Getting Money Out of an Indonesian ATM

It’s one of the most common anxieties. Where am I going to get my money? Not being able to get money is every traveler’s worst nightmare. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia we ran into an unusual problem that was a first for me.

But first, where do travelers generally get their money?

1) Do I get all the local currency I’ll need, in cash, from my home country and hide it in my luggage and hope I don’t get robbed?
2) Am I over 50 and if yes, hurry up and give me my traveler’s checks, dagnabbit!
3) Shall I just take my debit card and wing it when I get there? There are ATMs everywhere, right? Yes? Hopefully? Ahh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.
4) Maybe I just take my guitar and hitch-hike across the country and rely on the kindness of strangers falling in love with my beautiful soul and taking me home and feeding me homemade pies and I never need money again for the rest of my life.

Generally speaking we do a combination of 1 and 3. For peace of mind, we take enough cash to get through a few days or so, then look for an ATM. And ATMs have never been an issue — we’ve queued at ATMs in Haiti, I’ve coaxed some money out of the National Bank of Ukraine, etc. I’m not going to list every time I’ve ever used an ATM.

But Yogyakarta, Indonesia presented an interesting challenge. We got there with a few rupiah left over from Bali — most of which was devoured by an airport taxi driver — but we desperately needed more, ASAP. We had an hour to find an ATM before our afternoon trip to Prambanan Temple (more on that in a future post).

So we loaded up Google Maps, searched “ATM” and a dozen blips showed up within a few square blocks. We walked along the cobbled street and found a booth with an ATM inside. At the top of the machine was a sign saying it was going to charge us $3.50 to use it. Feeling cocky and confident, we politely declined the sign and crossed the street to another ATM. This one was $4. The cheek! We tried one more, 20 meters down the street, which was $3. HAHAHA, we win, suckers!

We slid a debit card into the slot and the machine, like it was one of those motionless street performers and we were trying to pick its nose, didn’t react. It didn’t beep or boop. It didn’t flash or shine. It was notable only for its total lack of illumination. We took the card out and re-inserted it. Nada.


Sheepishly we went back to the $3.50 machine and, apologizing profusely to it, we inserted a card. Still nothing. This machine would also be last pick for the robot football team. We went back and tried the $4 one and even the additional fee it takes from its users evidently wasn’t enough to keep it alive.

We went into a tiny currency exchange store and the woman behind the glass told us that the power was out “in this area” and had been for an hour. As we left she returned to reading the packaging on a can of beans. Clearly she had run out of things to do in the office without her computer.

A fine choice of entertainment.

Now more than a little stressed, given our lack of time, we kept walking and trying ATMs (I have no idea why there were quite so many in such a small area) but had no luck.

I wish there was a more interesting end to this story. I wish I could tell you that we spoke to a man dressed as a giant blueberry working in an iPhone repair store who gave us cash in exchange for pouring milk over him, but that didn’t happen.


Instead, we kept trying ATMs, asking occasionally for directions from friendly-looking strangers, and eventually we found one that worked, across the street from a 7-11. There seemed no rhyme or reason as to why it worked; it was on the same block as a broken one, presumably using the same power source.

We stopped in that 7-11 for some bottles of water and, speaking with authority in the matter, told the cashier and the customer asking him, that yes, there is an ATM around here that works, and it’s right over there.

So, in conclusion, traveler’s checks are the best source of money for travelers. The end.

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