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Trip Report: How my cards worked in Europe

First of all, I would like to thank all the people who have posted on these topics patiently over the last year. I used what I learned on the forums and feel that things worked very, very well for me on my trip.

Credit Card: I went with Andrews Credit Union as it is a true chip and pin card with no foreign transaction fees. I was only asked for the pin twice. The remainder of the times I was asked for a signature. If a person is running the transaction, it seems that they want a signature. If it is an automated machine, a pin was required. I'm home now and checked the exchange rate I was given against the exchange rate that was listed in the newspaper each day. It was identical. The chip and pin technology, good exchange rate, lack of foreign transaction fees, and ease of use made me quite glad with this choice.

Debit Card: I went with Charles Schwab investor Checking Account/Debit Card as suggested on this forum. I didn't want to use my regular debit card for several reasons. The Charles Schwab was great. No ATM fees, no foreign transaction fees, and a good exchange rate just like the Andrews card. I used ATM machines in 3 different countries without any difficulties or problems. Although this account is called an investor checking account, you are not required to fund an investment account to open this card. You only have to fund the checking account.

It took some preplanning to open these two accounts primarily for travel expenses, but I was very glad that I did. The lack of fees and the good exchange rate made my trip a better bargain and very convenient for tracking expenses.

Posted by
2762 posts

Carol, it would be helpful to know what countries you are talking about. Our experience with a "true chip and pin" card ( USAA) was quite different. In the UK and Italy, we were always handed the device to enter out PIN, never asked to sign.

Posted by
2954 posts

Sasha, I was in Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. I used the credit card primarily for lodging and transportation. It might be the countries or the types of transactions that made the difference.

Posted by
12099 posts

@ Carol....I was over where you were for a few weeks this past May/June, used a Bank of America credit chip and signature card..not exactly what you had but the experience was similar. Each vendor (hotel, restaurant, train station, etc) knew what the card was and each time I had to sign, was never asked for the PIN. In Paris I thought the waitress thought my card was taking a bit long (maybe it was just my subjective feeling), so I said that it was going to work (ça va marcher, Madame.) It did. I also the checked the exchange rates afterwards, no difference.

Posted by
672 posts

We've been in Tallinn, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Berlin, and are currently in Dresden and have had no problems using our chip and signature card everywhere. I even used it in a machine in the Dresden train station and bought tickets with ease.

Posted by
12099 posts

True...no problem with the chip and signature credit card at DB ticket machines (Automaten). For us Americans with the chip and signature credit card or the magnetic stripe card re: train ticket machines, Germany and Austria are the most accommodating, ie, insert the card and it works period, unlike in France, Holland, and Belgium.

Posted by
10 posts

Just returned from extensive travel in Spain and Italy (plus Paris). Used the card primarily for hotels, restaurants, gas and entertainment (opera in Verona, aerial tram in South Tyrol, etc). Never once asked for our PIN.

Posted by
49 posts

Carol,

You said "Although this account (Charles Schwab) is called an investor checking account, you are not required to fund an investment account to open this card. You only have to fund the checking account."

That's encouraging. If that's so, I'm going to try and get a checking account with them. When I first browsed through their site I was intimidated when I read that I had to have an investment account with them.

Jo

Posted by
2040 posts

But you must OPEN that other account with it, even though it can always be empty. Been there, doing that.
BTW, the Schwab card is Chipped, and works as such.

Posted by
49 posts

Yes, got it, Larry; thanks. Was careless with my words. I will have to open both accounts, to be able to use the checking account.

Jo

Posted by
4499 posts

Just to clarify, the Andrews Credit Union is a chip and signature card, like almost every other US chip card. The difference and convenience is that it also has an encoded PIN as a secondary validation. Your experience is exactly how it works: you will always be prompted to sign a receipt or touchpad unless it is an automated machine, in which case it will prompt for a PIN.

Posted by
276 posts

I had a card that was supposed to be chip and signature and supposed to ask for the pin in automated devices. The reality is I ended up using cash in those devices. Often I had to waste time seeking out a ticket machine that took cash after my chipped card failed to work. The experience was so frustrating that I simply desired to use cash for just about everything but the hotel bills. Why Americans have to be treated like 2nd class work citizens by our banks is beyond me.

Posted by
1005 posts

@Barnstormer The sad truth is that no foreign credit card will work in all places at all times in Europe. That's why it is important to also carry cash, especially if you may be using some kind of ticket machine, toll booth, gas pump, or parking garage kiosk. If you want to increase the chances of your card working in these situations, you need to look for a true chip-and-PIN card, not a chip-and-signature card. Most US credit cards with a chip are chip-and-signature. There are some that are true chip-and-PIN cards, such as the Andrews Federal Credit Union card, which I use and have found to work well in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Other true chip-and-PIN cards are issued by the US State Department Credit Union, Barclaycard, and even some Wells Fargo cards (look for Visa Signature). There is a list maintained by the Flyertalk forum that rates US credit cards with chips here. For true chip-and-PIN cards that work at machines, you should look for cards that have "chip-and-PIN (off-line)" capability.

Posted by
12099 posts

True, ...Belgium, France and Holland make it difficult for Americans holding the chip and signature or magnetic stripe credit card since their machines won't accept them or even the staffed ticket counter. Germany and Austria are the most accommodating in that their machines accept US credit cards, ie the chip and signature. I had no problem in Germany and Austria using the chip and signature.

Posted by
12099 posts

The pictorial on the Deutsche Bahn ticket machine shows just how accommodating it is, ie, how the machine accepts the magnetic stripe credit card (for us Americans) and the chip cards, or plain cash both coin and currency.

Posted by
3 posts

That is great to hear that the Charles Schwab debit card did not incur any international fees while you traveled. I just got this card for my trip to Europe in September and have been worrying that I might be missing the fine print somewhere and could possibly still incur foreign fees. Did you have any issues with Charles Schwab placing a hold on your debit card at all after purchasing things abroad? I have read in some places that travelers have run into this issue while in Europe with this card, but was not sure how common it is. Thanks!

Posted by
1093 posts

This is a common problem with all credit / debit cards. The solution is to notify the card issurer that you are going to be in Europe. Some of my cards I can do that on line.

Posted by
31 posts

I have the Schwab debit card for travel this fall, particularly in Italy. Has anyone used it at automated ticket kiosks, such as those for vaporetto passes in Venice?

Simon