ATM. (Like I said, I had my Capitec card with me, not my ABSA one.)

So ja. Cool, cool, cool. Nice save. But then shit really hit the fan (fortunately right at the end of my trip) when several of my employers ‘forgot’ to pay me. I know it sounds crazy, but if you’re a freelancer, you’ll be nodding your head going ‘yup, yup, yup’ ‘cos, sadly, this is not a crazy, fluke. It happens all the time. This resulted in a bounce when ABSA tried to debit me for internet banking fees and my ‘punishment’ them locking my account. Eeek! Fortunately, ABSA has a better account recovery system than Capitec. They ask you a series of security questions over the phone. Alas, as my account was such a dinosaur, I couldn’t remember any of the answers. I’d changed addies a zillion times since I’d stopped using that account. I had no clue who my employer was at the time of opening it. So, just like that, my account was double slammed shut. I couldn’t draw from it (no card), I couldn’t transfer from it. I could do anything. The only way I could unlock it was to – you guessed it – go into a branch.


Time to eat my feelings, yo!

At this point, the thousands owed by the late payers had finally cleared in my ABSA account so the bounced banking fees could be paid. You’d think they’d then ‘open’ it. But nope. It remained locked. Unless I went into a branch.

It was now time to put plan C into action. Pull cash from my unit trusts, stick it in Capitec and draw it out using the card. This would require filling in a form and sending them proof of my bank account. Usually this is something you can do via the Capitec app but, as I could only re-install it a branch (OMFG!) I had to call them and ask them to send it to me. I made that call on the 6th of November and Capitec said ‘Sure thing! But it’ll take a couple of days.’ What?! And true to their word it did eventually arrive. But over a WEEK later which wasn’t cool.

Thus we get to plan D. Calling my dad. Plan D always works. I am very lucky to have plan D in my life. But having to use plan D when I’m almost 38 years old is embarrassing and hideous and terrible. But ja. Thank God for plan D. And yes, I realise I’m lucky to have it.

I was also lucky to not have access to enough cash to buy this hideous bag. ‘Cos I might’ve.

Anyway, like I said, this experience was kak and I’m telling you all this so you can learn from my mistakes because I’m not entirely blameless. Upon opening my Capitec account, I wasn’t told that the only way I could re-install their app, should I ever lose or damage my phone, would be to go into a branch. It wasn’t a question I thought I’d need to ask because, in 2018, it just seems so weird and backward. BUT, considering it was my life line while away, I should’ve made myself aware of their ‘worst case scenario’ contingency plans for travellers. If I’d realised how rubbish they were (oh hello there, week later proof of account!) I’d have got my ABSA account up to date and used that.

My next bit of advice is to travel with an easily accessible amount of ‘buffer cash’ and replace it the moment you blow it. I did this initially. I had an extra R20K sitting in my account and planned to never let my balance dip below it. But life happened and I had to pay for a series of expensive shit back in South Africa so that got used up fast. What I should’ve done then was replace it immediately using my unit trusts. But I didn’t. I left it, thinking there was no urgency. And when I really needed that cash I couldn’t access it fast thanks to Capitec’s inability to provide a timeous proof of account without the app.

Thank God, Thailand is cheap. If I remember correctly, this delish Massaman curry was less than R20.

Thus, my advise to you if you’re considering a long trip away, is to call your bank before you leave and find out EXACTLY how they deal with things like lock outs. Give them all your worst case scenarios and find out how they resolve them. If I’d given Capitec a ring and said ‘Hey! If my phone gets stolen or breaks, I can just re-install your app on another one, right?’ and they’d said ‘Nope. You have to come into a branch. We’re still living in 1998!’ I’d have immediately made another plan.

Going forward, do I hate Capitec? Am I closing my account with them? Do I want them to burn to the ground. Nope, nope, nope. Like I said, if you’re in South Africa and are able to go into a branch should they require it then life is great. Also, the young teller who helped me re-open my account when I got home was absolutely lovely and all the people I chatted to every time I called their call centre, despite not being able to help, where super nice. But next time I hit the road I’ll be using another bank.

Love, love



8 thoughts on “A cautionary tale: I travelled overseas with a Capitec account and regret it. They’re a great bank, but not if you plan to use them from abroad

  1. This is so weird! I changed phones recently and reinstalled the app no problem – granted, I wasn’t doing it while overseas, but I definitely did it without issues. So odd.

    However, still glad to know that my multiple bank accounts will come in handy should I ever have capitec issues while travelling!

    1. Yes! If you have a spare account, DEF keep it open and also keep it up to date. If I’d done this I’d have been hundreds. I just never thought I’d need a back up bank. The ideal, however, is to have just one that offers solutions that don’t involve coming into a branch.

  2. de in he moved to Capitec this year.
    Banking wise in regards to their fees and such they’re a great bank.

    Unfortunately I was racially attacked and abused by one of their staff members when they failed to mention the absolute bloody insanity that insures when one is expecting an international payment and all the rings the paying client has to make sure they jump through so that I get my money.

    Two weeks later and some abuse and we finally got going. Thank goodness my client agreed to re send the funds but as a freelancer who often recieves international payments this doesn’t sit well with me.

    I’m busy waiting to see how the next one goes.
    I also happen to be sitting in the same situation with the banking app.

    I sold my old phone. Did a factory reset etc.
    And downloaded the app to my new phone. Can I use it? Nope I have to go into the bank to reload it and that I honestly can not understand. Like you say it’s almost 2019 what the actual f#$-!

    And yes being in the country helps and is much easier to visit a branch it isn’t ideal for me and still means I have to take working hours off to go sit in a bank, spend my money on transport and parking to the the mall for something that should really be simple to fix.

    It’s really backwards. Thanks for blogging about it all. I feel your frustration.

  3. This is scary! I’m in China and also changed phones and wasn’t initially able to load my app to my new phone. I bank with Fnb though and was able to resolve this with two phone calls. Initially the call center consultant indicated that it must be escalated and that it would take some time to process but thankfully it was resolved within 3 days.

  4. Sorry you had allll that to deal with! Im with Absa and recently had to reinstall the app because it wasn’t working anymore. Guess what.. “For security reasons please go into a branch to verify.” Cannot understand the logic. We’re millenials. We’d email our dishes to the sink if we could!

  5. Thanks for sharing, i was looking into getting the capitec as my 2nd option for my planned travels.
    I temporarily moved to canada and the sms with pin from ABSA never reached me…so we arranged for “secure”emails from them instead. Also, i assigned my mom as representative for me in SA, so she can make changes on my behalf ( ie go into the branch).
    Once in USA i used my mastercard ABSA and it was denied as the shop didnt accept the card (it worked in other places) so luckily my friend (canadian) swiped her card for me and i paid her back…but whatif?? so now i always have 2 cards different accounts and some cash on me…I arrange with the banks im travelling and get email sms thing active…
    Hope this can also help someone who will be travelling

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