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American credit cards in Europe

Recently read NY Times report on European cards with chips that American cards don't feature. Report said some European ATMs and automated ticket nachines at train stations may not accept U.S. cards. Anyone run into this problem?

Posted by
32 posts

Schwab credit card- visa is great- No transaction fees was a big plus, and it worked fine- I used it for settling hotel checks and shopping. I used it for close to $1000 dollar and I think got a pretty decent exchange rate- euro-dollar rate for the day

Posted by
31471 posts

Larry,

The NY Times article is true to some extent. Some of the automated ticket machines used in Europe will now ONLY work with the newer "chip" credit cards, and based on some reports here some merchants are refusing to accept older cards (especially in Holland).

One example is the ticket machines at CDG, which will ONLY accept "chip" credit cards and Euro coins; magnetic stripe cards will NOT work. The staffed ticket office will still accept magnetic stripe cards. I found that the ticket machines at Milano Centrale will still accept older credit cards, although I suspect these will also be configured for "chip" cards at some point in the near future.

"Chip" debit cards are also being introduced now which might impact ATM machines, but it's likely they will still accept magnetic stripe cards for a while.

Cheers!

Posted by
8291 posts

Our chip-less cc's and debit card would not work in machines at any Metro or train station in Paris and we saw many other Americans having the same result.

Pat, on the Helpline, has pointed out that AMEX cc's have chips in them, so those would work. Not everyone has, or can get, AMEX though.

Posted by
4125 posts

It's not that big a deal, but is something to be aware of.

If you travel with a bunch of cash in your moneybelt and a credit card, you only have to worry about those rare situations where you might want to use your card in an automated sales machine when there is no "staffed" alternative. Notoriously, this might be a gas station on the weekend.

You can't use automated ticket machines at train stations, so leave enough time to buy from a human attendant.

Posted by
2 posts

We just returned from France and Italy. We did have difficulty using several cards on the Autoroute at the toll booths. At one place we tried 3 Visa's and finally went to American Express. However, we did not have any problems elsewhere using the other 3 Visa's including cash withdrawals at ATM's.

Posted by
11 posts

It should be noted that only certain types of American Express credit card are "chip-and-pin." It depends on what type of account you have with AmEx. So ... some AmEx cards will work and some won't. (Mine won't.)

Posted by
12040 posts

Can we put together an unofficial list of "chip and PIN" cards that are available in the US? Not having one has never been a show-stopper for me in Europe, but with each subsequent visit, I find myself getting more and more inconvenienced by this. The last straw for me was not having enough coins for a metro ticket at an unattended Brussels station and getting soaked in the rain because I had to walk.

Posted by
8984 posts

The only chip & pin card available in the US is American Express. The catch-22 is that AE isn't widely accepted across the pond.

Another work-around is to purchase a pre-paid debit card once you arrive in Europe. The European version of these cards have the chip.

Posted by
18304 posts

How and where do you purchase pre-paid debit cards at, for instance, the airport. If European ATMs stop taking our cards, that or cash from home might become our only options. Will they accept a non-chip US card for payment? I'm sure our US banks will charge us a commission (usually 3%) for that transaction. Is there a fee or % discount to use the pre-paid cards? If so, considering that Wells Farge only charges 5% over the interbank rate, we might be better off just to get Euro over here.

BTW, I try to use cash in Europe whenever possible. I hit the ATM three times on my last trip, and used a CC only once. I arrived at the Bahnhof in Freilassing to take the train across the river to Salzburg. The only ticket machine I could find only took cards, so I had to use a CC for the €2,10 ticket! Fortunately it took my US card.

Look for U.S. banks to start issuing chip cards on request and tacking on huge fees to get one or to use one.

Posted by
12040 posts

(Sigh)... yet another example of how Europe keeps modernizing and adapting and we keep sinking further behind...

Posted by
552 posts

I tried to start up a discussion on this two weeks back, when I had just returned from our trip.

It is INDEED becoming more and more of a hassle.

I would say I lost two and a half hours of sightseeing time (and the first scene of a show, where tickets were pre-paid, on-line) because of being rejected by automated machines.

"Chip and PIN" is just the name the British government has given to these EMV standard cards (which is named for a group effort between Europay, MasterCard and VISA) with the new chips in them instead of the old-school magnetic stripes that we're still using.

Because it apparently reduces fraud, let's hope it becomes fairly easy so get one of these soon.

Posted by
31471 posts

Bill,

A point to mention - "chip" credit cards are now being issued in Canada, and "chip" debit cards will be introduced in 2010.

If you have any relatives in Canada, perhaps you can get a supplementary card on their account before your next trip to Europe.

Cheers!

