I'm in Portugal at the moment, and my debit card (from a US bank) stopped working. Every ATM I have tried in the city (at least 8) says "Try another location" since Sunday, and purchases all result in "declined" since yesterday.

When I first noticed the problem Sunday, I happened across a few other travelers who were having the same problem, so thought it might just be a network problem. And at the time, I was still able to make purchases (just not withdrawals). Now I can't do either, and it's into the third day, so I'm a bit more concerned.

I called my bank, and they show no block on my account, and see no record of declined transactions. They say that my travel authorization is active, so there is no reason from their end the transaction should not go through.

I successfully made an online purchase from a US company today just to verify that my card is working.

I have a backup debit card a Bank of America, but I can't use it here, because all the ATMs here only allow for 6-digit PINs, and I have an 8-digit PIN. And I can't change the PIN on that card without going to a Bank of America branch in person.

Is there anything I can do? Is there at least a way to determine if there's a problem with the international banking network, or if my card has been blocked at some level higher than my bank (if that's even a possibility)?

  • 1
    Suggestion: Try going into a real bank branch, explaining the problem to one of the folks "on the platform" (ie, with more authority than a teller), and asking if they could submit a transaction for you and tell you where and why it's being rejected. – keshlam Nov 4 '14 at 16:11

As soon as you swipe your card, the payment data goes through a gateway, which then contacts your bank (to see if you have enough money in your account to cover the charge). If your bank has no record of declines or any transaction attempts, then your transactions are being declined before it ever reaches your bank (by the processor/gateway).

It would be strange for multiple merchants / Bank ATMs to decline the transaction before the auth hits the bank, so you may want to see if you can ask a merchant what the reason is for the decline (if they have that information available. That will more likely happen in a situation where you need to hand your card over to be swiped rather than a customer-facing POS)

I will note, though, that it's always a good idea to use a credit card rather than a debit card, when traveling. There's more support for international credit transactions than debit.

  • When you use a Visa/MC debit card as a credit card, shouldn't the support be identical? – AbraCadaver Nov 4 '14 at 18:12
  • The card BIN will read as a debit BIN by the processor and gateway long before consumer choice of credit/debit comes in to play – Noah Nov 4 '14 at 18:14

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