We're often told to call our credit or debit card provider before setting off on our travels to ensure our plastic isn't stopped abroad. But does this make a difference? The answer is: yes and no.

This is a Q&A with the key points you need to know with a bank-by-bank list further down (see our Cheap Overseas Cards to get the best plastic to use abroad).

Why would my card get stopped?

Spending abroad can mean you display an 'abnormal' spending pattern. This may result in your bank not immediately granting authorisation for a transaction.

Technically, your bank may not necessarily decline the payment straight away. Instead, it may ask you to call to confirm it really is you making the transaction, with security questions.

But this can be a hassle for a shop or restaurant. So it may tell you your card has been stopped, and ask for an alternative payment.

Should I call my bank before I leave?

Some providers will alter their fraud settings to reduce the chance of your card getting stopped, others won't.

Even if your bank is one of those which recommends you call it first, it doesn't guarantee your card will work first time. It just reduces the chance of a problem.

Once you've told your bank, it's likely one of the following three things will happen:

  • Nothing will be registered. This doesn't mean all transactions will be blocked, of course. In fact, some banks say that because their fraud detection systems have been improved, you don't need to call.
  • It'll put a written note on your account. This will detail where you are and how long for, but this will not actually change the settings to give you a better chance of your card working first time. It's literally just a note on the system for reference.
  • It'll change the account and/or fraud settings. Some banks may change the settings on your account to give transactions a better chance of going through first time. This will often be coupled with a written note.

A bank-by-bank list of who to call

In the list below, we suggest you call your bank if it will alter the settings — but not if it does nothing, or just puts a written note on your account.

Should you contact your bank before going away?

Provider Yes No
American Express   tick
Bank of Scotland tick  
Barclaycard   tick
Barclays   tick
Capital One   tick
Halifax tick  
HSBC tick  
Lloyds TSB tick  
Nationwide tick  
NatWest/RBS   tick
Santander   tick
Tesco   tick

Make sure your bank has your correct phone number

Many banks will call customers who have had their card blocked to resolve the issue, so it's important to check the bank has all your correct details.