Help! I lost my credit card abroad!

Credit cards are handy for travel expenses. But when they go missing or get stolen abroad, it can be a real hassle! The most ideal thing to do is of course, to take precautions to not lose your card. But sometimes, the inevitable happens, and it is important to know how to deal with such emergencies.

If you lose your card on home ground, you probably know how to go about making a police report, and you can visit your bank to get things sorted out. On the other hand, you’re pretty much on unfamiliar land overseas and the only way to communicate with your bank is over the phone. What do you need to report the loss of a credit card and terminate it? How do you ensure that you don’t lose any money through unauthorized transactions?
Before you leave the country

Know your bank’s policies – Find out your bank’s protocol for dealing with lost credit cards and unauthorized transactions. Some banks will compensate you for a certain amount of money lost through unauthorized transactions. Some banks have more sophisticated authentication platforms that require users to present more than just a card or card number to have their transaction approved. You may have to apply with your bank before these special features will be activated. Save your bank’s toll-free credit card loss report hotline for overseas users in your contact list that serves such emergencies.

Make copies of your cards and bring them with you – Credit/debit cards should be photocopied on both sides and kept in a safe place in your luggage. They will aid you in providing essential details about your card when you’re reporting the loss.

Ensure that your phone is able to receive calls and SMSes at your destination – Most banks will call you or send you an SMS if suspicious unauthorized activity is detected in your account.

Purchase travel insurance – Depending on your travel insurance’s policy, you can claim up to a certain amount of money lost through unauthorized transactions. Most travel insurance companies have a 24-hours help line to provide assistance to clients.

Always bring along some cash just in case – It would serve as backup expenses. Credit cards are good for shopping and large expenses, but it is not wise to rely on them completely, especially for necessities like food and transport. Not all places accept credit cards. Besides, if your card is damaged or lost, you would have nothing to fall back on.

 

Should you lose your credit card…

Call your bank’s credit card loss report hotline as soon as you discover the loss. Request that the card be terminated immediately. You may be asked to provide more information about the card to verify that you are the owner. This is where the photocopies of your card will come in handy.

Do check with the bank that no unauthorized transaction has been made. You may have to provide details of your last purchase. Therefore, be sure to keep your shopping receipts. It is also a good habit as you would be able to present them as proof if you are overcharged on your card.

If any transaction has been made without your approval, you may need to submit a police report to your bank or insurance company to terminate the transaction or file a compensation claim when you return to Singapore. After you have contacted your bank to terminate the card, file a lost property report at the nearest police post. Depending on the country’s regulations, some police reports can be filed online. You may ask your hotel concierge for assistance. Remember to note down the case number. Call your bank and present the case number as proof of your loss.

 

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Travel Your Way

In light of a poor global economic outlook, traveling may seem like a luxury. Yet getting that much needed holiday without busting your bank account is entirely possible with clever budgeting!

Budget travel is no longer defined by moving on foot with a large backpack, and checking into mouldy motels. With the increase in online services and free traveling information, travelers can draw up flexible vacation plans and budgets.

Free-and-easy travel is one good way to reduce unnecessary expenses. You make decisions on everything from airfare to daily itinerary based entirely on your budget. Tour agencies also provide more flexible plans these days, offering hotel and flight packages for example, but leaving the customer free to plan his own schedule. Best of all, you are free to explore any place, at any time, without a tour guide breathing down your neck, or having to put up with your tour group’s chatter when you would like some peace and quiet.

 

Air Tickets

This is often the most expensive part of the vacation. You should get your air tickets as early as possible as they affect your budget most. Their availability also determines the dates of your travel.

Air tickets can be purchased from tour agencies, the airline’s ticketing office, or from the airline’s website. Virtually all reputable airlines have features on their websites allowing passengers to book and pay for their tickets online.

For budget airlines, fares tend to be higher nearer to your desired departure date, sometimes even comparable to that of non-budget flights! Some non-budget airlines may launch promotions. Do not brush them off.

http://www.zuji.com.sg is a popular resource for cheap flights. http://www.groupon.sg is a discount website that sometimes features discounts on flights. When looking up budget flights, keep your eyes peeled for fuel charges and taxes, as these are sometimes left out of the promotional text.

If you’re booking tickets directly from an airline, do register yourself an account with the airline. Most airlines allow frequent flyers to accumulate mileage that can be used to offset future flight costs. This is usually not applicable if you purchase flight packages from tour agencies.

