I understand it is getting more difficult to use a US magnetic strip swipe type credit card in Europe. I had no problems in Central Europe a couple of years ago but I hear it is all Chip and Pin now. I'll be in Paris and Switzerland and would hope to use my card in ATMs, at hostels and at train stations. Can someone with experience in the past few months say just what the situation is now? Wells Fargo and Chase say they will have Chip and Pin cards out in the fall, but I'll be going in the summer.
Not much has changed since your last visit. Magnetic strip cards can still be used in most all places that deal with tourists on a regular basis, and all ATM machines. The only problems you may encounter are at train ticket machines, and at gas pumps.
Wells Fargo has them out now. You just have to call them to request it.
You may find it helpful to have a look at this website for reasonably current information on Chip & PIN cards available in the U.S.
In Paris and Switzerland, you'll probably find that you can still use an older magnetic stripe card at attended locations, such as hotels, restaurants, etc. However, especially in Paris you MUST have a C&P card to use the automated ticket kiosks at CDG and other locations. The magnetic stripe cards should also still work fine in ATM's in the places you'll be visiting. If your trip will include the Netherlands, you'll need a C&P card even at some attended locations (Amsterdam Central station is one example).
As Michael said, you can pretty much expect credit card issues with automated machines in France, like train ticket machines, but not with any transaction made with a live person, such as at the train ticket window (where there may be a line). There should be no problem at hostels/hotels or attractions that accept credit cards, and no problem with using debit cards to get cash from ATM machines.
I checked with Wells Fargo this afternoon. They offer an American Express card with Chip and maybe a PIN (the representative was to totally sure on that) with a $45/year charge after the first year. They now offer Chip and Signature on most of their other cards, including ones with no annual fee. The one they were promoting had a 3% foreign currency conversion fee. I think I am most concerned about ATMs since they are unattended. I have the impression from the responses so far that magnetic stripe cards can still be used in unattended ATMs. Is that correct?
I have a card from Bank of America with no foreign transaction fees, which is also chip and pin, and no annual fee. Give them a call - sounds like a better deal than Wells Fargo.
I just got a new chip and sign card from B of A. The info says they don't do chip and pin. I also recently opened a credit card account with USAA, also chip and sign. I haven't used either of them at this time, so I don't know if it makes a difference here.
I wasn't aware that Bank of America was doing Chip and PIN - I think it probably is just Chip and Signature. FYI, just because they give you a PIN for cash advances with your credit card (something highly discouraged because of the sky-high interest rates) doesn't mean that PIN will work in Europe.
[Edit: maybe BofA is starting to issue true Chip and PIN for "corporate and commercial" customers but I've not seen any marketing yet of "consumer" cards:
There are some US credit unions that offer Chip and PIN credit cards, for example Andrews Federal Credit Union. (No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, etc.)
I'm getting a new chip card from Citi and also taking a magnetic stripe one from Capital One with no foreign transaction fees, so I figure I'm set either way.
I just got my Chip and Pin Card from Andrews FCU. Even though I'm ex-military and my wife works for the government, I still did not qualify for membership. I ended up joining the American Consumer Council ($5/yr or $15 for lifetime) and used that to join. They required a $5 deposit to open a savings account. The card was a no brainer - no annual fees, no cash advance fees, no international/foreign transaction fee and you get points. And it is a true Chip and Pin. It is their GlobeTrek Rewards card.
The Andrews Visa card is "chip and PIN" but not exactly a European card. It will work at automated machines with the PIN, but if you use it anywhere where the transaction involves a person (at say a ticket counter to buy train tickets), you will be required to sign just like a chip and signature card, even if Europeans can enter their PIN numbers instead for the same kind of transaction.
I doubt the Andrews Visa card truly offers free cash advances - but the Andrews ATM card or a debit card offers free ATM withdrawals with no currency conversion fee in Europe (most European ATM machines do not charge a fee, at least the ones operated by a bank).
Membership in the American Consumer Council used to be free. I assume a lifetime membership in the ACC is not required to continue a membership with the Andrews Federal Credit Union, just one year for $5 ought to be enough. I've belonged to credit unions that have membership requirements I have long since ceased to meet since joining but they don't seem to check the requirements after you have joined.