Odd event when notifying Bank of travel plans

I stopped by my Credit Union today to notify them of an upcoming trip to England and Wales so I could use my debit card while traveling. In chatting with the teller, she mentioned they have a list of blocked countries, so we were laughing about how they probably would not be places we would want to go anyway. I asked to see the list and amazingly both Great Britain and United Kingdom were on the list. The teller's strength was not in geography and she apparently did not realize England and Wales were in those bigger geographic areas. I pointed that out and she called the manager who was going to unblock my card so it would work in both Great Britain AND United Kingdom. I was really shocked and realized later I should have asked to speak with said manager to find out why a first world country would be on the list. A few that were not on it were France, Italy, Spain and most of the rest of Europe. Poland was listed and I remember someone in our local travel group had problems using their debit card from this credit union in a trip to Poland so perhaps that is why. We did notify this CU for a trip to Italy and had no problem using the debit card there. Now I am wondering if that is why some folks have trouble with using debit cards while traveling? Do people normally go by their banks to do a notification or is that just a small town thing?

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
960 posts

Pam, not a small town thing at all - maybe not going to their banks/cu's but at least calling and informing them of dates and countries. Everyone is advised to notify their bank & cc company to avoid having debit/credit cards blocked/denied when abroad. It's good advice. What you encountered about GB/UK would be considered unusual though, can't imagine why they would be on the blocked country lists.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17728 posts

Pam, I've never been told by my Credit Union or any of the other financial institutions or credit card firms that I deal with, that any countries have been "blocked" ( especially in the U.K.). I do live in a somewhat "smaller" town and although it would be easy to just stop by my credit union, I normally just phone their call centre (most of the staff know me) and give them a list of the countries I'll be visiting and the travel dates. That's always been sufficient for notification. I also notify credit card firms by phone. Hopefully the financial institutions I deal with don't adopt the same practices! Cheers!

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10852 posts

It is a very frequent recommendation on this site and most travel sites that you notify your card issuers of your travel plans. Has nothing to do with small towns. However, it is not uncommon in the US especially with credit unions to have blocked countries. Perhaps overly cautions because local credit unions do not have the resources to take a big hit of fraud. How or what countries are on the list may be a mystery (as to why they are on the list) but I always inquire about blocked countries. Some people may problems because they did not notify their card issuers of their travel plans. Always a wise thing to do.

Posted by Darcy
Lewiston, Idaho, USA
1201 posts

Hi Pam! We went to Italy in 2009 when US Bank had Italy blocked. They just noted the dates we would be there and it wasn't a problem. I understand Italy being blocked, but UK? That's weird but then the banks have been super vigilant lately which is understandable. I've done both, gone in with a list of dates and countries and called.
Have a great trip! Please call when you get home so we can go to lunch!

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
468 posts

Oh yes, I have always notified banks and credit cards of travel plans but usually just by phone. Now I will go do a face to face every time with some chat to try to ferret out any other information! Frank, I had no idea blocks were common practice for Credit Unions and am now forewarned for the future! So a bank (especially a bigger one) would not likely have the same policies for blocking countries? Ken, I hope they don't too, but now you can ask. If they know you, however, and know your travel habits, they may just automatically unblock you. Nancy, was wondering the same thing! Darcy, you are on!

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10852 posts

I did not say it was common which could imply 50% or much more but it is done and it has reported here. My wild guess is that it might be a third of the credit unions. Two credit unions in our area that I have experience with does it.

Posted by George
Canada
817 posts

I don't always remember to call the CC company about travel plans BUT you should know that your institution builds a " profile " on your CC and Debit Card usage - so if you're a frequent traveller it knows that and no bells go off if your card gets used out of country. In my case, the CC company can see a trip build with airline ticket purchases (Air Canada, Lufthansa, LOT, Air Berlin), DB, SNCF, PKP, or OEBB train ticket purchases, the odd prepaid hotel stay and then finally the trip itself, it all goes to your profile - it's a twice yearly occurrence for me - plus several in-Canada trips per year.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
587 posts

Pam, I don't think it would be a wise business practice for a financial institution to just automatically unblock a customer because of their travel history, as we are all taught, never assume anything.

