It may sound a bit odd to the first time international traveler to call your banking institutions to alert them of impending travels, but it is necessary in order to access bank accounts while abroad. Although it might not seem like it, most banks are highly active in investigating fraudulent charges on a customer's account. As a high percentage of common fraudulent charges are placed in foreign countries, unidentified purchases abroad are scrutinized the most.
Typical standard policy of most banks for an unrecognized charge on a credit card is simple: lock the account immediately. Some companies will try and contact you regarding the charge, but since most international travelers go without a working phone, being contacted is a bit difficult. I was lucky once when traveling across the border to Canada for a weekend where I forgot to alert my credit card company to my plans. Within 30 minutes of using my credit card my cell phone rang, and I immediately knew who it was. Accepting the roaming charges I told the person on the line I'd be in Canada for the weekend and was good to go. For those of you who are traveling abroad, here is a helpful list of things to do prior to traveling to ensure you will always have access to your money out of the country.
Call Bank and Credit Card Companies Twice Within a Few Weeks of Travel
The process of alerting your banking institution of impending travel has been streamlined into calling a representative and telling them of your travel plans. unfortunately, most companies do not accept online submissions and require personal phone calls. While this may sound easy, anyone who has ever talked to a call center worker on the phone knows its near impossible to get through without a ridiculously long wait as well as getting someone who does not have a thick accent. The representative puts a note on each account that will be used abroad of the dates and locations of travel, and cannot guarantee that will not stop your card from getting shut down during use. Taking a representatives word for it is a bit unsettling to me, so I like to call back within a week or two to confirm that the note is indeed on the account with another representative.
Be careful, however, as some banking companies will only take travel information for a small period of time. Capital One, for example, informed me than can only log travel data for a period of 2 months, then I'd have to call back. Chase, is 30 days and I can't even place the notice yet. While USBank allows up to 90 days of notice on a credit card. More money spent overseas, yes, but it is something to be aware of during long-term travel.
Obtain a 2nd Credit Card & ATM Card with Different Numbers
While putting a fraud alert on your card is a good start, it doesn't help you when you're 5,000 miles from home and are victim of pick pocketing. Now a thief is away with all your cards and is authorized to use them in that country. Canceling a credit card is easy if something like this were to occur, but without a duplicate copy, there is little hope of getting money out quickly. The best way to mitigate this concern is by obtaining a 2nd emergency credit card and ATM card from your banking institutions, linked to the same account, but with different account numbers. Separate numbers will allow one card to be canceled while letting the other remaining one to be active. So while on the phone alerting the institution of upcoming travel plans, request a second card with a different number. While on the road just pop it on a money belt and keep hidden away from sticky fingers.
Add Authorized Users Onto Accounts
An added layer of safekeeping is a good idea by authorizing a user at home onto your account, such as a trusted parent. Sharing certain information regarding your account with a trusted person will allow them to watch your money while away, most beneficial if traveling without a computer. Most banks will allow deposits into accounts without adding on more individuals to the account if deposited in your name with the exact account number - but each bank is different. Knowing that what one person says may not be what another person does, it is the safest routine to have a loved one on the account to deposit incoming checks (if expected) or call on your behalf in case an issue arises while abroad. Not only for convenience, but that 20 minute wait on hold becomes increasingly expensive at 40 cents per minute.
Following these simple tips may be the difference between a stress free vacation and getting an unexpected surprise at your next destination's ATM!