What to do when your bank blocks your bank cards abroad

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Photo credit; Philip Taylor via Flikr

There’s nothing worse that going on holiday or going travelling and finding your bank have blocked your cards for security reasons. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence amongst travellers as banks see foreign activity on your card, i.e. withdrawals or payments abroad, as suspicious activity. They think that someone might have stolen or cloned your cards and be using them abroad – hence why they block them immediately. Unfortunately they don’t tend to tell you before they do this which can often result in you being stranded in a foreign country with no access to your money.

Despite the fact I’m a regular traveller to far flung destinations (and my bank know this and should have it on file) I had this happen to me recently. I thought therefore it might be useful to talk you through the process of what to do if this also happens to you, what I did (or should have done), and also how you can get access to your money in the quickest way possible! The latter I guess being the most important thing!

1. Call you bank before you go and tell them you’re going abroad

First off, if you’re going abroad anywhere and you plan on using your cards then call your bank right now and tell them when and where you are going. This way they can put a note on your account not to block the cards should they be used in the country or countries you are going to during that time. Unfortunately I have still heard of people getting their bank cards blocked even after doing this (myself included recently last week), but in most cases when the banks know ahead they make sure not to block them!

2. Bring a card from a different bank along with you on your trip

This second one is also a preventative measure, but I can’t highlight enough how important it is to A) bring at least 1 other card with you where you are going, and B) to make sure that card is from a separate bank as the other. Why? Sometimes when a bank suspects fraudulent activity on a bank card they don’t just block that card, but they block ALL of your cards. Now if you suddenly find yourself abroad in this situation with only cards from the same bank then you’ll find you have literally no access to ANY of your money all of a sudden, even though you thought you were prepared bringing more than one. However, say you have another card with you, either a debit or credit card that is from another bank, you can immediately use this one instead as a temporary solution. Even if the other one charges you more money for using a cash machine abroad, at least you know you have access to money in the short term until you can get things sorted with the other ones! It’s also probably still less money than the fee you would get charged using a Western Union (which I’ll talk about more in a minute.)

Note; The same also applies with taking at least 2 different types of card with you, e.g. 1 MasterCard and 1 Visa. I’ve been many places where they’ve maybe only accepted Visa or only accepted MasterCard at certain machines or premises. Whilst this isn’t as big a problem usually as having all your cards blocked, having 1 of each for every situation will help resolve any future problems that could arise.

3. Get in touch with your bank as soon as your cards are blocked

Obviously, as soon as you notice a problem with any of your cards you should get in touch with your bank. If it’s the case that your bank cards have been blocked because your bank thought they had been stolen (this is usually why they are blocked when you use them abroad), then your bank can simply unblock these as soon as you tell them to. Provided you pass your telephone security questions of course.

One other thing I would say (and this from experience of previously working in a bank long before I became a travel writer) is make sure they don’t just cancel the cards and send you a new one. There are a lot of idiots who work in bank call centres. As many who are intelligent individuals, there are also a lot of idiots. I’ve seen quite often someone ask for their cards to be unblocked abroad and the agent on the phone mistakenly cancel the cards and send new ones which go to the home address. They won’t send them to where you are abroad for security reasons. So just to idiot-proof the situation my advice is make sure you tell them not to do this. It might sound stupid but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

4. If you’re stuck right now (and can’t get in touch with your bank) find a Western Union

If you’re stuck right now somewhere abroad without access to your money (and you can’t get in touch with your bank either) then you need to find a Western Union. Western Union allows people to wire money abroad which can then be picked up around 2 hours later at any Western Union branch. All you need if your ID to pick it up. You don’t need your bank card with you to collect money from a Western Union.

Now, I should add, using the Western Union is only really something you’ll probably want to do if you’re really stuck, e.g. don’t have another bank card you can use, can’t borrow money from a friend or family member who is with you abroad etc. They do charge a fee which can vary greatly from country to country, but provided you have your ID with you, if you really need money fast and there is a problem with getting your cards unblocked right away then this is most likely the quickest and easiest solution right now.

