What to do if your debit card is blocked abroad

You’re enjoying your trip through Europe and stopping at a quaint coffee shop for breakfast. When you go to pay, the waiter whispers that your debit card was declined. You immediately wonder why and search your wallet to see if you have enough cash.

If you’re wondering what to do if your debit card is blocked abroad, it’s best to call your bank. Sometimes your card gets declined because of an error, or your bank suspects fraud. Before you travel, it’s a good idea to let your card issuer know you’re going on vacation.

Barring that, there are cases where banks flag accounts for fraud even with a heads up. You may also have insufficient funds in your account, or the card expired

Let’s look at what you can do if your debit card is blocked while you’re overseas.

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What To Do If Your Debit Card is Blocked Abroad

If your debit card is blocked while you’re on an international trip, don’t panic. There’s usually a simple explanation that requires an easy fix. Banks often cut off or freeze accounts when they suspect fraud.

Traveling and using your card outside your area is usually a red flag. It’s not a problem when you typically have transactions from retailers in your home country or state. But now your bank sees transactions coming through from somewhere else.

They immediately think that someone must have stolen your card or its information. So to prevent you from losing any more money, they cut off the card. You can often avoid this by letting your bank know of your travel plans beforehand.

When you plan on traveling overseas, let your bank know two to four weeks before you go. Some mobile apps and online account features let you enter the details yourself. Call your card issuer and speak to a rep if these options aren’t available.

How Do I Unfreeze or Unblock My Card?

If your debit card is declined, you’ll want to verify it’s blocked. Before you leave on your trip, download your card issuer’s mobile app on your phone. But if your bank doesn’t have an app, you can use a browser to sign in to your account.

You can usually see if your debit card is active from your account settings. You may also want to check your account messages or notifications. Sometimes your bank will send you a message saying they’ve frozen your account for suspected fraud.  

If you discover your bank blocked your debit card, call them. Since you’re calling internationally, the toll-free number won’t work. You’ll need to use their international dialing instructions and number.

Speak to a customer service rep or someone in the card issuer’s fraud division. Let them know you’re traveling and where. You may need to review and verify all foreign or attempted transactions.

Bring More Than One Card

When you travel, it’s a good idea to bring more than one card. Ideally, those cards are from different banks or issuers. If one bank cuts off your debit card, you’ll have another way to pay.

Astute travelers are always prepared for worst-case scenarios. Don’t rely on one debit card to get you through your trip. You don’t have to bring every card you have, but having a debit and credit card is beneficial.

After all, you may not want to expose your debit card information at some retailers. Others might only take credit cards or ones from specific card issuers. When you have more than one option, you can budget and plan your spending better.

Say you’d rather charge your incidentals than use a debit card. You’ll have more fraud protection and can pay when you get home. Plus, you won’t expose the funds in your checking account to potential loss.

Wire Yourself Some Money

If you’re abroad and discover your debit card’s expired, there’s not much you can do there. You probably have a new card waiting for you back home. And you’ll have to wait until you return to swap out cards.

But what do you do in the meantime? This is another reason you should take more than one card with you on your trips. However, let’s say this expired debit card is all you’ve got.

Luckily, there are Western Union locations throughout the world. You can get online and wire yourself money from your checking account to the nearest branch. Getting your money will take a few hours (or more).

You’ll also pay fees and have to get yourself to the location. This may mean returning to a restaurant to pay for your meal or leaving souvenirs behind. And ideally, there is a Western Union location within walking distance.

Ask a Family Member or Friend

If you’re traveling solo, you can call a friend or family member back home for help. They can wire you some money, and you can pay them back when you return. You’ll have to rely on their generosity and patience.

Don’t forget to include the fees when you pay family and friends back. And be careful about how much you borrow. It’s best to only ask for what you need to get you through the rest of your trip.

You’ll also have to be careful about the instructions you give family and friends. Be sure to get the Western Union location details right the first time. If you’re traveling with a group, you might be able to skip these steps.

See if they’ll help you pay for food and souvenirs on their cards. Or if they can withdraw some cash for you. Then, when you return home, you can make arrangements to pay them back.

Preventing Problems Before You Go

Before you leave on your trip, there are several steps you can take to prevent money problems. Even if your debit card is blocked, you won’t have to break a sweat. You’ll have a solid game plan you can execute regardless of what happens.

Prepay for Most Expenses

Paying upfront for most of your travel costs is the way to go. You can’t book your airline tickets without doing this. But you can also prepay your hotel stay and transportation.

Getting these major costs out of the way won’t get you into a sticky situation. You don’t want to have your debit card blocked when you check out your hotel. This could cost you and prevent you from moving on to the next portion of your trip. 

Prepaying with a U.S. card is easier because your bank is less likely to get suspicious. And you can plan to pay off a good portion of your trip before you travel. You’ll also get a better idea of how much you can afford to spend on incidentals.

Call Your Bank

The importance of notifying your bank of your travel plans cannot be stressed enough. If you speak to a rep over the phone, verify that they’re noting your account. Provide your bank with as many details as possible.

These include where you’re going, your travel dates, and whether you’ll be switching between locations. If the rep asks for cities, let them know this info. Otherwise, you can supply the names of the countries you’ll be visiting.

Purchase Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks can be a backup method if your debit card is blocked. Although traveler’s checks may seem outdated or clunky, you’ll be grateful for them in a pinch. You don’t have to take out a lot but enough to tide you over in an emergency.

Transfer Money to a Digital Wallet

A secondary debit card is one way to access the money you’ve got in a digital wallet account. But you can also send money to your friends while traveling. So if your primary debit card is frozen, you’ll have a simple way to get money from your friends.

Have your friends pay on your behalf with their cards. You can pay them back via PayPal or Venmo within minutes. Or you can send money to their accounts and have them withdraw it for you as cash.

Some merchants might even accept digital wallet payments without a card. You can send it to their PayPal or Venmo email address or account name. Then it won’t matter if your debit card is expired or turned off.

Final Thoughts

Call your bank first if you’re unsure what to do if your debit card is blocked abroad. There is a good chance they’ve put a temporary hold on your card. The most typical reason is suspected fraud.

Other reasons can be expired cards, insufficient funds, and processing errors. You can prevent problems by notifying your bank before traveling, carrying backup cards, and prepaying major expenses.

You can also prepare for the worst-case scenario with alternative payment methods. These methods include transferring money to a digital wallet account and purchasing traveler’s checks. Happy travels!


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John is the founder of TightFist Finance and an expert in the field of personal finance. John has studied personal finance for over 10 years and has used his knowledge to pay down debt, grow his investment portfolio, and launch a financial based business. He is committed to sharing content related to personal finance based on his experience in his career, investing, and path towards reaching financial independence.