Call Your Credit and ATM Card Issuers Before Traveling Internationally

I just finished calling all of the issuers for the credit and ATM cards that I plan on using internationally – Capital One, Citibank, WaMu, and Bank of America – in order to avoid my cards being frozen due to fraud concerns. I remember doing this occasionally before, but not for all of them.

Surprisingly, every single card issuer seemed to have a specific protocol to handle such concerns. I was either forwarded to some sort of Fraud Specialist or asked to fill out a form outlining where I was traveling to and the exact start and end dates. It seems like their fraud monitoring systems are getting quite advanced. All of them thanked me for calling ahead of time, which made me feel like they’ve probably had to deal with a lot of angry (stranded?) travelers.

Oh, and they also told me the international toll-free numbers to reach their customer service from abroad. Using them is easy. Go to a pay phone, reach the operator, and call the number collect. I decided to simply write these numbers on the signature panel on the back of the cards. I’m glad I called!

For more information, see my other post on this subject: Travel and Money: Best Way To Get Cash, Best Credit Cards, and Safety Concerns. It includes why I hate traveler’s checks, why I use my Capital One card exclusively while traveling, and emergency numbers for Visa and Mastercard.

Comments

  1. I called BOA before leaving on a recent trip to Amsterdam. First time I tried to use it in Holland, it was denied. Calling beforehand didn’t help me. Have a backup plan in case that happens (I know you do). Just an FYI for anyone else traveling internationally.

  2. Have a good trip, don’t forget to eat some paella!

  3. I’ve never called prior to going, and I’ve never had an issue. Admittedly I’ve stuck to “safe” countries, so maybe I didn’t set off much of a fraud alert. The only time I’ve been called for foreign transactions was one small purchase to a Russian website. That triggered the alert, but not for a few days.

    It certainly won’t hurt to call, but I don’t think it’s that huge of an issue. If you do get caught, just collect call the number on the back of the card – that’s why they say to collect call if international.

  4. I’ve gotten away with not calling as well in the past, but it does seem like they are more trigger-happy these days. My uneducated guess is that it is because they have better monitoring systems.

    I usually bring a few hundred dollars in US $20 bills – even if the exchange rate is horrible, I can at least get by.

    Paella and jamon here I come!

  5. ThePessimist says:

    You’ll want to write those customer service numbers somewhere else as well. If your card is stolen, you’ll still want to have the bank’s phone number!

  6. Another backup might be American Express Traveler’s Checks instead of carrying bulky cash bills.

  7. I have called before and still had problems (due to my travel being longer than 45days I think). However I have never been able to take advantage of calling international collect to the credit card companies. How do you do it when the operator doesn’t speak English?

  8. JimmyDaGeek says:

    Yeah, I’ve learned the hard way about doing this. Make sure to tell them how you are traveling so you can gas up without a problem, too.

  9. ThePessimist – beat me to it.
    You lose the cards, then you really need the numbers… and if they are on the cards… well…

  10. On a somewhat related subject, I’ve always been annoyed at the artificially inflated currency conversion surcharges that almost all credit cards tack onto purchases abroad. There is a pending class-action lawsuit where one brave soul unearthed this pervasive fraud in the industry on the basis of flawed disclosures.

    My point is, another essential to-do when traveling overseas is determining which of your credit cards has the most favorable (or hopefully non-existent) currency conversion percentage. Does anyone know of a Web resource that summarizes who-charges-what?

  11. Amen brother, that’s the best advice i’ve read all week! I’ve got caught in London a lot w/ that problem, but oddly enough NOT when i wen to Greece for almost 2 weeks?! weird.

    anyways, i agree – calling a head of time can save you a crazy amount of headaches. Opah!

