Dont Be Caught Without Cash - Call Your Bank!

While you may not want to tell everyone in the world that you are going on vacation if you live on your own, as posted vacation plans equates to a house being empty and available to be robbed, there are still many people who should be aware of your impending travel plans.  Those people include your parents, trusted friends and neighbors, paper and mail services (to stop for vacation), and most importantly and often forgotten, your bank and credit card companies.

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!



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  1. Nice story!

    I can´t tell you how many times I´ve seen hostel guests at the Secret garden in Quito get cought when their cards didn´t work.

    The worst story was from a couple who went to the Galapagos and their cards didn´t work, they were stuck at the airport with no cash for the entrance fee, and had to leave thier passports there when they went to the bank.

    the bank wanted to see idenfication! Call a bunch of times and take the advice of this article!
    http://savvyroundtheworld.wordpress.com

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  2. Great post! A couple of comments to add from our experience;
    1) if ATM doesn't work first time, find another. You can be charged "denial" fees, even when ATM is in network
    2) Capital One is best for foreign travels --both online banking and credit card -- because it is the only bank we found that doesn't charge foreign transaction feed.
    Happy Travels!

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  3. @Anon - That sounds like an absolute nightmare. I'm really worried with the short notice tabs on my cards that I might forget to call back one day to add in more travel time.

    @Travelin Jones - Thanks! I've never heard of a denial fee before, but i'll keep that in mind. I have a Capital One credit card as well and absolutely love it. 0% foreign transaction fees is a dream.

    Note to readers: Get a capital one card ASAP.

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  4. Great tip, my other one, and this is a bit trickier is to get the email and phone number of a representative at your branch.

    Although I called the bank to let them know I was going to Central America, for some reason HSBC held my funds, a quick email to the guy who opened the account for me meant I had the money within 24 hours.

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  5. Thanks Ayngelina! I really like that tip. I might try it but I really don't hold too much stock in the financial system or its workers to be honest with you.

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  6. I just returned from my RTW and this was my horrible nightmare day one of my trip. Luckily I had another card and a travel partner, but I had called my bank three times before leaving and my card was still flagged making it unable to use. (Bank of America)

    I also called them repeatedly throughout the trip to explain who i was, the cardholder, and that i'd be traveling to specific cities and each time told that the card was now ready to use... and each time it was declined!

    Unfortunately I have no tips because I did everything right and it still failed! (sorry to be negative, just a very frustrating situation)

    good luck, though!!

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  7. Wow, Jade, that sounds horrible. It is good you had people that were with you. I don't understand why banks don't have a waiver or something that can be signed. Like, we're not responsible for checking while youre gone, kind of thing. I check my online statement so much that I think I'd catch a fraudulent purchase before they do.

    Sorry to hear the experience was so bad. Maybe next time they'll get it.

    ReplyDelete