Capital One cards

Before leaving on my career break trip, I researched good banks for international travelers – banks that would refund out of network ATM fees and that wouldn’t charge foreign currency transaction fees. Several travelers recommended Capital One, so I dove right in, opening checking, savings and credit card accounts more than a year before I was set to leave.

Unfortunately, just over a month into my trip, I realized I had made a mistake. Capital One really isn’t all that great for travelers. Indeed, I’m in the process of switching banks before I head overseas again.

Here’s why:
 

My debit card wouldn’t work in a third of the ATMs overseas.

 
My Capital One debit card has a Mastercard logo on it, so it should work in any ATM sporting a Mastercard logo, right?

Not so much.

After my card was rejected by several ATMs in Russia (and actually confiscated by machines in St. Petersburg and Krasnoyarsk), a Capital One representative informed me that my debit card was part of the Cirrus network, meaning it would only work in ATMs that were also part of the Cirrus network. She advised me only to use the card in machines with that logo. How was I supposed to know that when my card did not have a Cirrus logo on it?

As it turns out, Cirrus-compatible machines are few and far between – at least in the regions where I was traveling (Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia). I sometimes had to try as many as 8 or 9 banks before finding an ATM that would accept my card. Many ATMs didn’t have any logos displayed on them, so I had no idea whether the card would be accepted or not – if it was a machine where I actually had to insert my card all the way, I usually didn’t want to risk having it confiscated again. In several cities (particularly in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), I just gave in and used my backup card (a Visa issued by US Bank), incurring both ATM fees and currency transaction fees.

ATM machine

See the blue Cirrus logo on the right? That’s what I had to look for on every ATM I wanted to use.


 

Capital One won’t send replacement cards overseas.

 
When I initially lost my debit card to an ATM in St. Petersburg, Russia, I reached out to Capital One about getting a replacement card sent to me in case I couldn’t retrieve it from the bank. As it turns out, they would only send a new card to my mailing address on record in the United States – if I hadn’t gotten my card back from the St. Petersburg bank, I would have had to wait until a replacement card was sent to my parents’ home in Minnesota so my parents could send it on to me in Russia (which, as it turns out, wouldn’t have been possible because Russia prohibits the import of credit and debit cards).

Other banks will send replacement cards. Charles Schwab sent a replacement card to Kate McCulley in Spain (albeit after she had to send them 7 faxes asking them to do so) and to Ryan Rubi in Belize. They also sent a new card to Val Bromann in Honduras and to a friend of Talon Windwalker in Canada who was on his way to visit him in Mexico. And it’s not just Charles Schwab – TD Bank sent a new card to Bobbi Lee Hitchon after she lost her card in Thailand.
 

Capital One was less than helpful when I lost my ATM card.

 
I recount the full story of losing my debit card in an ATM machine in St. Petersburg elsewhere, but here is the short version: an ATM confiscated my card. The bank owning the ATM was willing to release it to me if Capital One sent them a fax authorizing them to do so. Capital One refused.

There was a seemingly simple way to help a customer who had three accounts with the bank and they refused because they had a policy against sending “ad hoc” letters. I don’t doubt they have such a policy, but sometimes it’s appropriate to bend the rules to help a valued customer. Companies do it all the time. Indeed, officials at the Russian bank ended up changing their minds and letting me sign a form to get my ATM card back.

Everything worked out in the end, but it has stayed with me that a Russian bank with no incentive to make an exception for me was more willing to help me than my own bank was.
 

Capital One sided against me when I disputed a transaction.

 
After arriving in Batumi, Georgia, I headed to an ATM to withdraw Georgian lari. After inserting my card, entering my pin and punching in the amount of lari I wanted, the screen went blank. When it returned, the words were all in Georgian and completely indecipherable to me. My card popped back out after another minute, but no cash did and no receipt did. I assumed my transaction was rejected and breathed a sigh of relief that I got my card back and moved on in search of another ATM.

A couple days later, I checked my account online and saw a debit for approximately $150 from that same ATM. I immediately contacted Capital One to file a dispute, which was a hassle in itself. Capital One sent the dispute form by mail to my parents’ home, my parents scanned and emailed it to me, I completed it and scanned and emailed it back to my dad and my dad faxed it back to Capital One. This is 2013, right? Not being able to file disputes online or by email seems a little ridiculous.