Posted by
1170 posts

I have been to Italy the last two years and have never had a problem with an ATM or Credit Card at the automated kiosks in the train stations, nor at the automated toll booths on the Autostrada. I did however, have some difficulty once at a gas station. The attendant had a handheld reader. I had to pay cash instead.

Posted by
3 posts

Last year (Nov'08) I had a problem using my ATM only card at ATMS in Germany even after the bank (TD Banknorth) said there would be no problem. I don't believe in debit cards, they are such a bad deal no matter what the bankers say. Good thing I still had some travelers checks in my backpack from a previous trip!

Posted by
101 posts

We just got back from a stay in Paris. We opened an HSBC checking account before leaving and used a debit card throughout Paris. We were able to buy Metro tickets at the machines, use ATM's and pay everywhere. HSBC has many branches in Paris and we avoided additional ATM fees. The key is getting a new card from a bank that has european branches.

Posted by
21720 posts

Come on, Tim, are you a troll trying to stir the pot? Do you truly believe that debit cards are a bad deal and travel checks are a good deal?? If you do, you are a universe of one who believes that. But you are free to use any method you like.

We just back from 30+ days in Europe. No problems anywhere with debit cards but ticket machines in the Netherlands, Belgium didn't like our credit cards. That added a slight cost as there is a 3,60 E service fee to buy a ticket from a live, ticket agent.

Posted by
18304 posts

I agree with Frank. I used debit/ATM cards in Germany last month without problems. Cash from an ATM is rateless/feeless with one bank, 1% rate and $2 fee with the other bank. Using my credit card for a POS would cost 3% or 1% depending on which bank.

Getting cash from the ATM with my credit card would be a 4% (?) cash advance fee, plus exchange rate, plus immediate interest.

I used my debit card in a ticket automat once with a 1% exch rate.

Last time I cashed US travelers cheques in Europe (9 yrs ago) I was charged 6%.

Posted by
669 posts

We had no problems last December using our cards in ATMs, however, I used cash only for all purchases, so I can't speak outside of the ATMs. (I generally went to banks, and this was in Germany and No. Italy.)

Posted by
3 posts

Frank, Using travelers checks is not my preferred way of obtaining cash but in an emergency it does the trick. In previous trips to Europe I never had any trouble using my ATM card till last year. Here is another view on debit cards that supports my view . http://redtape.msnbc.com/2007/09/paper-or-plasti.html

Posted by
21720 posts

Tim, that articles has absolutely nothing to do with the current discussion about getting cash from ATMs and, in fact, supports the idea of using a debit card for ATM transactions ----

"you are better off sticking with credit cards and using debit card only to get cash at ATMs."

Which is the exact point most of us make.

Posted by
3 posts

Frank,
I still believe debit cards are a lousy deal.The security features of credit cards over debit cards cannot be denied.
What I would like, this being my major point is that ATM cards to have equal access as debit cards at ATMs. I don't want to go to the trouble of getting a debit card for traveling abroad and then canceling it when I return. Banks (at least mine)let you have one or the other but not both.

What really irked me was the bank said the ATM card would be fine and wasn't. They could not even see where the card was being put in the CIRRUS system for a transaction.
That being said what is it going to take US banks to issue chip and pin cards an act of Congress?

Posted by
2 posts

I'm a monetic expert surveying comments from american cardholders. Actually, what's written here is a myth. American cardholders' ability or inability to use their mag-stripe cards in Europe has nothing to do with chip and pin. This inability is as a result of unattended terminals (and some attended) inability to do online authorization of your purchase.

See my blog : http://www.finextra.com/community/fullblog.aspx?id=3491

Although VISA and MC advertise that no merchant can(?)/should refuse your card, even here in France, merchants refuse my CHIP and PIN card when my purchase is under 10 euros.

So, don't put down your mag-stripe and say that the U.S. is behind. There is safety and security in having magstripe and signature based cards. When you don't have a pin-code, then fraudsters are not interested in skimming your card. Skimming is only interesting and worthwhile if the fraudster gets the pin-code, cause they usually produce a white plastic, paste the cloned mag-stripe and go to ATMs and withdraw money using your valid pin-codes.

The chip isn't bad. The static pin-code that goes with it is what makes it unsafe and makes it a prime target for fraudsters.

Read my blog, and you'll understand that card fraud for american cards is actually less than half of the fraud rate of chip and pin.

Posted by
2 posts

Oh. one other thing. We, here in Europe do not use our cards for small purchase amounts. Common practice is that anything less than 10 euros is paid with cash.

Posted by
446 posts

Thank you, marite, for posting your blog address. A very well-written article that shows the situation is more complicated than most people think.

I have a VISA Electron card from Citibank in Spain. I live in the USA, but I opened a Euro account in Barcelona last year. I have used the card successfully for online purchases, as well as at restaurants and hotels in Europe. But, as you accurately state, not every merchant will accept VISA Electron. When I tried making a purchase at a restaurant at the Amsterdam airport, they said they would not accept the card.