  12. you can leave the numbers on your emai or voicemail and then access them anywhere as needed…

  13. Thanks for the tip! I’m leaving for Mexico on Monday :D

  14. once i called before going to london and they cancled my card which was confiscated at waterloo train station
    after a lot of heartache i was able to get a number to call everytime i needed to make a transaction to charge my card (hotels and such )
    they sent me a replacement within two days

  15. You know I’ve never called before traveling and I’ve never had a problem using any of my cards in a foreign country. No one I know has ever had a problem either, my dad travels internationally several times a year including some off-the-wall places. I always figured it was a myth that you had to call beforehand.

  16. Thanks for the reminder! I’m definitely calling when I’m on my trip next year.

  17. It depends on the country you’re traveling to & the card issuer, but do yourself a favor and call ahead, especially if you’re traveling in Eastern Europe, Africa, some parts or Latin America (beyond Mexico). It’s a real pain in the butt, because each issuer has different policies and some make you jump through more hoops than others, but it beats being stuck without funds. My husband is a pilot who flies international routes and we both travel for fun and I can’t tell you the trouble he’s had. Thankfully many of the times I was home to take the call from the credit card company or from him so I could call the card and get the situation straightened out. Now he’s switched to a small local bank that let him permanently lift all travel restrictions so he can at least use his ATM card if not necessarily his credit cards (which are kind of useless in a lot of countries anyway).

  18. Thanks for sharing these great tips! I’ve never traveled abroad on my own, and never would have thought of this.

  19. I used to work as a customer service rep for a large regional bank in Wisconsin and while I do certainly agree that calling for your credit cards is essential, I also suggest that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket (i.e. don’t rely completely on credit cards). If they should happen to be lost or stolen, you’ll be able to get help from the CC companies… but it may not be for a little while.

    Your best bet is to cover all contingencies… keep some cash on hand, too, to exchange to the local currency and to be kept somewhere other than your wallet (and your bag) for emergencies. Think of it like your cash reserves… ya don’t touch it unless you need it, and you don’t risk it… it’s safe. That may be the money you use to rent a cab to get out of a bad place in town or to rent a hotel room when the reservations you had fell through and your credit cards don’t work, or the meal when you’re waiting for the local rep from the credit card company to help you out…

    Of course, I, you, and everyone else hope that this doesn’t happen. But it is far, far better to be safe than sorry.

  20. Not only has that happened to me, it actually happens to me more domestically. A Chase card I have was shut down when I tried to use a travel agent based out of CA, once while traveling in WA, and once on the last day of a Disney World trip (at which point isn’t it a little late anyway?) Needless to say this card now sits in a drawer, where it’s almost as useful!

  21. People are always complaining to me about how much they pay to withdraw money in foreign countries, which baffles me. Another thing you can ask your bank is which foreign banks they have ATM agreements with. I’m with BofA, so if I’m in London, I can withdraw cash for free at Barclays. In Paris, at BNP Paribas. In both cases, I pay the exact spot rate in the market, not some internal bank rate or commission.

  22. On a trip to Europe a while back my brother called Chase before hand and gave them the itinerary (cities/dates). My mother did not, and within a few hours after arriving in London we discovered that her Citi card was locked out. My brother’s Chase card worked fine the entire time.

    No problems using my card in the US. I’m glad, as virtually every transaction I had made on my cards had been within a ten mile or so radius of my home address until I used it to add some credit to my train ticket in DC to make it back to the hotel. I was a little concerned that would trip something as it was radically different than my previous purchases.

  23. Same can be said anytime you make a large purchase. I had my credit card frozen when I paid for my LASIK! Also when you make purchases outside your state. Some times the company will call you when they suspect fraudulent activity.

  24. Funny you should post that….I have never had a problem, until today. I had my Chase Freedom card denied internationally. I’ve been here before and didn’t even think about calling, as I’ve done in the past.

  25. My HSBC card got set off once, right here in California. I had ordered a pizza, bought a pair of jeans and then a plane ticket to Canada and within 5 minutes of getting the plane ticket I received a phone call from HSBC asking me to verify the purchases.

    I am getting ready to head over to Europe…actually I leave tomorrow for Sweden. I have called HSBC and Capital One to let them know I am going. I have always called my banks or CC’s so that I never run into an issue.