Beyond that, my dispute was ultimately rejected because the owner of the ATM claimed I got the cash. There really is no way for me to prove I didn’t receive something, so it basically was my word against the owner of the ATM. And Capital One chose to side with some random bank in Batumi, Georgia over its own customer. Not cool at all.
 

Their fraud detection is a little questionable.

 
Which of the following series of transactions seems the most suspicious?

(A) Payment of hotel bill in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, followed by the purchase of separate flights from Kyrgyzstan to Latvia, Latvia to Spain and Spain to Chicago, followed by the purchase of train tickets from Nukus, Uzbekistan to Aktau, Kazakhstan. All in a few days.  All but the hotel bill online.

(B)Three trips to Target in Chicago over two days.

When I completed the transactions described in (A) last summer, I was almost expecting Capital One’s fraud department to contact me because I could see how they would look more than a little suspicious – especially since all except the hotel charge were online. I kind of wanted them to look into it, just to prove to me they were actually paying attention. They didn’t.

Instead, as I was making my move from Minneapolis to Chicago in January, three trips to Target over two days was enough to cause Capital One alarm. By the third trip, they froze my credit card. It took three phone calls over two more days to get it reactivated. I suppose I should be thankful they finally paid attention to something, but it seems ridiculous to me that a couple transactions completed in person in my home country got more attention than multiple transactions online overseas.
 

Goodbye Capital One, hello Charles Schwab

 
As a result of everything above, I am in the process of transferring my checking and savings accounts to Charles Schwab. Like Capital One, they do not charge foreign currency transaction fees and they refund ATM fees.  They also offer the same online bill pay and online transfer features as Capital One. I can also deposit checks through their mobile app.

Unlike Capital One, Charles Schwab will send a replacement card overseas (as confirmed by fellow travel bloggers mentioned above), even if it may be a bit of a hassle. And unlike Capital One, they have a physical presence in Chicago. I went in and actually met with a real live person as I opened my accounts and I have the email address and direct phone number of a banker who now knows me by name and face. No more being transferred five times and waiting on hold for ten minutes to get through to a faceless customer service representative if I run into problems.
 

Have you had issues with your bank while traveling?

 
Photo: Eliazar Parra Cardenas

Share Button

44 Responses to “Why Capital One Isn’t So Great for Travelers”

  1. Good tips here. We chose Charles Schwab before leaving on our 11-month trip, and have been extremely happy with them. In addition to not charging international ATM fees and reimbursing of other banks’ ATM fees, they have the best customer service of any company I’ve come across anywhere. When you call them, an actual human picks up the phone after just a few rings, and more often than not, that person is able to help you with whatever you need. I hope you have the same experience we’ve had!

    • Thanks Paige! I’m in the process of switching my accounts now, so hoping Charles Schwab will prove to be as great as everyone says!

  2. Great post. Sorry to hear Capital One was such a struggle. TD Bank was great in sending me out a new card, but I am thinking to move to a new bank anyway. TD’s charges are just getting to be too much for how often I’m abroad. Plus, I’ve had a few instances where their fraud protection was overbearing. I’ve not looked into Charles Schwab, but I will. I’m considering either HSBC or Bank of America. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on Schwab after you make the switch. Thanks!

    • Thanks Bobbi. I would think HSBC would be good – they have branches around the world, which is great if you’re traveling anywhere they have a branch.

      • Appreciate this very much. Looking to switch too, even for a few months to a Schwab account. Do you know if they have a maximum atm withdrawal amount and are they connected to the cirrus network?

        • Not sure about max withdrawals, but my debit card is Visa so it is luckily NOT part of the Cirrus network.

          • So you can use it any ATM right? And there will be no ATM fees…or better REIMBURSEMENT of ATM fees? But Schwab will not reimburse for the 2-3% a foreign bank may charge on the amount withdrawn, right? Have you had ANY trouble with this since you’ve switched? With no annual fee it sounds like it will be tough to beat Schwab!

          • Right, they reimburse ATM fees up to a certain amount every month. But no, they won’t reimburse any additional fees charged by a foreign bank. I haven’t had any issues but I have also only traveled internationally once (to Nepal) since I switched.

            I would still always travel with a backup as foreign ATMS can sometimes just be quirky and reject cards for no reason. And some countries tend to prefer Visa for transactions while others tend to prefer Mastercard.

  3. I don’t generally have problems when I’m traveling. I notify Bank of America and American Express before hand. But I do have Bank of America shut off my card frequently when I go to the Italian grocery store and have US online bills come through in the same day. I guess they are just doing their job and protecting my account, but it can be annoying.

