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Actual Difficulty Using U.S. Credit Cards: Anyone?

I just receieved my Andrews Federal chip and PIN Visa card and I'm curious. Have many people here experienced difficulty using their standard American-issued cards in France or Europe? I've heard from many who say they never had a problem.

Posted by
21857 posts

Most do not especially with retail merchants and restaurant. The problem occurs with stand alone machine such as ticket machines, unmanned gas stations, toll booths but for the most part the old American credit card is widely accepted.

Posted by
2995 posts

I've never had an issue using my debit cards (with a CC logo) anywhere that accepts credit cards. The problem is that some places don't accept them period, or only accept chip & pin cards. In Germany, many stores can accept chip & pin cards, but very few stores accept debit/credit cards without the chip. The ones that do accept credit cards tend to be high end. Grocery stores never do. and as others have pointed out, gas stations (manned or no) do not accept credit cards, but do accept chip & pin cards. automated machines of any kind only accept chip & pin cards.

Posted by
8507 posts

Unlike in Germany, once in a while a mag card won't go through in a store or restaurant nowadays in France, but if we switch cards one of our cards works eventually. We get all kinds of comments on how unprotected and behind mag cards are.

Posted by
2995 posts

I'm with James. I only use my credit/debit card for purchases on base (as I never carry US dollars). I live on the economy and almost never use it these days, as I just assume I'll need cash and most of the time, I do. I'm starting to use my chip & pin card a little more when I remember that I have one and I can, but I get by fine without it, it's just a matter of remembering to go to the ATM when cash is getting low. I have had an incident in France where one card didn't work at a restaurant. We used another, it was fine. That seems semi-common so if you want to try using cards instead of just carrying cash (so much simpler) I would have at least two you can use.

Posted by
8507 posts

Let me answer James' question of why someone would need a credit card when he doesn't. In our case, we spend a lot of our time in a family house where the closest ATM machine is 10 kilometers away. Accounts limit how much we can withdraw per day to about $300. A gas fill up will take the first $100, a trip to the farmer's market or grocery store will take another chunk, even a daily stop at the village butcher takes a chunk, a restaurant meal, touring a local chateau, cash for someone doing a house repair, or a trip around the countryside.... and so it goes. Anyone renting a house in the countryside will be in the same situation. Someone staying in Paris will need even more cash: transportation, meals, hotel, museum entries, boat rides....multiply this for a family of four....
These are reasons people have different needs and ways of coping with them from James.

Posted by
12040 posts

James and Sarah beat me to it. There are plenty of businesses that will not accept a non-IC card, but they are not stores where the average tourist is likely to shop. Surprisingly, even Ikea doesn't accept US-type cards.

Posted by
1127 posts

It feels retro to travel in Europe because of the need to use actual cash. I don't know about others' experience in the U.S., but I use cash less and less every year. It simply is more convenient and safer to use plastic to make purchases. It s a handy record of where I've spent my money. This trend should only increase as the ability to make purchases is added to cell phones. I welcome the day I can wave my phone and make a transaction. Sure, Europe's credit card technology is ahead of what we use in the states, but they are behind us on the ability to actually use their cards to buy things. I know, of course, that it has been shown that using a credit card makes it easier for consumers to spend more than they might have otherwise done if they had paid with cash, so I'm not saying that the ability to use credit is necessarily a good thing, at least on an individual level. I'm just saying that this is an inevitable change even if Europe resists.

Posted by
4535 posts

There is no right or wrong answer on this issue. It all depends on where you are traveling and what you are doing. If you are driving lots, you may well need a chip & pin for tolls and gas pumps. But few casual US/Canadian tourists to Europe fit that group. For those visiting major cities and taking trains, a regular magnetic card will be just fine. It seems very rare that the magnetic card will not work for someone. And most times the rejection is for reasons unrelated to the chip & pin. For some travellers, using all cash is very difficult due to costs of hotels, tickets and other expenses. Daily withdrawl limits restrict how much cash people can get. Credit cards can be cheaper to use than cash if you have one with no foreign transaction fees. Most banks charge 2-5% in fees. So getting or using a CC is usually more convenient and reasonable for the casual tourist than opening new checking accounts at banks or credit unions they wouldn't use otherwise.

Posted by
18380 posts

"Credit cards can be cheaper to use than cash" I have two debit/ATM cards and two credit cards. One ATM card costs me nothing for two withdrawals/month. The other one costs me 1.4% (1% plus $2). For 2 withdrawals with the first card and one from the 2nd (normal usage for me), I am paying less than ½% The Credit cards cost me 1% or 3%. I could get a credit card that has no exchange fee, but I wouldn't use it otherwise, so it's not worth getting. But there is a hidden cost to using credit cards for accommodations. I've found that the places in which I stay don't normally take credit cards, and they charge a lot less than places that do take them. By the way, I know German Rail accepts cash, and I'm pretty sure they take mag cards, because, on their website, when they explain how to use the automats, they specifically address how to insert mag cards.

Posted by
12040 posts

"and I'm pretty sure they take mag cards, because, on their website, when they explain how to use the automats, they specifically address how to insert mag cards." As of 2010, the last time I tried with a magnetic strip card, yes, that is correct.