Posted by George
Canada
817 posts

Barry, didn't say not to inform your institutions, just saying your institutions have a profile on your spending habits. Easy to see that in the number of people who come on this site wondering why their credit card didn't work on the SNCF site; greatest percentage of time is that it was the first time they'd ever made a purchase over the internet with a foreign entity, CC company had never seen that activity before and the transaction was refused i.e. NO PROFILE.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

That's not always true. Computers do strange things sometimes. We're frequent travelers, but my purchase of a SNCF ticket set off alarms on my Amex, much to my great surprise,. Only two weeks earlier the purchase of a DB ticket with the same card did nothing, nor did the flight purchase nor one hotel, which we paid in advance. Why this one SNCF ticket caused phone calls to our house, the only time Amex has ever flagged a purchase, remains a mystery. Another odd event.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
587 posts

Hi George, what I was referring to was the post by Pam at 6:07PM where she said "they may just automatically unblock you." I wouldn't want my credit union to simply not question a foreign transaction even if I've traveled to someplace before. Luckily for me mine has very good security, this past January I was watching the NFL playoffs, it was a Sunday morning, I got a call from security wanting to know if I was attempting to make a purchase at a baby store in New Jersey and another at a store in West Virginia, being that I was sitting on my couch in San Diego I wasn't, though I had been in WV in December. Both attempts were for small amounts, less than $5.00, but somehow it caught the attention of the CC security system, evidently my CC number was compromised and it was being tested to see if it was valid. Pam, if you get a chance call the credit union tomorrow and ask the manager about that, it would be interesting to know.

Posted by stan
Kansas City, Missouri
215 posts

AMEX says it is not necessary to report upcoming travel to them. You won't even get past the menu screening calls.

Posted by Karen
Santa Rosa, CA
600 posts

While we were in Italy back in April, Capital One called our home phone to verify that we'd used the Visa card in Italy, but did not block the card. We didn't get the message until we returned home, and they CO asked us to validate the purchases we made and thanked me for calling them back. On a previous trip to London and Paris, we'd used a Chase Visa to purchase Tube tickets in London, but then when we checked into our hotel in Paris, the card was declined. Since we had another card to use, no problem, didn't bother to call Chase until we arrived home.
In both cases we'd notified them of our international travel dates and countries. Good practice to always have back credit card and ATM's.

Posted by Carol
Atlanta, GA, USA
679 posts

"he question: "Why are some countries blocked?" The Answer: From time to time, debit card numbers get compromised and they may get sold on the black market around the world. The purchasers will use these numbers to make purchases or at least attempt to make purchases. When a financial institution (or their card security provider) has experienced an abnormally large volume of compromised card transactions from a certain country, they may choose to block that country.
As noted by others, the risk of loss on these unauthorized transactions lie with the financial institution and not the card owner, thus their desire to limit losses by blocking transactions originating from the blocked country." Of course, my cards have all been used on the "black market" in the US so why aren't we blocked here? LOL! This is just one of those "we are lazy" moves banks chose to do since honestly the largest volume is in the US!

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA, USA
233 posts

I call my bank and card companies and give the countries and the dates. This past April I had the same experience as Stan when AX said it was no longer necessary to inform them of travel. However, I do receive a call from them when large purchases or a steady amount of small purchases are made outside the New England area of the U.S. On my RS tour this past May, our guide addressed the issue of some having difficulty with debit cards in the Czech Republic. They brought it to our attention the day before and again on the bus before we crossed the border. Everyone had time to think about how they'd handle the situation. Some group members did have issues with their cards in the Czech Republic. Alternatives were to use your euros which CR usually accepts, your credit card, or work an arrangement with a fellow tour member. I withdrew additional korunas and exchanged for euros from two tour members when their cards weren't accepted. Fortunately,it worked out ok for me as I can withdraw large sums on back to back days and it's less expensive traveling in the Czech Republic. Another situation occurred within an extended family and a couple who was traveling with another couple.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

I think Frank is right about smaller credit unions sometimes blocking card usage in some parts of the world. I've heard this from several sources. Why they chose each country or part of the world is a mystery and may be for reasons that don't make much sense to you and me, but that's why we always recommend notifying your card issuers of your travel plans. Keep in mind that blocking card usage protects the BANK, not you. Banks are the ones responsible for absorbing the cost of fraud and if it is more in their interest to block a card in certain regions, they will. Generally you need to notify your card issuers before making any foreign purchases, even if from home. Especially hotel and train reservations. Train reservations are notoriously difficult to get approved for some reason.

Posted by David
Clinton, WA, USA
15 posts

I was told basically the same thing by my bank when I notified them of travel with usingn my debit card in Ireland. She said that if you use it with the pin, it's usually okay, and mostly blocked when someone treats it more like a credit card, requiring a signature instead. She told me this alert was for England, and I told her that I was going to Ireland so wasn't sure it applied. She said that Northern Ireland is part of England so it must be affecting Ireland too. I don't think the Irish would appreciate her explaination. Regards, David

Posted by Jesse
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
171 posts

Pam, I always call my CU before I go over seas. But a couple of years ago, I got to Florence (the week between Christmas and New Year's) only to find that my debit card would not work. It took several calls and e-mails to get to speak with someone who could tell me why it wasn't working. Turns out even though I called and told them I was going, Italy was on their blocked list and they had to put it on a special "unblock" setting and hadn't done it.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

What this whole discussion points out, in my opinion, is that it is better to stand in person across the counter from another real person when you are discussing travel plans. That way some misunderstandings can be avoided. Maybe.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7958 posts

Or just deal with the dang things when they pop up. I've never seen one that took ten minutes to fix, even in the middle of the night half a world away.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
468 posts

Thanks for all the responses. I know some of you don't have patience with inexperienced travelers but this will be my first solo international trip. I'm not planning to work out the whole sim card/purchase phone there thing, so will have e-mail only. I'm trying to cover some bases and manage some anxiety which will no doubt dissipate when I finally get going. I'm headed in to town on errands and will stop by the CU to talk.

