Urban legend says you must notify your credit card or debit card banks before you travel internationally so that they won’t block your cards. I used to believe it. Every time before I left, I would religiously call the banks and tell them the dates and the countries I was going.
This last time when I went to south America, I got tired of calling the banks, navigating the phone tree to get an agent, answering security questions, and finally having them enter a note on my account. I thought I would do an experiment and see what would happen if I don’t call.
Guess what? My cards all worked!
My Visa debit card worked on ATM machines with a PIN. My Visa credit card worked with a swipe. My American Express card also worked with a swipe. They worked multiple times, at different places. They never failed once.
When I called American Express some time ago, American Express specially told me they don’t take foreign travel notifications any more. My American Express card would just work wherever American Express is accepted. That’s the way it should be.
Maybe Visa and the banks behind my cards are also trying to be smarter. Declining legitimate transactions does no good to both the bank and the customer. Requiring the customer to call the bank ahead of time only to help the bank do its job is not respecting the customer’s time.
Searches on the Internet show that there is no definitive relationship between notifying the banks and having your cards not decline. Some people called and didn’t have declines. Some didn’t call and didn’t have declines either. Some people didn’t call and had declines. Some called and still had declines.
This reminds me of that experiment with pigeons and food. Food came out randomly but the pigeons thought it had something to do with what they did. The pigeons all developed different rituals they thought would cause the food to come out.
Based my experience and other people’s experience, I’d say it’s not necessary to notify your credit card or debit card banks about your international travel. Maybe it helps a little bit but you can’t really tell. If your charges have a 98% chance of getting approved, improving it to 99% is hardly worth the time and effort.
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I do a lot of international travel, and I frequently find my cards are put on hold due to charges out of country. You would think that the banks would figure out that I’m often traveling and get used to it, but not so far. I sometimes notify them in advance, but its a hassle to remember. But then, its a hassle to deal with a card that’s suddenly stopped working, too.
My experience is that, in general, the card companies have come to the point where they have a hair trigger on fraud alerts. The other day I had a charge for plane tickets denied. I have a very high credit rating, and always pay off my cards every month, so its not as if I’m a big credit risk.
We’ve had numerous occasions when my wife is travelling internationally when the bank has called me to inquire if some of her charges are legitimate.
We’ve also had times when both of us are travelling when one of our cards is declined due to international charges.
Anecdotally, we’ve never had a time when we notified the card companies, and still had problem with a card being declined. So for us, we’ll continue to notify the banks.
“Maybe Visa and the banks behind my cards are also trying to be smarter. Declining legitimate transactions does no good to both the bank and the customer. Requiring the customer to call the bank ahead of time only to help the bank do its job is not respecting the customer’s time.”
Of course declining legitimate transactions does no good. The challenge is determining what is a legitimate transaction.
“If your charges have a 98% chance of getting approved, improving it to 99% is hardly worth the time and effort.”
It takes about 5 minutes to call the card companies and notify them of impending foreign travel. The impact of having your card declined can be substantial. If you’ve got several cards, probably not a big deal. But if you don’t, you may find yourself in a jam that’s not easy to get out of. Purely from a ROI standpoint it seems foolish *not* to make the 5-minute investment up front.
I don’t travel overseas a lot, but I’ve been good about calling when I do. Maybe I don’t need to anymore. It’s just such a pain to deal with something like this from overseas so I’ve erred on the side of caution.
Harry @ PF Pro says
Yea it is a pain to call and notify them and I think I’ve not done it a few times and been fine. I think one of my debit cards just wasn’t accepted over there so it wouldn’t have mattered if I called or not.
Have you ever tried e-mailing your cc company? That’s a lot quicker, and probably would get the same result with much less waste of your time.
There seems to be differences with different card companies.
I know that on my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (which is the one I used for international travel), I can enter where I’m traveling by accessing online. Not sure if that’s common with other cards.
I went out for national travel to Las Vegas (not international) and didn’t inform my bank. Guess what, my card was not blocked once, it was blocked twice.
First time it was blocked I called them and informed them that I was on vacation. I was informed that I need to inform them when I go out on vacation or else my card can be blocked. A few days later after I was back home it was blocked again for the same reason.
So does calling them do anything? Doesn’t seem like it, it got blocked again anyway.
Joan Benedetti says
What ever happened to ‘never tell anyone you are going away’? Had my debit card blocked when visiting family in DC. Embarassing. Looking for another bank. Seems this is a common practice with some banking institutions requiring the customer inform their bank when traveling anywhere. Bottom line, we are being required to breach our security/privacy solely for their protection. I don’t feel as though I must risk a potential home invasion in exchange for their security. To iterate, this requirement is strictly for THEIR purposes, not ours. I’d love to see and become part of a class action lawsuit based on the fact they are exposing us to fraud as much as they are attempting to protect themselves from it.
Ella Stearn says
I found this really informative for me, because i am also a traveler!