  4. Sorry about your ordeal. Here’s a shocker. I was traveling with my mother on the big island of Hawaii, and her card was denied all over the place there and then her PIN number shut down after she tried it three times. I went to Alaska and had no problems, but I guess Hawaii should be considered a foreign country for ATM purposes. Strange but true.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. Capital One is the worst, but even I didn’t know they were this bad. It is shocking that you can’t take care of fraud cases online these days.

    My credit card company just got bought out by Capital One, so now I have an account with them again. I’m debating whether to close it out.

  6. Yay, Katie! Thanks for sharing this. This card is so often promoted by people who should know better as one of the best cards for travelers. I’ve always felt like the lone voice shouting “NO!” Thanks for helping spread the word :-)

    My experiences with Cap One are similar, but mostly bad customer service and refusal to provide a refund for merchandise that the seller refused to deliver (phone agents said it was a no-brainer and I’d be reimbursed, but every letter claimed I hadn’t provided the requested info so, after reams of faxes and many months, I gave up and cancelled the card).

    I’m still looking for the perfect card, but my spouse uses a Schwab card and all has gone well. . .

    • My pleasure!

      I didn’t even go into the annoying customer service and the fact that their customer service is not really available 24/7. While I could get through to someone on off hours, whoever was needed to actually try to help me was always only available during business hours US time. Big pain in the butt!

  7. You won’t regret it. Charles Schwab has the BEST customer service I have ever experienced. I know have three different accounts with them. I use their app to deposit checks too.
    I do use the Capital One credit card though but not very often. There’s no intl fees so it’s great while traveling. But my debit card/cash is through Schwab.

  8. I had a nightmare with my latest cards and they didn’t work in Rwanda AT ALL. Yet they worked from that same bank 3 years earlier and the bank could not explain it. They also kept freezing my card even though they knew I was LIVING in Kenya. It was frustrating. I also plan to use Charles Schwab as a close friend of mine living abroad uses it but do you know if you are required to open an investment account? That’s what I was told.

    • Ugh, how annoying!!

      So I just opened my Charles Schwab accounts and you do have to open a brokerage account that gets automatically linked to your checking, but you don’t have to fund it. There’s no annual fee, the account will just sit there.

  9. Yep, I know. We still use it, but carry two Cap One cards (one for each of us) and two Citi cards, so we always have 4 cards. But, my Citi ATM has expired and they won’t send me a new one overseas. So, we are down to 3 until we figure it out. My biggest beef with Cap One is that they randomly turn off my card periodically. We need to call them every 2 or 3 countries, even though we give them a travel list ahead of time. Sometimes that is a pain b/c they are only open M-F 9-5, not really fitting with my timezones. And, they amaze me with things like “you said you would be using your card in Guatemala and El Salvador, but there is a withdrawal here from some place called ‘Honduras’, so was that you? How far is that?” Seriously.

    One of the last times I spoke to them they told me I could not use my card overseas for longer than 6 months – I will need to return to the US, or cancel my account. I told them, that was new, but ignored it. My Citi now has no foreign transaction fees, so I use it more, but have been thinking about other options like Schwab, which I hear good things about.

    Sorry you had these problems, but thanks for sharing!

    • I luckily never had problems with them turning off my card – even though they told me my initial notification of being overseas would only be good for like 6 months.

      I saw a lot of Citibank branches while I was traveling, so I kind of wish I had an account with them – HSBC was also very common where I was.

  10. Hiya Katie! You won’t regret the switch to Schwab. Like Michael said, they have great customer service. Super easy to work with – probably because they are used to travelers. I recently moved all of my banking to Schwab and couldn’t be happier. So sorry to read that you had so many issues with Capital One! I’ve been thinking about getting a Venture credit card with them – did you have issues with using just the credit card?

    • Only issue with the credit card was that they froze it AFTER I returned when I was moving from Minneapolis to Chicago and making a lot of purchases. Because my mailing address was in MN and I made 3 trips to Target in Chicago, that looked suspicious. Took me a couple days to get resolved.

  11. Wow… After reading this list I’m not sure if I will use my Capital One anymore. I have some issues with them living in Germany. They said that they can put a “travel notification” on my account, but that will only last 30 days. When I told them I live in Europe they actually said “We don’t know how we could help you.” Yeah, ditch capital one.

