Please sign in to post.

credit cards:

There's an article in the current issue of National Geographic Traveler about how most credit cards in Europe are "smart cards" with embedded chips -- and how as a result US credit cards with their magnetic swipe strips don't always work when you need them to, especially in self-service machines. The NGT article suggests getting a prepaid "smart" debit card from a local bank, but that's an extra layer of hassle and fees.

Has anyone encountered problems using their US credit card at a ticket machine, a gas station, a parking meter, etc.? How did you deal with it? I'm heading off in 3 weeks for a month-long multi-country trip, and I'm a little concerned that the only way I'll be able to get train tickets, etc., is to queue up and wait a million years to be helped by a human. And I HATE waiting in line.

Posted by
505 posts

Here in the UK, you should always be able to use a US 'swipe' credit card when you are dealing with a human being (i.e. not a machine). The swipe/signature option has remained to accommodate persons who have impaired mobility or vision.

Kate

Posted by
97 posts

I should add that I'm not worried about my ATM card at all. My worries only involve things like buying train tickets.

Posted by
9363 posts

Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've used my credit cards in parking machines, gas stations and stores in several countries and had no problem. I would think, though, that there must be a way to input information without swiping the card, if necessary, like if a gas station pump won't take the card, but the attendant can key in the numbers inside the station.

Posted by
8985 posts

Queuing up for may not help either. At least in Holland, neither the ticket windows or the automatic machines at the train stations will accept US magnetic strip credit/debit cards. There are large sings in english above each window warning people of this. But as a general rule any merchant that deals mostly with tourists will have the hardware to read magnetic cards. Merchants that deal mostly with locals with only accept the European chip cards. There are exceptions of course. But I find its makes things easier to just rely on the ATM machines.

Posted by
8985 posts

Store clerks aren't able to manually enter credit card numbers. In Europe counterfeit credit cards are a major problem. This transition from magnetic to smart chip technology is designed to combat the problem.

Posted by
3313 posts

I think the NG article exagerrated what is a minor problem. As has been discussed here and reported by many recent travelers there are a few specific places where US debit cards have trouble - self service gas stations being one. But otherwise, US cards work fine. You might stash a spare 50 Euros or so in your money belt for the unlikely event that you do need cash.

I imagine that technology will cause a gradual change over the next few years but US card issuers will keep up. In the meantime, National Geographic is suggesting an expensive, unnecessary alternative in prepaid "smart" cards. Unless others here have noticed a significant problem this summer, I think the magazine is alarmist.

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks, all!

I tend to go with cash whenever I can, but I was worried about the leg of my trip where I'm taking a train from Rome to Venice. I was originally planning to just trot over to the train station a day or two beforehand and grab a ticket from the self-service machine, but now I think I'll just avoid the whole issue and book online in advance.

Posted by
31471 posts

As with Cell phone technology, North America is "behind" Europe, as usual! Hopefully, we'll be seeing the Smart Cards here before too long?

Posted by
8985 posts

Actually here in the NYC area they are now issuing smart cards. Its more advanced than the European system in that it is "contact-less" (www.paypass.com).It works a lot like the London Underground oyster cards in that you don't need to take the card out of your wallet or purse; you just hold it close to the card reader. I have no idea if it's compatible with the European system though.

Posted by
97 posts

My understanding is that it's not compatible -- the European system requires a PIN, and the US cards also use a different kind of chip. (Figures!)

Posted by
3 posts

The SNCF and Metro/RER ticket machines at the Paris airports require a European credit card with the embedded chip. American cards with just the mag strip will not work in them. However the machines do accept cash (euros, no big denominations, coins ok), so make sure you hit an ATM (my Plus and Star cards work fine in those all over the EU) at the airport first and break the big bills you get, if you can. The money changers there are rather surly about breaking bills for anyone. Or, Amex and some local banks can provide you with a small packet of EU bills and coins before you go. The coins are handy to have, because there ain't no 1 and 2 Euro bills. Good travelling!

Posted by
53 posts

Re: Andy

I used my Capital One Visa card to purchase Metro tix, and it worked fine. Not sure why you had an issue, or if it was just in a certain area? In fact, I didn't have any trouble at all using my ATM or CC after 3 weeks travelling all over western Europe (including really small towns).

Posted by
7737 posts

I just heard about this from a co-worker. Does anyone have any more news about this? What was the name of the article in NGT. I couldn't find it by searching their website.

Posted by
4698 posts

Many of the European bank cards are what are known as "chip and pin" cards. You need to insert your card into the reader and then enter your pin (even with a credit card). UK banks have been required to issue chip and pin cards for a number of years to reduce credit card fraud. You are not supposed to have a problem where there is a person ... just tell them you have a foreign card and if they are a visa or mastercard merchant, they are supposed to take it. Many automated machines in train stations will take either cash or cards, so as long as you keep some cash on you, you should be able to avoid lines if your swipe card does not work.

Posted by
8985 posts

Not much new to report on this, as a general rule merchants that deal with lots of tourists will accept both magnetic strip card and chip cards. Merchants that mostly just deal with locals will just take the chip cards; there will always be exceptions. In my travels I've found that Holland is the worst "offender", the only places that will take magnetic cards are hotels. But no matter where you travel, ATM machines will always accept magnetic cards; so your best strategy is to rely on cash from ATM's.

Posted by
505 posts

Just to point out - I don't think the new US cards are any more 'advanced'. For one, the 'tap' technology has existed in various public transport systems for years (London Tube, Atlanta etc.).

It's also no help security-wise. If someone steals the card, since all you have to do is tap the card, they don't even have to work about faking a signature. With chip & pin, the card is useless if you don't know the pin number (and my experience is that clerks in the UK routinely check a signature against the card, so you have to be a more than decent forger).

Kate

Posted by
7737 posts

I've also heard that some identity thieves have a device that they can carry in a bag and if they bump up against someone who has one of those "tap" cards, they can download the card information and create a new card with it.

Posted by
8985 posts

You still need to use a pin with the new US 'tap' cards. You just don't hold up the line anymore by digging out your card from your purse or wallet.

Posted by
506 posts

Hello.

Just to give you a clue as to where you may run into issues in France.

Typically all hotels, restaurants, bars and shops will accept your American credit card without issue. The train station will accept at the windows only.
ATMs will recognize your credit and debit cards without issue here.

Where you will find trouble are at the convenience stations such as at the rail station. The chip is required for the ticket machine to read your card. Worse, typically the machines will only accept coins, thus your 50 Euro bill causes you difficulty.

Posted by
14 posts

Hi, We just got back last night from a fornight in London and Paris. My VISA card worked fine in most places, but they always had to swipe it. The one time it didn't work and it did cause me grief, was when we were trying to get tickets for the TGV from Reims to Paris with only 10 minutes to get the tickets, find the right platform and board the train. A friend with us came to rescue and purchased them for us and we reimbursed with Euros. Other than that it worked fine, but I think the idea of having a debit card with the chip would be good for all of their kiosk type purchases. Have a great time! Bon voyage.

Posted by
97 posts

To return to my initial post, which I made way back in August: I didn't have any trouble with my credit card. I used it at a couple of restaurants and at a Trenitalia ticket machine with no problems. Didn't try using it anywhere else.

Still, I'd love to see US banks use the same system the European banks do.

Posted by
486 posts

Go to visa.com. They have an excellent discussion of the issue.