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Debit cards

I was recently in Italy and could use my debit card to withdraw money from an ATM, but I could not use it to make purchases. I was somewhat surprised about that as this was my sixth trip to Italy and the first time I could not use my debit card to make purchases. My husband, who banks with a different bank, couldn't use his card for purchases either.

When I returned, I contacted my bank about the problem and was informed that due to the high level of fraud they have experienced with transactions in Italy the bank now blocks debit transactions from Italy.

If you are planning on using a debit card for purchases in Italy, it might be a good idea to check with your bank to see if your debit card will work in Italy.

Posted by
1003 posts

Hm, it sounds like your bank may just have a specific issue. As i'm going to europe this summer, I've read a lot of what people have had to say about using their credit/debit cards, etc., and I don't recall anyone saying their cards were denied for this reason.

and I must say, I'm having a bit of a hard time with it, because it seems to me if you tell your bank you want to use your card, how can they stop you? If you want to put yourself at risk for fraud, that should be your choice. Imagine if that was your only bank and you went overseas without knowing this and that was the only way you could get cash, you'd be completely up a creek.

Just out of curiosity, did you inform your bank first that you were going? I wonder if that would have alleviated the problem if they had known to expect the charges beforehand? That's troubling; but I suppose the fact that it's a small regional bank might also be relevant.

Posted by
769 posts

Hi Sherry - which banks had this new policy? There have not yet been any other posts about this!? I always thought it was a good idea to carry two different bank cards - but looks like it didnt work in this case! thanks for the heads up!

Posted by
8959 posts

This topic has been discussed quite a bit in the past few weeks. European debit cards are embedded with smartchips. The hardware merchants use to read debit cards are only compatible with cards with the chips. So as you discovered American debit cards can't be used to make point-of-sale purchases. This trend started in northern Europe several years ago in places like the UK, France, and Holland, and now appears to have landed Italy. To make thing easier I always stick to the ATM machines, no matter what country I'm traveling through-it makes life easier.

Posted by
1003 posts

Additionally, you should let your bank know you're going away (and when and where). I went to the bank this past weekend (Washington Mutual) and confirmed this with them. Same for your credit cards, because if you don't and then you go overseas and charge a bunch of things like hotels, perhaps expensive purchases, etc., it will raise all kinds of red flags.

Several years ago I had trouble buying textbooks at college in Houston with a credit card on my parents' account because 1800 miles away near Boston, they had just gotten gas. It was quite a hassle and they ended up calling my parents, who then told them to ignore all charges from Houston as their daughter was away at college there. Just let the bank/companies know and you should have fewer problems :)

Posted by
468 posts

I don't know about the smart chip issue. I had no trouble with my debit card in Italy in September 2005. My bank, Bancorp South, told me that they were the ones blocking the transactions because of so much fraud in Italy.

More details, while I was in Florence I tried to use my card in an ATM machine and I got a message to contact my bank. I called my local branch. There wasn't a problem with my account and I was able to get money out of a different ATM machine, but they warned me not to make any point of sale of purchases and under no circumstances sign a debit receipt. The local branch didn't know why that policy was in effect, and I only found out this morning that the bank was blocking debit transactions in Italy when I called the main customer service department about something else and asked them about it while I had them on the phone.

My husband banks with Trustmark. He wasn't able to use his debit card in Italy either.