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I am an American, and I have an American Visa debit card with "PLUS", "NYCE", and "AFFN" written on the back.

Several months ago, I traveled out of state to California and was surprised to have my card rejected at all ATMs there. (It still functioned as a debit card at shops however.) After I got back, I called and complained, and was told that I should call them before travelling.

Although no bank had ever obliged me to do so, I did so -- I called them beforehand to tell them I would be on the road throughout February and March, and asked them to not do any fraud protection for these months. However, my card was refused again.

I went to my local bank branch to complain -- they confirmed that I had called them beforehand, and that there was a note on my record -- and they were unable to explain what had happened. They told me to call some second number. (The one listed on the back of my card.) The person who answered my phone told me that my card "should have worked", but things would "work better" if I called this second phone number instead in the future.

Is this a common experience? Should I have any reason to believe that if I call this second number, that my ATM card will work in the future? Or should I take this as a sign that I should get an account with a second (perhaps bigger) bank?

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I have never experienced exactly this issue, with multiple banks over years of inter-state and inter-national travel. It might help if you tell us which bank you're using. –  Flimzy Apr 8 at 21:17
    
Your card was rejected at all ATMs where? –  Karlson Apr 8 at 21:20
    
Flimzy: I am using Synovus, which is a regional bank based in the southeast. I moved to the southeast recently; I had also never experienced this before. Karlson: The first time in Palo Alto; the second time in San Francisco International Airport. –  Frank Thorne Apr 8 at 21:21
    
Same experiences with the stupid Discover card. Wouldn't lemme buy even coffee at Dubai airport. !?!?!?! –  happybuddha Apr 9 at 1:12
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My bank has a website where I can set the fraud detection parameters/select the region of the world I authorize my card to be used. It's based in Europe so it won't help you but you might find a bank offering something like that where you are. –  Relaxed Apr 9 at 8:34

4 Answers 4

Try calling them when you're at the ATM.. they have some very tetchy fraud protection algorithms these days.. We found my traveling companion's card rejected due to some weird issue but they were able reset the flag on her account with a fairly brief phone call. Based on your experience though, a backup method of getting cash would seem to be in order.

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When it comes down to it, it's often a people problem rather than a system problem. Someone could accidentally write down the note and forget to press the button, or mis-read a flag on your account.

With HSBC in the UK, I travelled to all sorts of countries without notifying them, and despite their 'security', never got flagged or blocked. South Africa, Argentina, Morocco, Egypt, no problems...which to me was convenient. Until I got to Bolivia and really really needed it, naturally, that's when it finally got flagged :/

Other times I've notified a bank and still had the card blocked because the system was slow, or someone had clicked the wrong country, or another algorithm flagged it for a different reason (eg multiple ATM withdrawals in one day in a foreign country).

To be safe, always have multiple ways of getting cash. When an ATM swallowed my card in Uzbekistan, I could switch to my other one, and when that failed, at least I had a credit card or two. Carry some emergency cash as well, just in case the ATM network is down (found that out the hard way in Zambia).

What it comes down to, I guess - don't assume the banking system is infallible, and be prepared.

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I live between Japan and the US, and travel regularly in Europe and SE Asia. My American bank issued credit cards regularly get blocked for suspected fraud (I should note that two cards have actually been defrauded before).

My solution is to have three credit cards and two debit/check cards spread across two banks so that I always have a backup, and also its good to carry some US cash as its exchangeable everywhere but Yen and Euros aren't (but not US $100 bills -- they have been counterfeited by other governments so much that its hard to find places that will accept them in some countries). Card blocks are annoying, but being stranded sucks worse.

I've called my banks enough that I have their support numbers in my phone and on a card in my wallet. The fraud department is simply something I've had to learn to work with instead of against (its a waste of 15 minutes to an hour, granted, so best done in the evening over a beer). They say "notify us if you travel" but I'm "traveling" by their definition about 90% of the time so this hasn't ever had much effect. Almost every time I go somewhere for the first time in a few months at least one card gets shut off.

Card theft is simply a profound annoyance. It is good to keep in mind that Visa really is trying to protect themselves and you. I was pretty upset about this whole card shutoff thing until the first one really was defrauded and Visa refunded my money within a day or two of me catching it. The card shutoff thing didn't help me there, but Visa just took my word for it and hooked me up (it was $6,000, btw) and my bank sent a new chipped card to the hotel I was staying at. So I'm a lot more patient with the fraud department now than I used to be.

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I didn't know these fraud protection measures existed within the US, but they are not uncommon in Europe. They even became more strict recently. In general I am quite happy with this protection. Only three years ago, my bank called me if it is possible that I withdrew money from Brussels and Chicago on the same day. I guess this happened on a regular base and at least in Europe the bank usually takes the loss. From that perspective I can understand their protection mechanisms. You could try to change banks, but I wouldn't be surprised if the other bank might get a bit more stringent as well.

One solution it to rely less on Cash. I know from experience that this is possible in both California and Florida. Before boarding the plane I exchanged $100 from EURO's as emergency cash.

The reason is also that compared to the banks in Europe, American Banks are apparently quite liberal in what they can ask for the usage of their ATM's with foreign cards (ranging from nothing to $25 per transaction). That is on top of what my bank is asking for currency exchange rates. Because of this I try to minimize the use of ATM's in the US.

So far I have always managed to have a great time with less then $20 of my cash used. I paid all my other expenses with either one of my Credit Cards (AMEX and MC). There were some shops that didn't except foreign credit cards, but the shop next door always did.

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