Banks recommended notification of travel plans

I have traveled often to Europe, Southeast Asia, South America and even Borneo and have used a debit card in all those countries, finding it the best method of securing local currency. Until our last trip we encountered no problems and our bank charged us no fee for the transactions.

In the past, we never notified our bank or credit card companies that we were leaving the country. Occasionally, if we made a large purchase abroad, on our return we received a call from the credit card company to verify its legitimacy.

In August ’03 we flew to Athens, Greece, to begin a 3-week Mediterranean cruise. Before leaving the States, I did speak with MasterCard to be sure my current bill was paid before leaving. They wanted to know where we were going and made a note of the countries we would be visiting. This was a fortunate step.

When our bank was Cal-Fed, we used our debit card with no restrictions and no charge with no prior notification of travel. Since their merger with Citibank, we have been charged for each ATM withdrawal, and use of our card was blocked after being used only three times in three weeks. I always carry cash and travelers’ checks, but the exchange rate is never as favorable as that with a debit card withdrawal.

In Athens I used a debit card at ATMs twice, withdrawing about $600 (in euros) from our checking account. On Mykonos I tried to use my Visa card to buy a rather expensive ring, but I was denied use of the card, even though my bill is paid in full each month. I used my MasterCard instead.

In Venice I made a $58 purchase with my debit card. We made no other purchases until reaching Barcelona at the end of the trip, then I tried to use the debit card to buy an inexpensive Lladro item ($172). Use of the card had been blocked although we had $9,000 in our checking account. Again, I used my MasterCard.

Upon our return, we had phone messages from the fraud departments of both Visa and Citibank (the issuer of the debit card) inquiring if we had tried to use the cards in Greece and Spain. I was furious because of our long history of travel and our lack of indebtedness to each of these companies.

I asked where it said in the fine print that notification had to be given that the customer would be traveling outside the country. There is no such stipulation. Each company rep said, “It is recommended that notification be given.”

I spoke to my bank’s branch manager and she read the entire disclosure and could find no such demand. She reversed the ATM fees.

Granite Bay, CA