  12. Living in Germany and traveling around Europe we’ve had some issues with capital one. Like when we would drive to Paris, sometimes it would work in the toll booth, sometimes it wouldn’t. Had no idea what the difference was. I’m thinking we are going to ditch them. Especially after reading this.

  13. In my opinion the best possible way to get major corporations to do anything is to shame them publicly. I’ve had issues with all sorts of companies, and quite often, after the initial encounter fails to live up to what I feel are perfectly reasonable customer service standards, I’ll just right over that guy’s head and report it to someone higher up. Usually that works quite well.

    Unfortunately it didn’t with Bank of America, and I did exactly what you did, and tried every single ATM I could find. The logo situation was completely meaningless. What’s more, I was charged a transaction fee every time I tried to withdraw cash, even if it didn’t work. That’s right, I was charged a withdrawal fee for no withdrawal. Many, many times. For one month, my card would only work on Sunday. No explanation, no warning, no nothing. Just Sunday service only. I obviously couldn’t figure out this pattern until it happened several times in a row, and was in the middle of nowhere in Spain with no cash. I bought a box of cereal because it seemed like the best dollar-to-calorie-to-perishability ratio I could find. No amount of phone calls remedied anything at all. I switched banks pretty soon after I got back home.

    Just thought I’d share yet another tale of banks not looking out for their customers.

    • oh man, BofA majorly screwed me over too on my most recent trip to Italy. The day I was heading back home, I needed cash to pay the city tax to my hotel, and also possibly to get a taxi to the airport. I ran around to three different ATMs which wouldn’t give me cash. Of course, with the badly-translated error messages, I couldn’t figure out right away that the problem was with my account and not with the machines themselves. Back at the hotel, panicking that I wasn’t going to be able to pay my bill and that I was about to miss my plane, I tried calling the customer service number on the back of the card. They took me through some automated thing to verify that I tried getting cash from an ATM, but I couldn’t get a human on the line because it was Sunday and the number I was calling only has operators during business hours. I found out later that there’s a different 24/7 customer service number that you can call if you run into trouble like this while traveling, but why isn’t it printed on the card???

      I have a credit card with Capital One, and I’ve never had a problem with them so far, so I was considering switching my primary bank to them, too. Thanks, OP, for this very useful post though – I think I’ll try Schwab instead.

  14. Great tips! I might have to change bank accounts soon too.

  15. Glad to read this! I’m still in the process of trying to figure out which bank to go with for rtw travels. After reading this, my mind is made up. Will be going with Schwab. Thanks fr the tips.

  16. Shannon Maddy says:

    I’ve had issues as well, but only beginning recently. Suddenly I’m thinking, if you don’t want me as a customer, you can just tell me rather than the passive aggressive behavior of randomly declining things. I first had a decline this winter when making a purchase in Kansas City, and when I called, they claimed I had received a voice mail from their fraud department, which I never received, and I was speaking to them on the phone they allegedly left the message on. However, since it said so in their system, they were right and I was wrong. Recently I traveled out of state again, calling to tell them I was traveling and when, and was assured all was fine, only to travel and have transaction after transaction declined. When I called they said their system was down and they had no record of me making arrangements. Also – when you make a payoff – they hold half the funds for a riduculous amount of time – something I’ve not encountered anywhere else. Capital One – were the customer is always wrong and is always a liar, evidently.

  17. Oh, aren’t banks fun? I have to say that my bank, Lloyds TSB, are actually pretty good when it comes to the whole fraud thing. They’ll contact me if they think something looks odd and while it may be frustrating to have a purchase declined, when they explain it to me, I understand why it triggered something in the first place. The only thing that annoyed me was in my last week in South Korea, after three years there, they declined me a cash withdrawal and asked, “so are you in South Korea?”…yes, for three years now.

    Hope you have better luck with Charles Schwab!

  18. Wish I had seen this a week ago! I used Capital One all last year traveling in countries throughout Asia and South America and never once had any trouble whatsoever. But I have just arrived in Estonia and about to head into Russia which is I guess where you had your issues. I guess it is the luck of the draw, it obviously works famously some countries and not so great in others. Of well, I guess I will just try and draw out as many roubles as I am able at the first bank that accepts the card in Russia.

    • Avoid Sberbank at all costs in Russia – that was the one that ate my card both times. Keep an eye out for the Citibanks – there are several in Moscow and St Petersburg and I felt the most comfortable withdrawing money from them. My rule now is also to always try to use an ATM that is connected to or inside a bank so if you do have problems, there is someone you can talk to right away.