 

Accommodation

Accommodation packages can be purchased from tour agencies, ticketing offices if the lodging has a branch in Singapore, or online. Many popular hotels and hostels provide internet reservation services.

Do book your accommodation simultaneously with your flight. You would not want to book your air tickets and confirm the dates of your leave, only to discover that you have nowhere to stay on those days. Most flight companies do not allow passengers to change their flight dates at zero cost if the tickets are bought at a special price.

If you are making the most out of your vacation, you should be spending most of your time away from your hotel, only using it to bathe, relax and sleep. As many hotels with low-range and mid-range prices offer these basics, it is not necessary to turn to the premium hotels.

Cheap and good hotels are very quickly reserved during peak travel periods and in popular tourist destinations. You should act fast.

Unless you wish to explore the country’s transportation system, pick accommodation near the places you wish to explore, or near large train stations, so that you can walk or take public transport.

http://www.tripadvisor.com is a useful source for reviews of hotels at various price ranges.

 

Packing

Toiletries, facial products, medication, spare suitcases, umbrella and even clothes are items that travelers speak of buying from their travel destination.

Packing one more item means one less item to buy. If you are traveling as a family, the amount of savings is multiplied per head.

To minimize the weight of your luggage, you can purchase empty travel-sized bottles and fill them with your facial and body care products. Large, foldable travel bags are perfect for travelers who intend to bring back a suitcase full of shopping. They are compact to pack, and cost a lot less than a new suitcase.

 

Food and Drinks

In countries where living standards are high, the cost of food and drinks can take a huge dent on your budget.

Nonetheless, you must eat well and keep yourself well-hydrated. Pack an empty water bottle, which you can refill from your hotel room, at water coolers or even at eating establishments where this is allowed.

Many travel guidebooks list eating places by price range, and you can also get valuable information from other travelers through blogs and forums. Above all, do not skip meals, especially breakfast, as doing so would cause you to become tired and irritable.

 

Activities

Here comes the fun part, planning your itinerary! You can borrow travel guides from the libraries to read up, or surf the web for travel forums and travelers’ blogs. Take advantage of your freedom and visit unique places that typical tours would not take you to. Consult other travelers and natives on what’s fun and exclusive in the country. http://www.lonelyplanet.com is an active online portal for travel, with a dedicated forum for different countries.

Locate the places you want to visit by getting addresses, directions, contact numbers, photos and maps, usually easily available through a search on the web. Most tourist attractions have official websites which you can visit to look up opening hours and admission prices.

 

Transport

Plan your routes to reduce travel costs. Most public transport systems, especially railway systems, have websites detailing train routes, arrival times and costs. You could arrange to visit places near each other in one day so that you do not have to make repeat trips back to the same place. Some countries also offer travel passes that allow the traveler to take public transport at discounted prices.

Don’t forget to check the time of the last train or last bus, or you may find yourself having to cab back at night!

A little prudence with money goes a long way in helping you to cut costs, as well as afford extra souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones!

 

Safety First

Being pretty much on your own on foreign soil, you have to be vigilant and be aware of where to seek help.

– Read up on the taboos in your holiday destination and refrain from doing them.
– Do not visit places that are out of bounds to foreigners.
– Learn some basic words and sentences from the native language of the country to enable you to ask for directions and help.
– Register your overseas travel with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (https://eregister.mfa.gov.sg/eregisterportal/appmanager/web/default). The information you provide will allow MFA to contact and render assistance to you in times of emergency and crisis.
– Buy travel insurance, which can cover you for a wide range of unpredictable mishaps ranging from missing luggage to illness resulting from your trip.

 

Bon Voyage!

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Beating Distractions at Home

Home is typically the best place to study. There’s no place like home where you are guaranteed a space to study without jostling with crowds, permitted to wear (or not wear) anything you want, get iced water when you’re thirsty, take a bath when you’re sleepy, or switch on the fan when the weather is hot.

That’s right. You are in full control at home. Too many distractions at home? This is just an excuse. You can get rid of the distractions if you set your mind on it.

Study like a hermit

Do you really need the internet to study? Or is that just an excuse to justify watching your garden grow on Facebook when you’re supposed to be studying? If you have been paying attention in class, your notes and your teachers’ lecture notes should be adequate to help you understand the exam syllabus. If you really need to use the internet to look up some answers, do so when you’re already immersed in the study mood, or at the end of your study session. Alternatively, call your friends or teachers and ask them for help.