You should be able to send money yourself online using their website (if you have money in your account) via a bank transfer. However, should there be a problem with that then someone from home, e.g. your mum, partner, friend etc, can send money for you using their card. Just check beforehand where the nearest Western Union is to where you are. There is usually one in every major town, city, and tourist hotspot with over 437,000 Western Union agents in over 200 countries.

5. Problems with getting in touch with your bank?

One of the most common problems I’ve found when people’s cards get blocked is that they can’t get in touch with their bank to unblock them. In fact, I met a guy in Ecuador over Christmas who had just this very problem. If you’re in this situation then you may want to try some of the following in order to get in touch with them as soon as possible;

  • Try the 24/7 lost and stolen line – Every bank in the Western world that I have encountered has a 24/7 line for lost or stolen cards. Now, whilst your cards might not be stolen, the same people who deal with lost/stolen cards should be able to unblock your cards or at least transfer you to someone who can. The main thing is just to get a number where you can contact your bank, and if you’re calling outside of office hours or during the holidays this may be the quickest way to do so if whatever number you’ve tried is unavailable?
  • Make sure you’ve input the international dialling code when calling – It’s amazing how many people forget this when they’re stressed, but when you call your bank you still need to put the international dialling code ahead of the number, e.g. for calling the UK it’s 0044 minus the 0 at the beginning. The same goes if you’re calling via Skype or any other calling app.
  • If all else fails, email – Whilst this is unlikely to get you an immediate response, if for some reason you just can’t get through via the phone then send them an email. They will get it at some point provided you send it to right address. They’ll probably want to speak to you by phone after they receive it as banks (as a general rule) won’t discuss accounts via email, but at least you might be able to break contact this way or they can send you a number that will work for them.

– And if all else fails ask for help. If you travel solo like I do then the first port of call is your hostel or hotel reception, friends you’ve made on the road, or in worse case scenarios the police. Whilst I didn’t need to do this in my recent situation of having my cards blocked, when I had my passport stolen in Amsterdam way back along with all my bank cards it was the police who put me in touch with a charitable organisation who helped me greatly until I could sort things out for myself. In fact, without their help I would have been really stranded. Anyway, I hope if you’re stuck in this situation that the information here has helped you out!

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5 Responses to “What to do when your bank blocks your bank cards abroad”

  1. John P says:

    Good advice. Never had this happen before but will keep it in mind.

  2. SnarkyNomad says:

    I’ve had stupidly absurd problems that drove me absolutely insane. I had a Bank of America card that would only work on Sundays. Really. No advance warning, of course, so I’d try to withdraw money from all sorts of different ATMs and they’d charge a fee EVERY TIME I attempted to withdraw money, so I racked up probably a hundred dollars in fees just because they had this weird Sunday-only functionality. No amount of phone calls to the bank would accomplish anything. I switched banks shortly thereafter, but then I went on a trip and 2 cards failed simultaneously for reasons that weren’t my fault. ARGH. Backups, kids. Have some.

  3. I always tell my bank when and where I go to avoid the blocking of my credit cards. I also travel with different cards from different banks to have minimum one working card. Until now my credit cards work well whereever I go. But thank you for the kind advice what I have to do if my bank will block my credit cards one day for security reasons.

  4. Raffaella says:

    Good advice. I had my card blocked while in Florence, even though I had notified my bank in advance. I then couldn’t get in touch with the international line (may have mis-dialed, who knows now!), so had to call up my mom stateside and have her call as me and get it sorted. Luckily she did, because at the time our spare card didn’t have much space on it!

  5. I hate it when that happens. I know they think they’re protecting you but, often, they just compound the problem by leaving you stranded. There’s got to be a better way. Like you said, it’s always good to carry cards from two different banks – just in case.

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