Millions of Britons jetting off on their summer holidays should call their credit or debit card company before leaving to help prevent their plastic getting blocked.

Some providers will alter fraud settings to reduce the chances of your card getting stopped, but others won't, meaning a call isn't vital for everyone (see the Cheap Travel Money guide).

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

Why are cards stopped overseas?

When abroad, you display an 'abnormal' spending pattern, so providers sometimes suspect fraud and often ask the retailer to phone through to identify the cardholder.

Yet shops, restaurants, hotels and other firms usually treat an authorisation request as a decline as they don't want a hold-up which can create a large queue.

What happens when you call your card provider in advance?

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

  • Not register anything. This doesn't mean transactions will automatically get declined overseas, though it may happen eventually.

  • Put a note on your account. This won't prevent a red flag that triggers the authorisation request and likely subsequent 'decline'.

  • 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 table of major credit and debit card firms' practices below. Where firms do nothing or just put a note on your account, we have grouped those under the 'no' category as, in most cases, a call will not help.

Should you call your card firm before going abroad?

Yes – it'll boost your chances of acceptance
No – makes little difference
Alliance & Leicester / Santander
American Express
Capital One
Halifax / Bank of Scotland
Lloyds TSB
Post Office

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 card company 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 that 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, building societies and credit card firms tend to ring or text customers when they suspect a suspicious transaction. If your provider has your number, it can easily contact you to ensure your card is accepted next time.

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 Halifax Clarity card is the best credit card to use overseas as it has no foreign exchange fee worldwide, so you get the best rate possible. Plus, it doesn't charge for cash withdrawals, although you will be charged interest on cash.

The top debit card is the Nationwide FlexAccount's plastic which charges no commission in Europe (1% elsewhere) and has no cash withdrawal fees (see the Cheap Travel Money guide for full details and alternatives).

Further reading/Key links
Save on your travel money costs: Cheap Travel Money,
Cut the cost of holidays: Cheap Flights, Cheap Hotels, Cheap Travel Insurance