    Ok, what I did want to comment about, and I was even way ahead of the lady I was speaking too about notification, is that the credit cards themselves have the phone numbers printed on it on the back in small detail. The lady spent 5 minutes looking for the right number only to come back and tell me that I was right about the number on the card. I still thanked her for double checking. It might be a good idea to store these numbers online in an email to yourself or something in case you wallet is stolen and you need to call them.

  26. Hi, I’m a long-time reader of your blog. I live in Marbella, Spain (and have lived here for eight years.) Shoot me an email if you need any help with anything.

  27. I’ve been a good “corporate citizen” and called BoA before leaving on a trip to Europe. Of course, like Rick, I too had my bank ATM card shutdown and had to conduct a lengthy international phone call to get it turned back on.

    The card worked fine in London (I went to Barclay’s ATMs for free) and worked fine in Paris (I went to BNP ATMs for free), but got shutdown in Italy (for which there was no free partner).

    To compound the issue, when they asked for some recent transactions, I could only tell the BoA call center person in the local currency and they were staring at a screen showing $USD, so the values didn’t match.

    I don’t remember ever having trouble with my Citi credit card.

  28. Sounds like good advice, but it can backfire! Before leaving for a European vacation with my family I called Capital One and spoke to a security rep, gave them the entire itinerary (dates, hotels, locations, etc). I also took my Chase Visa card (as a spare), without calling. The Capital One card was denied the first time I tried to use it at the Tower of London, and, even after calling customer service, was denied again at a restaurant. The Chase card gave me no problems and I used it for the rest of the trip.

    Taking some extra cash is a good idea, but travellers checks are outmoded, and even if your bank doesn’t charge you a fee to buy them – some restaurants and hotels in England and Germany were charging a fee for accepting them!

  29. Before my first overseas, I did everything you were supposed to, like calling the credit card companies. Half of them were like “ok, whatever, that’s nice to know I guess”, after I spent 20 minutes trying to get through to a real person. Since then, I don’t bother. I just make sure to have backup ATM and credit cards.

  30. I’m originally from Hawaii and have travelled extensively across the US- San Francisco, LA, Seattle, Boston, NYC, Chicago, middle of nowhere Ohio etc etc never had an issue. Spent 2 months in London, 2 months in Hong Kong, some stints in Vancouver & Montreal and never made a call NEVER had an issue taking money out of my Bank of America account, citicard creditcard, Chase credit card, nor American Express. Guess I’ve just been lucky.

  31. I second the pessimist. I have seen that scenario take place, and it aint pretty!

  32. Perhaps frequent travelers are less likely to be flagged, as such activity is not out of the ordinary for them? I’m sure their computers can take this into account.

  33. You’ll be amused to know that on the recommendation of this website, I applied for this credit card so that I would have it for an upcoming trip to Spain. I was approved, but when I received the card, my credit limit was just $500! I have perfect credit, and my other cards have limits of $20,000 and $25,000, so I called to ask for an increase. They denied me. Then I started worrying about my credit score, and paid $7 to get my score from Equifax. It is 802, in the 90th percentile! I suppose this means Capital One just doesn’t have any more credit to extend? In any case, I don’t think $500 for two weeks in Europe is going to cut it, so looks like I will have to turn to my other cards.

  34. I’ve never had a problem with using most of my credit cards in Europe, but I will probably call next time for all of them after having to go through a phone verification process using my American Express at a store in Malmo, Sweden.

  35. Do you think writing down those international #’s with collect calls helps? Bah! I’ve tried them… they aren’t manned. Just like in the US – you have to go through myriad buttons and entries before you can speak to someone live who will accept the charges. Do you think an Int’l operator will wait while you do this? In my case… no. I tried in multiple countries throughout Europe. And still no. I wish the CEO’s of these credit card companies would use their own service to see how poor it is, then I’m sure they’d change their policy!

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