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American Express vs. VISA use in Europe

Hi all: I am an avowed Amex fan but finding that VISA is being asked for more often. Mainly asking how available others have found Amex? Traveling in France, Italy, Switzerland and The Netherlands. Experiences and thoughts welcomed!

Posted by
21709 posts

The Am Express will be accepted at some of the higher end places but not at most of the tourist sites, restaurants, etc. Leave it home. It has little use in Europe. It is either Visa or MasterCard.

Posted by
4675 posts

There are some exceptions around Europe where Amex is fairly well accepted, in particular the UK, where it doesn't cost many merchants any more to accept Amex over Visa/MC.

Posted by
5697 posts

However, if you're planning to rent a car, check out the Amex auto insurance. May be much better than what your card offers, at one premium per rental vs by-the-day from the rental company.
But I carry my Visa for everything else.

Posted by
6478 posts

I agree with other posters. If you're not planning on renting a car, leave it at home. If you do plan to rent a car the Amex is good for the ins (except in Italy), but definitely bring a Visa or MC also, they're more readily accepted everywhere.

Posted by
5617 posts

We've exclusively used our particular VISA cards in Europe (for the no-foreign transaction fees plus airline miles points) rather than our AMEX cards, although last summer, to my surprise, a Belgian couple who shared a table with us in Scotland used their AMEX card. This was a pretty high-end restaurant that had a shared chef's table, but imagine a Belgian using an American Express in Scotland! :-)

Haven't actually used our AMEX in the places you mention, but our VISA cards have always been accepted when there was a human to process the transaction. Then there's the chip & PIN vs. chip & signature issue, and we've been unable to use our chip and signature VISA cards at the occasional unattended gas pump in Italy and Iceland. Whatever card you use, traveling seems to be less and less a cash-based, and plastic is becoming more and more the norm.

Posted by
4454 posts

I found out right before we were traveling to France a couple of years ago that AMEX isn't accepted in France. We brought a Visa for 'just in case" needs - we always just use our ATM & pay in cash with hotels & train tickets paid ahead of time.

We sat next to a couple from New York at a nice restaurant in Avignon one evening. They assumed they could use their Delta Amex, which wasn't accepted, and had to pay with their remaining cash.

Posted by
17 posts

You are all so very helpful. I am glad I happened to ask for this feedback before we left town. Now if only I have time to get a VISA card with less stringent foreign transaction fees :). So sorry to hear about the Home Depot situation; with so many companies compromised these days that further supports the need for more than one card when traveling--not home to get the red flags that might otherwise come in the mail. Happy trails everyone, yes, with VISA cards in hand! Will still put that AMEX first whenever possible; will need more miles after using them all for this trip :).

Posted by
1064 posts

I keep reading that American Express is not widely accepted in Europe, but that has not been my experience. It depends on how you plan to use it. American Express is our go-to card for rail and air travel as well as car rental. I also use it about half the time for hotel rentals. Hotels on booking.com list what credit cards they accept, and many do accept AmEx, not just the high-end places. For those that don't, I use a Visa card or, for small, family places I use cash. For meals and most other expenses I use cash from ATMs, but use Capital One Visa for a splurge meal or other large purchase from time to time.

Posted by
18300 posts

I wonder how the new EU law limiting credit card charges by the bank to 0.3% (that 3/10 of a percent) will affect what credit cards are accepted.

Will more places start taking the AMX card now that it will cost no more for them than other cards?

How will AMX react to not getting more than other cards. Will they be willing to accept .3% or will they start charging cardholder to use their cards in Europe?

How will other card holders, who have been getting 4% or more react to .3%? I don't expect the POS purchases without a currency exchange fee to continue (these have been financed by the merchant fees).

Posted by
6624 posts

On trip last year to Germany, Switzerland, Austria. Fellow traveller asked at almost every shop and restaurant we were in (about 20) and I'd say only 2-3 accepted AMEX. I would guess most tourists in Europe are Europeans, and don't use an American-marketed product to make it widely accepted.

Posted by
541 posts

AMEX has been my primary card for years. I do have a few backup cards but it's still my most used card. Increasingly so with every year. I'm not sure why there's two camps on this all the time. The only place I've had issues with AMEX is Germany, and that was with other cards too. It seems to be very much a cash culture still. Maybe that's skewing the experiences. I also image that people who follow Rick's recommended hotels and restaurants probably find that they prefer cash and will accept a couple of cards with a surcharge. I imagine they can do this because they are always busy and don't have to compete like the other businesses. There's also a possibility that since that used to be true maybe a decade ago, people quit carrying it and since they don't use it assume it's not used. And no, I don't eat nothing but fancy meals and stay in business class hotels. I rent apartments, stay at dumpy hotels sometimes, buy stuff at grocery stores and pharmacies, pay transportation fees, admissions fees, etc., all On AMEX. And yes, I do hear 'sorry we don't accept that' sometimes.

Posted by
27713 posts

I use my American Express all over the UK, including contactless at fast food places and London transport.

Most of the hotels at which I stay in the rest of Europe accept it but I don't use it on the mainland because of its relatively high foreign currency charges. I have 2 zero fee, accepted at all ATMs around Europe Visa and Mastercards.

Posted by
1064 posts

I suspect that Leslie is right. People who do not carry an American Express card in Europe say it is not widely accepted, while those who do, have no problems with it. This seems to be another of those bits of wisdom or folklore -- your choice -- that get repeated so often on the Rick Steves site that they become an article of faith here but are seldom mentioned on other sites.

Posted by
2580 posts

Bring one of each (MC, Visa, Amex) try to use the one you prefer and see what happens

Posted by
68 posts

I like to have several cards (chipped Amex, Capitol One, MasterCard ATM, and a chipped Visa) because there's always one that will work while the others have problems. I only ever paid for hotel rooms and train tickets with my credit card. (I wish that the Dutch train machines took dollars and not just coins... but I could have waited in line and paid cash I guess). Amex was hit and miss and I never did figure out if the chip in it worked there.