Posted by
31522 posts

@Douglas, "But few casual US/Canadian tourists to Europe fit that group" One point to note is that Canadians do have "Chip & PIN" credit cards, so this is not an issue for us. Those started rolling out about three (or more) years ago. Cheers!

Posted by
711 posts

Ken, to answer your question: I have had very few situations where my credit cards do not work. I spend about 1 month a year in Europe, and the only instance that I can truthfully remember is the Train station kiosk on my way to Versailles. I tried 2 or 3 kiosks before one accepted my card.
My MO is usually to withdraw about 250 euro from an ATM, and use my credit card as much as I can, then pay in cash when a merchant won't accept it. I almost always use the card. In doing so, I get 2 miles per dollar to use toward airfare (I've never paid to fly to europe), and my card has no foreign transaction fee. I do pay nominal fees when I withdrawal cash, but since I don't do it often, it's minimal.

Posted by
2995 posts

Bets, your response confuses me. You spend your time in a family house where an ATM is 10 km away...so a few miles, that's not a big deal. I use a normal US checking account living here and my account widthrawl limit is 300EU a day. Literally the only time this has only been an issue was one travelers will not run into - we ordered a bunch of IKEA furniture online but we had to pay in cash as we didn't have a chip card yet - it was hairy as the furniture was being delivered as I was frantically waiting for my U.S. bank to open to beg them to allow us to withdraw more cash for the day (which they did and it was resolved fairly quickly). In France I can pay fancier meals and hotel bills with my magnetic strip debit card. Actually ditto that for Germany. So traveling isn't an issue. I've never run into a problem in terms of what I need to pay for in cash versus what I can pay using a card in the year and 3 months I've lived here including week-long visits to France, and that was before I had a chip card. The chip card is convenient but I really don't think casual travelers to Europe need to bother with it. Most US Armed Forces people I know here - a substantial amount - live here for years without one, most of them do not bother to open a German bank account. I have one, but it costs me $25 a year for the privilege (which is a straight up ripoff, but I didn't realize that at the time I subscribed for it). Travelers just don't really need to worry about it. Combination cash withdrawal and CC when it can be used should be fine for the average traveler.

Posted by
8995 posts

".....It feels retro to travel in Europe because of the need to use actual cash. I don't know about others' experience in the U.S., but I use cash less and less every year...." More or less my experience as well. Here in the US it's gotten so easy to use plastic for all purchases big and small (plus the rewards), that I rarely handle any kind of cash anymore. I've gone weeks with just a couple dollar bills in my wallet untouched. So when I travel overseas I try to do the same out of force of habit. Easier in some places than others. I've taken trips the UK, and Switzerland where I have only handled the equivalent of 50USD in cash the entire trip. But in other places like Holland, and Germany not so easy....I have to rely on cash more.

Posted by
893 posts

I can only speak for France - but the number of manned gas stations, train ticket offices and toll booths is steadily decreasing. If you are planning a trip to more "off the beaten path" locations, you are likely to run into a situation where you will not be able to use your US credit card. Most train ticket machines and toll booths will accept coins (but not bills!), so if you collect coins for a long time, you'll be okay for those. Or, you end up having to wait for someone to come and take pity on you and you give them cash while they use their chip & pin card (I've done that for American tourists before) Another thing about "credit cards" in France - you can only get a debit card from your bank, and there's a monthly fee to have one. Checks, on the other hand, are free. So you will see fewer French people paying with plastic.

Posted by
31522 posts

Pam, A "Chip & PIN" card is a credit or debit card that has an embedded microchip, which is supposed to enhance security and make counterfeiting difficult. All card transactions are completed by entering a PIN, rather than with a signature. The card is placed into the POS terminal, and remains there until the transaction is complete. All "C&P" cards that I've seen also have a magnetic stripe on the back. The "official" name for the cards is "EMV", and you can see an example at This Website. You can clearly see the "chip" on the left side. EMV cards have been adopted by Europe, Canada and many other countries, and have now been in use for several years. Unfortunately, U.S. Banks decided not to use these although a few are starting to "get with the program" now. The "C&P" function will likely only be useable outside the U.S., as I doubt that all retailers will want to replace their POS Terminals (which is what happened here). For transactions in the U.S., the card will be "swiped" as usual. You might have a look at some of the Threads in the "General Europe" section, as some of the group here have been successful obtaining these at a few financial institutions in the U.S. This Website also has some details on the subject. As this is your first trip to Europe, you may find it very helpful to read Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip. There's a LOT of good information there on a variety of topics, including "money". Happy travels!

Posted by
40 posts

We tend to depend on cash withdrawals simply because our international use fee on our bank card happens to be considerably lower than that on our credit card. Since we most often use hotels or pensions which do not take cards, we follow this plan: If we are staying several days, we may pay for two or three nights up front. Then we pay the remainder of the bill when we check out. That helps to address the problem of limits on a single withdrawal. (Of course, we could withdraw a couple of times and hang onto the cash, but we don't like to have great quantities of cash in our wallets.)

Posted by
19 posts

Pardon my ignorance, but what is a chip and pin card and where do I get one? We are making our first trip to Europe, specifically Germany, Austria, and Italy, next month, so all info is helpful to me. Thanks!