Posted by Linda
Seattle, WA, USA
432 posts

Pam, good for you for being pro-active in this quest to understand the complexities of traveling and also for being on your own. Take it from me, a solo traveler for many trips, things work out. Some of the posters on this Helpline might come accross a little "curt" but it is their way and I hope you don't take offense. We all mean well. I had an issue with my debit card at several ATMs in Italy (Umbria - near a lake town). After I relaxed a bit and let myself have a little time (taking deep breaths), the card worked. I had informed my bank and the card worked earlier in the trip, so I knew it was just a fluke. If you come accross problems, try to use an ATM that is connected with a bank and during business hours, so that you can at least speak with a person. Have a fabulous time on your trip and we'll want a trip report upon your return. Ciao, Linda.

Posted by Chuck
Holdrege, NE, USA
91 posts

The question: "Why are some countries blocked?" The Answer: From time to time, debit card numbers get compromised and they may get sold on the black market around the world. The purchasers will use these numbers to make purchases or at least attempt to make purchases. When a financial institution (or their card security provider) has experienced an abnormally large volume of compromised card transactions from a certain country, they may choose to block that country. As noted by others, the risk of loss on these unauthorized transactions lie with the financial institution and not the card owner, thus their desire to limit losses by blocking transactions originating from the blocked country.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
587 posts

Carol, it doesn't make much sense for the banks to block transactions within the United States for U.S. citizens, but as a pointed out in my earlier post they do have alerts set in place that trigger their security. Like going to Europe it may be good practice to notify ones financial institution of travel plans even within the U.S.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
960 posts

Barry is right. A couple of years ago my bank in Colorado blocked my card when I was trying to buy gas at a station in Utah. I called the bank and they insisted I tell them all of the states that I would be traveling through that I might use the card in (CA,NV,AZ) to make sure they didn't block it again. They didn't specifically say so but I'm sure there had been some kind of security breach that compromised some card numbers. Another time after that I got a notification letter that some numbers had been compromised and in the letter it stated to let them know if I would be traveling or making any foreign purchases online.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6827 posts

I've also had my cards blocked when traveling to other states. Last time it happened was when I tried to get gas in Scranton PA....only two hours away.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
468 posts

I had a nice chat with the CU manager who says the block on GB/UK has been in place for the whole 5 years she has worked there after an event some time in the past where there was an unusually large spate of fraudulent transactions generated from UK. She then said she would unblock my card for the time I was in UK, but then block it again for protection while I was in Wales. :-( Short geography lesson ensued and now card will be unblocked for the entire time I am traveling as it is all in GB/UK. She did tell me the CU day runs from 3PM to 3PM Pacific time and raised my withdrawal limit. I also did notification on 2 other debit cards (a local bank and Edward Jones) and discussed whether they had blocks on any countries and both said no. I know 3 cards are too many and I don't really need them all, but will probably take them and keep them safe in the money belt. I had also forgotten until I called that the Edward Jones debit card says they do not charge any fee for foreign ATM withdrawals, so I will use it at least once to see if that is actually correct. The CU does charge 1% (which was noted on my account after withdrawals in Italy in May). Again, many thanks for all of the responses. I appreciate it greatly.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
960 posts

Thanks Pam for following up here to let us know what you found out. Good information here, especially what they consider a 'day' and how it can affect your daily withdrawal amount. I never thought to ask about that. Another reason to visit your institution if at all possible and talk to an individual regarding their specific info, banks and cu's do vary. Have a great trip.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
468 posts

Thanks, Nancy. Yes, my assumption (very wrong and I know I should not assume) was midnight to midnight which it is on the bank debit but forgot to ask on the EJ debit.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10852 posts

Nothing wrong with three. We take three credit cards and two debit. We also use both debit card within the first couple of days just to make sure that both are working. Actually four debit cards on two different accounts. In all of our years of travel we have never had to go to the back up plan. Knock on wood !!

Posted by Iain
Edmonton, AB, Canada
668 posts

Interesting discussion. In many years of foreign travel I had never had a problem with my CC until last year when my Mastercard was refused in Barcelona, after I had had no problem earlier in the day. I called Mastercard and they said it had been blocked in Spain, they had no record of the attempt to use it. They knew that the Spanish banking system sometiomes gave them problems, but could not say why. I had used my Visa and had no problem with it. Spain was having monetory problems at teh time and I do not know if that was the problem, though you would thing spending foreign excahnge in their country would help, not hinder their problems.