Switch off your handphone when you’re not using it. Replying to messages and emails can take up more time than perceived, especially when you and your friends are messaging each other to and fro.

Keep those gadgets away

Hide your laptop and PlayStation. Switch off your computer and television. For the weak minded, stick a notice across your screens with bold words “I don’t want to fail my exams”.

If your family members want to watch television or do karaoke in your presence, implore them not to do so for your sake. After all, a family is supposed to share weal and woe together, right?

If you have your notes typed, print them out if you must. Reading off paper is far kinder on your eyes than reading off the computer screen. You will be able to focus better and for longer when your eyes are refreshed.

Stay in your seat

Most people study for one to two hours before taking a break. If you keep leaving your seat during this short time, you will end up having less time to study.

Anticipate your needs and get hold of them before you start your study session. If you will be using stationery, lay them out before you. Keep a bottle of water at hand so that you will not need to head to the kitchen frequently.

Make yourself comfortable before you start studying. This means comfortable clothes, taking a bath if required, and adjusting the lighting and room temperature appropriately. This way, you do not waste time trying to adjust to an uncomfortable environment, and then waste even more time making changes to your environment.

Sit up properly

If you study on the bed or lounge on a couch, you will most likely feel sleepy. Don’t do that. Instead, sit up properly in a comfortable chair in front of a table.

Don’t munch while you study

Your concentration will be divided between chewing actions, thinking about the food, and studying. It is also bad for health as you may subconsciously overeat and put on weight. Save the snacking for one of your breaks.

Dealing with noisy family members

Your family members may not realize that they are disturbing you when they talk loudly, squabble or turn up the volume on the television, radio or PlayStation. Do not escalate the conflict into a shouting match. Instead, explain your difficulties politely. If your words are not getting through to your younger sibling, ask your parents for help.

Dealing with noisy neighbours

Most people don’t realize how loud they get, and are often apologetic when informed. Tell your neighbours politely when their volume level gets disturbing. A sweet smile and apologetic expression often help. If they are decent people and do not harbour any enmity towards you, they should heed your request (and that is why being on good terms with your neigbours is important!).

If your neighbour is conducting renovation work during your study period, not all is lost. HDB laws restrict noisy renovation work such as demolition of walls, removing wall and floor finishes, cutting of tiles and drilling works to 9.00am to 5.00pm daily on weekdays. If your neighbour’s contractor breaches this law, give your neighbour a polite reminder.

If all else fails, invest in some good ear plugs.

Distractions are always present. It is entirely up to you to eliminate them. If you can resist temptation, you will not only score well in your exams, but also emerge a stronger and wiser person.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

The Wonders of Social Responsibility

“Social responsibility” has been a buzz phrase in recent times within corporate boardrooms and in the HDB heartlands, as Town Council staff attempt to counsel errant neighbours against inconsiderate and disruptive behaviour. But just how many of us truly understand its meaning is another matter. Briefly, this is an ethical ideology which says: a business organisation or a person has an obligation to carry out an act for the benefit of society. It sees this act as a duty of every individual or organization/person to perform which is beyond what is required by law. It believes that it is better to be proactive to address a problem than to be reactive to a problem.

If we look around our HDB estates, there are certainly many things that come to mind where you and I can apply this concept of Social Responsibility. How can I perform my social responsibility as a HDB resident?

Making our environment fresh and clean

Take a deep breath when you step out of your door, walk around the void deck, and ask yourself if you feel nice and fresh. Most times you should. After all, even while you were asleep, the Town Council cleaners and others have been busy at work. They clear the bins, sweep the surroundings and remove all the other refuse left overnight.
They leave the public areas clean and pleasant! You will want to maintain this freshness which is reinforced from the waft of freshly blooming flowers at the nearby greenery and shrubs. So help to keep your surrounding fresh and clean by not littering, not leaving unwanted items at the void deck or public areas, and up after your pets (dogs, cats etc) have eased themselves. There are many bins around for litter. So let’s do our part and use them.

Our corridor, our home

The corridor outside our flat is a public area. Though the space is just outside our home, it is also to be used by everybody. There are guidelines on placing of flower pots, bicycles or other receptacles outside the corridor. Let’s not make the space outside our home unsightly. It is worse if we clutter the area. Remember, in the event of an emergency, we need the space to move swiftly out of our homes, along the corridor and down the stairway. Hence, we should share the responsibility to ensure that the area is kept clean and clear of clutter.

