The author of this report once arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, penniless but confident of raising a cash advance at American Express. Discovering that there was no American Express office, he was forced to call his ex-wife to wire him cash by Western Union.

In today's credit card society, with automatic teller machines in some of the world's remotest places, it's easy to assume that wherever you are you'll be able to raise a wad of local currency just by keying in your personal identification number.

Most business travellers take it for granted that at least one of their credit or charge cards will prove acceptable. But, as I discovered in Addis, there are places where even the long arm of American Express doesn't reach.

Even in developed countries, there are wide variations in card acceptability – in the UK, virtually all restaurants accept Visa, Mastercard, Amex or all three. In France, few restaurants outside major cities accept foreign plastic. And there are places – such as much of the former Soviet Union – where cash says more about you than the most prestigious platinum card ever can.

Even the savviest business traveller can max-out a credit card, especially on a trip where expenses turn out higher than expected.

How do you respond to an emergency call for cash from an unexpectedly penniless executive in the field?

Your local embassy or consulate is unlikely to provide financial assistance, but may be able to advise on the best way to transfer emergency cash. Your company's bank may have a local branch or an associate bank to which money can be transferred.

American Express has offices in most (but not all) capital cities worldwide and can issue cash advances of up to ({@denom})1000 ( ({@denom})1600 approx) to cardholders from their home bank accounts.

The fastest response may be to wire money via Western Union or a similar service. Companies such as Western Union maintain a network of offices worldwide, with representation even in out of the way spots remote from capital cities.