We're often told to call our credit or debit card provider before setting off on our travels to ensure our plastic is not stopped abroad.

But does this make a difference? The answer is: yes and no. Some providers will alter their fraud settings to reduce the chance of your card gets stopped, others won't.

This is a quick Q&A guide to help holidaymakers know which firms to call, plus further tips to help ensure you can spend hassle-free while away.

However, just because cards work abroad, it doesn't make them good value. The Cheap Travel Money guide has card-by-card tips to cut spending costs.

Why are cards often stopped overseas?

When abroad, you display an 'abnormal' spending pattern, so providers sometimes suspect fraud.

What happens when you call your card provider in advance?

Issuers have varying policies. Your bank or card company will either:

  • Not register anything on its internal systems. This doesn't mean transactions will automatically get declined overseas, though it may happen eventually.
  • Put a note on your account. This means a transaction will be accepted if the retailer calls through. However, the note won't prevent the red flag and many retailers treat an authorisation request as a decline as they don't want customers held up in a queue.
  • Or, alter settings to allow normal-looking transactions. This does not mean all transactions will go through automatically, but it lessens the likelihood of a decline.

Which firms are worth calling?

We have compiled a list of major card firms' practices. If, looking at the table below, your card company allows normal-looking transactions when you inform it, customers should DEFINITELY make the call (see the saynoto0870 guide to cut call centre call costs).

For instance, the 11.7 million customers with the UK's largest credit card provider, Barclaycard, should inform the provider as it will then allow normal-looking transactions in your destination country.

Where firms do nothing or just put a note on your account when you inform them, we have grouped those under the same category as, in most cases, a call will NOT lessen the chances of a problem occuring.

Should you contact your card provider before going abroad?

Yes it will then allow 'normal' transactions
No makes little difference
Alliance & Leicester
American Express
Capital One
HBOS (i)
Lloyds TSB

(i) Halifax & Bank of Scotland
Where provider issues credit and debit cards the information is relevant to both. All information correct on 25 July, 2009.

Ensure you have your provider's contact details

Before you leave, make a note of your credit or debit card provider's contact number. It is often found on the back of your card, though you'll also find it on a bill or online.

If your card is blocked, a quick call to your bank can solve the problem (see the Cheap Mobile Roaming guide to cut overseas call costs) as you can then prove it was you who made the transaction.

This is particularly important for customers with card firms who don't alter their fraud settings when you call in advance.

Ensure it has your mobile number

It's worth informing your plastic provider if you think it doesn't have your correct mobile number, either by registering the number online, where applicable, or doing so by phone.

Banks and credit card firms tend to ring customers when they suspect a suspicious transaction. So, if your provider has your number, it can easily contact you to ensure your card is accepted next time.

Dan Plant, MoneySavingExpert.com money analyst, says: "If your company is listed as one that allows transactions if you inform it, it's vital to ensure you give it a ring.

"Also ensure you have your provider's number and it has your number."

Best overseas cards

If you're going away soon, you're stuck with your current set of cards.

If your trip is at least three or four weeks away, consider applying for a cheap card to use abroad, as it should arrive in time, if there are no glitches.

The Cheap Travel Money guide lists the best plastic and reveals the cards to avoid.