My card is not chip and pin. Maybe that will change when the card expires? And, there is no annual fee -- for now!

Posted by
9110 posts

Marite pretty well nailed it. The merchant/vendor (automated or not) has to pay a fee (percentage-based) when accepting a credit card and this really cuts into the profit margin on small sales. Looking at it from the other side, as far as I can tell, the consumer pays a transaction fee based on what the traffic will bear (I've seen these fees vary from a couple of bucks to six or eight for a $60 gas purchase, for example -- and there's no way to tell in advance what they're going to be). What I do is use the CC for big meals, hotels, and gas; everthing thing else is paid for with cash which I get out of an ATM every few days in wads I can afford to loose. I pay no transaction fee with cards that come from my little podunk local banks. I wouldn't think of using a CC at an ATM since, more important than the transaction fee, they treat it as a cash advance and start charging interest from the day of withdrawel. The only problem I've found is that sometimes the ATM card won't work in a particular machine (probably because I don't take time to match the little pictures on what is acceptable), but it works fine in the machine across the street. Each year, I make around three trips to Europe of about a month each and find that this approach works great.

Posted by
18 posts

I have a Canadian bank card with a chip in it. I had no problem using it at ATM machines however I was not able to use it at all at automated ticket machines at train stations in The Netherlands. Neither was I able to use said card at the ticket wickets at any rail stations. I had to use cash only to purchase tickets. If using ticket machines be advised that they will accept coins only ( there have been too many problems with counterfeit bank notes).

Posted by
7 posts

I just got back from Paris and twice used the Cirus card from Citibank at 2 ATM's -one in Paris the other in a town south of it - without a problem. In fact, it was quite easy. Just make sure your PIN is only 4 numbers long.

Posted by
61 posts

Just returned from Belgium and England. Had no problems using my swipe card, but I found many retailers and restaurants are now predominantly using pin card devices. They can still deal with swipe cards but found some stores where they had only one or two cash registers that could deal with swipe cards. Get the feeling it may become more of a problem in the coming years.

Posted by
1 posts

Practical info for France:

Most everywhere still accepts magnetic stripe cards, esp VISA, though many places, including post offices, McDonalds, transportation places like SNCF/RATP have employees that don't know how to or that they could even swipe, so I've actually had to teach them how on NUMEROUS occasions, or ask them to pull out their old reader from under the phone book.

Places where swiping is easy:
*Basically all of Paris attractions, hotels, restaurants/cafes, souvenir shops, etc. Almost all of the time, it will require a person.
*Metro/tourist cities
Cora, Carrefour, Lidl, Relay, FranPrix,
Brioche Doree, Paul, all the quick stop places...

Places where you can't use your swipe card:
*Some gas stations
*Most boulangeries...
*Auto-distributor for self serve gas stations outside of Paris for Exxo,Elf, maybe even shell
*Auto-distributor for tolls outside of Paris/Picardie/Nord (no reader)
*Auto-distributor for Paris Metro/RER
*Auto-distributor for TGV/SNCF trains
*Auto-distributor for Cinemas/Theater
(For these, use find the manned customer service booth; for the tolls, look for the one with a tollbooth operator)
UGC Theater in La Defense
Some Smaller food chains
Some mom and pop stores
Non chain stores out of metropolitan areas

Place where you can use your swipe card for less than 10 euro purchases:

McDonalds
Highways tolls automated booths in the Picardie and Paris regions

For those coming into Charles DeGaulle airport without chip cards and needing to buy transport tickets, expect to wait in a long line of folks with out chip cards too.

Posted by
333 posts

I've had problems with not having a 'chipped card' in Northern Ireland. ASDA won't take a US card at all unless it's chipped. Most of the other shops will have to 'hand scan them' and have you sign but even that is getting phased out.

Posted by
3580 posts

So far I have had no problems using my BofA debit card in Barclays or BNP Paribas ATMs.

Posted by
1 posts

The explanation re non-acceptance because automated services,e.g., gasoline stations in France cannot verify is not correct. we were able to use an AMEX card with chip. Another way to get gasoline is to enlist the aid of a sympathetic local customer at the pump, offer a 50Euro note and use their card. That worked for us on one trip.

Posted by
1178 posts

Have had no real problem in using the debit card to access cash at an ATM. Just be sure to let you bank know you are to be traveling. I have had some difficulty at some cash machines, but can usually find the other bank nearby. And, there may be a daioy limit on your withdrawals as well.

Posted by
893 posts

One thing that is not mentioned here is that many smaller train stations in France are un-manned. The non-chip cards do not work in the automated machines and they only accept change (not bills). More and more gas stations are reducing the number of hours someone is there, and again, you cannot use the automated machines without the chip cards.