Telling your bank you are travelling abroad

By Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Image caption,
Some banks restrict the countries you can notify them about

Some customers are becoming frustrated at requirements by their banks to inform them of their foreign travel plans, so their credit or debit cards are not blocked if used abroad.

If you travel infrequently and just to one country at a time, letting your bank know may not be much of a problem.

However Tim Meadowcroft from London travels a lot for work and often has to visit a whole series of countries in one trip.

Country limits

He says his bank, Santander, has told him on several occasions it will not allow him to register more than three countries per trip.

He finds that frustrating, as he told BBC Radio 4's Money Box

"If you're going to America it may not be too much of a problem, but if you're going across Europe, you're going into France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland it can be a real pain," he said.

It is not just business people who are affected.

Kate Love from Rutland is planning a touring holiday through Europe this summer.

But she was told by Barclays she could only register her debit card for use in two countries.

She believes that is too restrictive:

"I'm taking quite a bit of cash with me which seems a retrograde step," she says.

"It seems to be going a bit over the top, we've not had this issue before."

Security balance

Barclays confirmed customers could only register two countries at a time:

Image caption,
Some banks do not require you to notify them if you travel abroad

"As a rule, for the majority of our customers, the ability to register one country per trip is sufficient, which is why our current policy allows customers to register a maximum of two countries for any one trip," the bank said.

However it said it was looking again at this policy.

"We do however recognise that, for some customers, they want re-assurance when travelling through several countries so we are currently reviewing how we can enhance our current policy," said a spokesman.

Santander insists that customers can in fact register more than three countries and that Tim Meadowcroft was wrongly advised, even when he was repeatedly told he could not do that.

"We try our best to find a balance between providing security and enabling customers to use their card, especially when transactions are made abroad," said a spokesman.

"If a customer does want to make us aware of imminent travel, they can, even if they are travelling to more than three countries."

Varying policies

HSBC, American Express and RBS-Natwest all said ordinarily there was no requirement to notify them.

They do however urge customers to make sure their contact numbers are up to date, in case they needed to check a transaction with them.

Lloyds TSB, MBNA and Barclaycard would like customers to notify them in advance, but they said they have no strict limit on the number of countries you could register.

Barclaycard said customers could register Europe and that would cover them for all countries in that continent.

Manish Patel, from the fraud prevention firm Retail Decisions, believes customers are more likely to be required to notify their banks in future as they seek to minimize the of fraud risk in the current economic climate.

He says whilst some banks have invested heavily in flexible anti-fraud systems, the cost is preventing others from following suit.

"A lot of these technology changes require a complete restructuring of a bank's operating systems, so it's a massive piece of work," he points out.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box is broadcast on Saturdays at 1200 BST and repeated on Sundays at 2100 BST.

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