Today, banks are more vigilant than ever about spotting potential fraud. One way banks spot potential fraud includes charges outside of the cardholder's normal usage pattern -- the area where you live, work, and use your credit card. Often, when consumers go on vacation you intentionally travel outside of your area. Nobody wants a credit card purchase denied while traveling, especially when you don't have the cash with you.
So, what can consumers do to avoid having your credit card denied while shopping during vacation? Banks and credit card issuers advise consumers to:
1. Understand where your credit card is accepted outside of the United States. You can visit the customer service section of your bank's or credit card issuer's website. For example: the Help Center in the Discover site lists the regions where that credit card is accepted, including an international Country Acceptance Map. This is also helpful to understand any exchange rates used, and/or any fees or surcharges that might apply for purchases in different currencies. The Visa Travel Preparation Page provides similar information for cardholders traveling internationally.
2. Decide which credit cards you will bring. You may decided to leave at home the credit cards with high foreign transaction fees, don't offer purchase protection insurance, doesn't offer frequent-flyer mileage, and/or aren't accepted in the countries which you will visit. Experts advise consumers to bring at least two credit cards, and use one as a back-up in case your primary card doesn't work.
3. Notify your bank or credit card issuer of your upcoming travel, and the specific locatons where you will use your credit card. For example, Capital One directs its Visa cardholders to call its Customer Service department (1-800-955-7070) before their trip to provide the following information:
- Credit card number
- Travel destination(s): states and/or countries
- Travel start and stop dates
- Which cardholders will be traveling (if multiple people have accounts)
In Capital One's automated voice system, cardholders speak to enter and select voice prompt options. Say "More Options" and then "Report Upcoming Travel" to access the relevant option. Then, you can enter all of the necessary information, or you can speak with a human representative.
Obviously, if your vacation travel itinerary includes several cities and/or countries, you will want to have all of that information ready. When you contact your bank or credit card issuer, they will provide an international customer service phone number you can call while traveling outside the United States, should you have any problems. Last month before my vacation, I used Capital One's automated voice system. My travel itinerary included about six countries, and I found the system pretty easy to use to enter the necessary information.
5. If you want to use your debit card instead, first contact your bank, credit union, or card issuer to report your travel itinerary. Visit their website to find their office and ATM locations in the states or countries you will visit, any other banks they have partnerships with, any fees (e.g., conversion, foreign transaction) that apply, and any PIN number limitations (e.g., fewer digits). Generally, in-network ATM machines have lower fees than out-of-network ATM machines.
Experts advise consumers to keep sufficient cash with you for smaller purchases. The fewer times you use your debit card, the less you expose it to identity theft and fraud risks. If you read this blog regularly, then you already know that I use my debit card only at my bank's ATM machines. To me, it is too risky to use a debit card in a local retail store or gas station, especially in another country. There is no way to know if the card entry pads (or gas station pumps) has been compromised with skimming devices.
6. If you want to use a prepaid card instead, CardHub advises consumers:
"As long as your prepaid card bears the MasterCard or Visa logo and you notify your issuer of your travel plans, you should be able to use it abroad...”
Wise consumers will still check with their card issuer to get a copy of their prepaid card agreement, to find ATM locations in the states or countries you will visit, any other banks they have partnerships with, and any fees (e.g., conversion, foreign transaction) that apply. Again, in-network ATM machines generally have lower/fewer fees than out-of-network ATM machines. Compare the fees for your prepaid card against fees for your credit/debit cards. Understand your rights, protections, and the differences between credi, debit, and prepaid cards. If decided to use a prepaid card, make sure you load enough money onto it before you leave for your trip.
If you are unsure about whether prepaid cards are for you or not, there are plenty of online resources to help you decide. You can learn more by browsing the Prepaid Cards section of this blog. The posts in this blog section contain plenty of links to external sites and resources.
7. Check for foreign travel advisories. These may suggest additional precautions you should take in the countries you will visit.
Having done all of this, you can then travel with peace of mind.