Be neighbourly, be considerate

We are neighbours and so we should be considerate to one another, and be sensitive to each other’s needs. This is even more so when we are living in a high-rise environment. While criticising others seems to come easy for us, we often forget to reflect on our own behaviours, which could precipitate the opposite reaction. Being neighbourly can be as simple as not hanging dripping linen outside and soiling your neighbours’ laundry on the floor below yours; not blasting your TV or CD player loudly, and any other untoward behaviour that can annoy others.

The void deck, everyone’s meeting place

It’s great that we have an open void deck where young and old alike can socialise and get to know one another. Young children are also able to run around freely under the watchful eyes of the elders. Hence, adults should not cycle within the void deck, lest it causes an accident. Teenagers should not play football at the void deck, and worse, leave stains on the wall by bouncing the ball off the wall. The noise will not only annoy others but the stray ball can hit a toddler, and the stains will deface public property.

These are just some broad areas where residents can exercise your social responsibility. Your effort can help the Town Council to save on maintenance and replacement costs and repair bills. Ultimately, these costs are borne by you through your Service and Conservancy charges. The late Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” This begins with each of us.

There is so much more you can do, just by not doing unto others what you do not want others do unto you. Social responsibility is that easy.

– Originally written for a lifestyle magazine

Made in Singapore

HDB Void Decks
If you wonder why your foreign friends don’t get you when you say ‘void deck’, that is because our apartment blocks are the only housing in the world with an empty space below for recreational and community activities.

Hawker Centres for Social Gatherings
Hawker centres are also found in other neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. However, we must be the only country with virtually one hawker centre in every neighbourhood. To us, hawker centres are places for social gathering of neighbours and even complete strangers, in particularly old uncles who would drink kopi while complaining about government policies, and drink beer while cursing football players.

Tissue Packet “Chope”
It is unknown exactly when and how this Singaporean method of seat reservation sprouted up, but Singaporeans and some adaptable foreigners have come to a silent agreement that if there is a packet of tissue paper on the table, the table has been reserved. It is actually a neat idea. By using a virtually worthless packet of tissue to reserve your seat, you can queue in peace without worrying about your belongings being stolen.

Singlish
Language purists may dismiss Singlish as uncouth and an embarrassment to the English language. Yet it is undeniable that to come up with a modified language and to have most natives understand and use it fluently within a short time span of decades is no mean feat and proves our creativity and ability to learn. Singlish has become a common tongue for Singaporeans of all races. Even foreigners are intrigued!

‘Uncle’s and ‘Aunty’s
To most other nations and cultures, uncles and aunties strictly refer to one’s parents’ siblings. In spite being complete strangers to the taxi driver or the market store holder, we call them ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’ as a form of respect to people older than us. Oddly enough, you may sometimes see a store holder calling a customer of a similar or even younger age ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’ as well!

The World’s Fastest Walkers
In 2007, a team of researchers from London conducted an observation exercise in 32 busy cities. They found a busy street in each city to observe people and time the pedestrians who were walking normally without hindrances. Singapore came out top of the list, ahead of hectic cities like Guangzhou, New York and Tokyo. Who says Singaporeans are not athletic?

No Chewing Gum!
The banning of chewing gum in Singapore is a law that brings amusement to foreigners. Yet looking at its origins, one can empathize with the necessity of the ban. When the MRT began operations in 1987, vandals stuck chewing gum on door sensors of MRT trains, resulting in disruption of train services. The culprits were difficult to apprehend, so a ban was put on chewing gum in 1992. The law was eventually revised in 2004 so that chewing gum could be brought in from overseas for non-commercial purposes.

The Thumbdrive
Singaporean company Track Technology, holds the patent to the thumbdrive in several countries, including Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Alongside IBM, Trek Technology had sold the first USB flash drives commercially in 2000. The flash drives were sold under the brand name “ThumbDrive”, which has now become a blanket term for all USB Flash Drives. The patent for the ThumbDrive is still disputed, but we undoubtedly have a stake in one of the best inventions in the world!

We make ‘em bigger and better!
We aren’t blessed with the tallest mountains or the deepest oceans, but that’s not stopping us from putting our tiny nation into the Guinness World Records. Cue the world’s largest bronze fountain (Fountain of Wealth), largest performance stage on water (The Float @ Marina Bay), tallest ferris wheel (Singapore Flyer), longest table (160m long dining table at Singapore Food Festival 2011)…

– Originally written for a lifestyle magazine