We let our credit union know we'll be in Eastern Europe next month, and were told our debit card won't work in Hungary or Slovenia. Any advice on how to handle this? It's a Visa branded card.
I'd ask them why.
In my experience, sometimes you may find the front-line staff at a local credit union are a bit, um, knowledge-challenged. For example, at my primary credit union (a great place to bank, otherwise) couldn't answer the most basic questions for me about using my ATM debit card in Europe. First, I asked how much it would cost me in fees to withdraw cash. They said it would cost me nothing, which I didn't believe. Then they said, well, the ATM owner may charge a fee (which I already knew), but that they would charge me nothing. I was skeptical, since there's always someone charging for currency conversions. So I asked what conversion rate they would use, and if they imposed a surcharge. The teller just blinked at me blankly as if I was speaking a language he didn't understand. I then explained that I would be in Europe and wanted to withdraw money from my account, and I asked what rate they would use for conversion. "Conversion?..." he looked confused. I explained that my money on deposit at the credit union was in US dollars, of course, but I would be withdrawing Euros, so how did they calculate the conversion. "Oh, we don't do that - you will receive your money in dollars." He smiled. I gently explained that in Europe, they don't use dollars, and that the ATMs have the local currency, so that's what the ATMs dispense. He looked utterly perplexed. He eventually suggested I call the CU headquarters. I did. And went through a similar conversation. Eventually they seemed to understand my question, but were unable to give me an answer. I then told them I wanted to set up a travel alert so they didn't think my cards were hijacked and being used fraudulently. It took a long time for them to find the names of the countries I was about to visit (in fairness, Estonia and Latvia are not well known, but "Netherlands" shouldn't be such a struggle).
Bottom line: if you get answers that seem like nonsense, try politely asking someone else. Hang up and call again, ask to speak with someone who is familiar with their policies on using their cards overseas. Repeat as necessary. If you work your way up the chain to senior people who sound like they know what they're doing...well, there are a million credit unions out there. Hopefully you're not leaving tomorrow.
FWIW, my CU card worked fine in Slovenia (and in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland).
Call again and confirm the information with someone else.
If truly you can't use your debit card there, you have a few options:
- apply for another debit card (when do you leave?) If you leave in more than two weeks, you can surely get a debit card before you go.
- check with one of your credit card companies about how a cash advance works from an ATM. It could be EXPENSIVE. You get charged interest from the first day you borrow, I believe, plus fees. So it could be you can login from a device while you are traveling and transfer money to pay off the balance from your credit union as soon as you have withdrawn it.
- bring some USD with you and change it over when you arrive in each country, at some expense; use your credit cards (accepted almost everywhere) and use as little cash as possible
- obtain some Euros and Forint ahead of time in the US.
As David and Andrew H. both said, ask again and you may (hopefully) get a different answer.. Are you planning on using the debit card to make purchases, or ATM cash withdrawals, or both? It’s unlikely, but could be possible that some out-of-network ATM might not accept your VISA-branded card, but in the rare chance that happened, the ATM a block away probably will work.
David’s experience was interesting—wonder if his CU could be talked into approving a car loan where they pay you interest, instead of the other way ‘round?
Will you be in other countries besides Hungary and Slovenia where your card will work? How many days will you be in Hungary and Slovenia? If it is a short time, you can probably get by with just doing currency exchange in country or alternatively buying currency before you go.
Alternatively, open an account with a different bank to use while traveling if you have enough time. I do most of my domestic banking with a credit union, but they have poor international services. I have an account with a full service bank that I use for travel.
It's not clear what you are doing with your debit card. I assume you are going to the "bankomat" to withdraw funds. WIth the cards, they are on networks. The network is on the back of the card. If it is a common card network (such as Plus), you will find plenty of machines. Look on the back of the card. Our Chase Sapphire card ($99/year, worth every penny) and Schwab bank card (free) are on the Plus network, which is pretty easy to find.
1) Is there a person whose primary job is to handle debit card issues? My CU has one. Find out and talk to them if it's not the person you spoke to before.
2) It's possible your CU has blocked the card from being used in certain places due to high rates of fraud like cloned cards. With the change to chipped cards, it may be lessening so ask if if that is the reason and they can call Visa to unblock it if they can't do it themselves.
Thanks for the good advice, everybody. David is right; some of the people I talked with did seem a bit knowledge-challenged, but those at the credit union were all consistent in saying the debit card wouldn't work in Hungary and Slovenia (one person said I couldn't use it at ATMs there but I could use it to buy things in shops). I called a Bank of America branch, thinking maybe I'd get a debit card there (we already have an Alaska Airlines credit card through B of A), and to ask if there were certain countries where their debit card wouldn't work. A young employee told me, "Oh, it's some country near Russia. Um, Croatia. So, pretty much you can't use it there." I asked what she meant by "pretty much" and then asked to talk to someone who could tell me for sure. She also said Croatia. So then I called a different bank and talked to an employee who sounded smart, friendly and businesslike, and she said their debit card will work in every country in Europe. So I went to a branch of that bank and applied for a debit card. It should get here before we leave. I'm also going to try using the credit union debit card at ATMs in Hungary and Slovenia (it is a VISA debit card and it does say PLUS on the back). When I get home, I hope to be able to tell the people at the credit union that it indeed did work.
Asking repeatedly to get the answer you want isn't going to help if indeed the card is blocked in certain countries. As Miranda noted, some smaller CUs block their cards in certain countries with high rates of fraud. They just don't want to deal with the expense and hassles.
Your best bet is to ALWAYs have a backup plan/card. You should have 2 ways of getting cash and of using a credit card. A 2nd way of getting cash, in a pinch, can be a cash advance on the credit card, though that comes with a price. But be sure you have the PIN on your credit card if taking that option.
If your preferred card doesn't work for you, then just go with plan B.
My Bank of America debit and credit cards have worked in Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Hungary, Turkey.
bobonbike, when your new Debit card arrives, be sure to call the customer service # on the back to notify them where you’re traveling, and on what dates, so they won’t inadvertently block your ATM withdrawals and/or retail purchases. And they should be able to tell you what fees (if any) they assess for foreign ATM withdrawals, as well as whether they impose any daily withdrawal limit. Have a great trip!