  19. Yikes! Cap One isn’t my favorite, so I opened an ING account a while back…then they merged with Cap One. Ugh. I did have to dispute a charge from an ATM in Vang Vieng and they refunded the money without any hassle, so I guess that’s good. But then, I couldn’t get my card to work at any machines in Bogota. I may have to look into Charles Schwabb.

  20. It sounds like Capital One was not kind to you! I have a Captial One credit card that I use abroad to charge things like hotels and tickets, but I don’t have a checking account with them. For the most post I had no problems, perhaps because I wasn’t using it to take out cash just to make direct charges. I did have one incident in Budapest where it was rejected for a Parliament tour ticket. I called in a panic and they just said no, nothing is wrong. It was the machine they were using? It’s good to know it doesn’t seem to be the answer for banking in particular.

    • Yes, and it sounds like I am not alone! I will probably continue to use their credit card, though, for the points (and because I never really had any problems aside from being frozen when shopping in Chicago!).

  21. Keep BOTH! You’ll need it, we’ve been in places where no ATMs accept the Schwab card and others where Capital One isn’t accepted, having both saved us many times. If you lose or get locked out of one, you always have the other…

  22. I love Schwab and use them as well. Lost my card and they sent one right over.

  23. Wow Katie! I have never heard about anybody who would have so many problems with a bank! They are awful, it makes me quiet grateful to my bank, which I always complain about because they only gave me a Polish Zlotych and Euro ATM’s card and they don’t want to give me Sterling Pounds, Swiss Franks and Dollars, while I have accounts in those currencies!
    I take all my complains back after reading your article!

  24. Nathalie says:

    Oh, this is very helpful information! My biggest problem with Capital One is that it doesn’t work in the majority of ATMs (I guess that’s the cirrus problem). Now my big question is, does Schwab work in more ATMs?

    • I’m assuming so because my debit card is Visa not Mastercard and I have never had an issue anywhere with a Visa card working.

  25. Unfortunately everyone has a problem with their bank at some time, if they travel long and extensively enough. I have used CapitalOne–in Russia, Ukraine, other places in Eastern Europe as well as all over the world–without problems. However, I used my PayPal debit card the most often. Once I left my card in the machine in Lviv and went back the next day assuming the worst. But the bank held the card for me, it was unbelievable! On the other hand, my partner has had major problems with HSBC including a similar instance you had with a disputed transaction. It was in Argentina. He most certainly did not get the cash but the bank said they did, and HSBC took their side. The key advice I would give travelers is to have more than one bank/debit card, two or more is best.

  26. Rod Sissel says:

    I’ve been traveling overseas and using my CapOne ATM (almost weekly) for 3 years…no problems. Today, an ATM kept my card “at your bank’s request.”

    I called Capital One. Their response, “We are a US bank. If you want to continue to use our services, you’ll need to return to the US. When do you plan to come home?”

    “I’m not sure. When do I need to tell you?”

    “Well, you have 3 business days. I’ve already notified my supervisor of the situation.”

    I’m reading between the lines, but here’s my take on the situation.

    The free ATM card and reimbursed fees are costing them too much, and they don’t want me as a customer anymore.

    My guess…

    I’ll be looking elsewhere too…kinda have to.

    • Capital One is the worst card I have ever had. My GM card thru HSBC was great for twenty plus years, then they were taken over by capital one. What a change for the worse. They shut our card off for all kind of random reasons, the latest while my wife is traveling, so she is left with a card that’s turned off. If I can’t trust this card won’t work because somebody in the Philippines turns the card off. idiots, why have their card?

      The odd thing is, my son travels all over the country, never has anybody call from the fraud dept.? We are low risk retirees, hardly travel very far and have a perfect credit record. Capital One is horrible. Call their customer assistance in the Philippines and they really are a smug uncaring bunch. Thanks for nothing capital one.

  27. I’m in the process of dumping my Capitol One card as well, and for one of your listed reasons. My ATM card stopped working this week yet I’m still in Bangkok for another 3 weeks. No way to access my money and Capitol One won’t send me a replacement card. So I’m having to get my father to wire me cash with a very expensive $60 fee attached.

    Won’t be using Capitol One again, and am switching to Schwab as many friends use them with no problems.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Choosing Credit and Debit Cards for Travel - Travel Made Simple - […] don’t recommend Capital One for travelers because I had several problems with their debit card when 2 separate ATMs …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge