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chip n pin cards, revised opinion, mag strips are a problem

In the past I've said that magnetic strip cards aren't a problem, generally. I'm now changing my answer, particularly for people renting cars and driving. My experience is in France only. We've dealt with the magnetic strip situation for the past ten years but this year it's a real problem. Not only are fewer toll booths and gas stations manned, but today we ran into parking machines that took only chip and pin, no coins. Also, in some areas fewer and fewer employees know how to swipe our cards. Buying a pack of ten tickets from CDG to Paris, the employee dragged the card through the machine so slowly that our bank blocked the transaction. When I called the bank they said it was so slow that it was suspicious.
It's become necessary to buy pre-paid cards, which are for sale in France at the post office and tabacs (cafes which sell cigarettes), same places that sell telephone cards. We've also gotten the chip for the car that allows us to breeze through the tollbooths, called telepeage. The tolls will all be on our credit card once a month. It's time our banks came into the 21st century instead of hanging us out to dry. All the other countries use chip and pin.

Posted by
4535 posts

We've known about toll booths and unmanned gas stations, but the parking meters is one I hadn't thought of and could be a serious issue in big cities. I don't deny that some employees will be challenged by magnetic cards, but I doubt that's a major issue. People get their cards blocked all the time even when they tell their bank about the trip. A slow swipe is just another one of so many "reasons" for a CC company to put a hold. And I find it hard to believe that a Metro ticket attendent at CDG is unaware of magnetic cards. Not to criticize the French, who I love, but I think you had a lazy employee or work slow down.

Posted by
10175 posts

Answering Ed:
1. Unmanned gas stations don't take cash. 2. Unmanned toll booths take both coins and bills. Yes, the machine gives change. 3. Telepeage is stuck on the window. You get it at the office next to the toll booths. They used to have booths in the large rest stops trying to get as many people signed up as possible. We were able to tie it to an AmEx account. At the end of the summer, we'll take it home (the little holder stays on the window) and use the same one next year, and the year after, and after...It costs one and a half euros only the months it's used. 4. The chip and pin cards for sale are pre-loaded, generally 200 euros, like the TravelEx cards sold at the airports. Bets

Posted by
19091 posts

Seems like the only people who encounter this problem are those who drive cars - for the independence? If people keep harping on chip 'n pin cards, the banks will figure they can offer them as "cost added" benefits. How much would you pay on top of your annual card fee to have the card be chip 'n pin.

Posted by
32198 posts

Bets, This situation will probably continue to worsen, as the inexorable changeover to "chip & PIN" technology continues. It's possible that newer POS Terminals in Europe may not even be equipped with mag. stripe readers in future? Newer employees at some locations may be unfamiliar with "swiping" cards, as they may never have been trained with that method and rarely deal with them. It's also not surprising that some gas stations and other facilities are becoming totally automated. Technology has provided employers with a cheaper alternative to employees, and any improvement in the profit situation will no doubt be attractive to them. Automated stations don't take breaks, sick leave and don't get paid salary plus benefits. Coincidentally, Rick answered a question on this topic on a Pledge Drive that I watched last night on KCTS. Thanks for posting on your experiences.

Posted by
893 posts

You make some really good points Bets. I recently went on a trip through the Champagne region and had more unmanned toll booths than manned ones. One other area that I think is going to be a concern is gas stations. I am seeing the emergence of the "Automate" - pay at the pump. And guess what those only take? I imagine in 2 years, it will be very difficult to get an attendant to take your swipe credit card. As for the parking meters - are you sure they took Carte Bleue? We've found places that only took parking cards that you have to buy at the Tabac. Major PITA, especially since the cards are minimum 5€ and you may not need to park that long.

Posted by
263 posts

I wonder why Chip & Pin cards aren't taking off in the U.S.? I had an Amex a few years ago with a chip in it, but I never once used the chip for anything. I remember in 1996, living in Atlanta, that they tried to make a push for people to use cards that had chips in them at the MARTA kiosks (this was primarily around the Olympics), but the concept was abandoned pretty quickly. Seems like the technology is a good one and I don't get why it's not being adopted here. Same goes for the handheld CC readers that waiters use in Europe - t'would be nice to see those in use here, instead of seeing our card taken away everytime.

Posted by
931 posts

We just got back from Spain a week ago. We had one problem with our mag card, and I had to tell the restaurant owner how to "fix" it. When we went to Portugal in 2007, and had to use the un-manned freeway gas stations we were taught the trick of pushing "enter" twice, once when you are asked, and once when they ask for your "pin." This worked in Portugal, and in Spain. We used the freeway tool booths, and it gladly took our mag card, without having to double"enter".

Posted by
283 posts

One question: can you pay at unmanned toll boths with coins? We have always known about the cards at unmanned locations, so we plan to never use them. We usually carry cash--simplier and easier.

Posted by
10175 posts

Follow up: Dina, We too are surprised by the increase in number of unmanned gas stations and toll booths compared to even last year. Some gas stations on the autoroute are unmanned now. The parking machines were at the Cite Universitaire. They did say parking card, but I was pretty sure I read Carte Bleue too. Definitely no coins. We did see coin-fed machines in a smaller town today, Montargis. The machines don't ask you to push enter. They just say the cards are unreadable. Yes, you can still carry oodles of coins and bills. Even some of the largest pay stations have no more manned booths. If you get stuck, someone will come out of the office eventually to straighten out the problem, while all the cars are lined up behind you. We got the chip for the car and can glide through now. Finally, the attendant at the RATP booth at CDG 3 really surprised me too when she treated the mag card like an oddity. For years employees have dragged our mag cards through machines very slowly where we have a house in the French boonies, but I didn't expect that at CDG. This is probably how it was done with the Carte Bleue, back in the the previous century when Europe used mag cards.

Posted by
9110 posts

Bets, one more time for the village idiot: 1. Will the gas stations take cash? 2. Will the toll booths take both bills and coins? And will it give change? 3. The telepaege lane - - do you stick the card in a machine or is it something you stick on the window and a reader nabs it as you drive through? 4. The card you buy - - is it just something you use to switch the charges to your credit card, or is it some kind of pre-paid deal?

Posted by
2876 posts

"Seems like the only people who encounter this problem are those who drive cars - for the independence?" It can affect "train people" too. From what I've seen, the majority of automated ticket-dispensing machines in European train stations are now chip-and-pin only.

Posted by
9099 posts

As I like to earn miles, I try and use my plastic as often as I can. Last month I was in Belgium, the ticket machines at the rail station only accept some sort of proprietary Belgian-only debit card, which the locals don't even seem to use:) The ticket windows do accept magnetic strip cards but the poor clerk has to fill out a form for every transaction. It was so tedious that I used cash for my remaining rail trips:) In Holland, Dutch Rail does not accept magnetic strip card; not at the machines or at the desk. For Americans it's cash only!

Posted by
283 posts

Where do you purchase the chip for the car, in airports?

Posted by
1335 posts

This does seem to be a bigger up and coming problem. When I lived in France I was fortunate enough to have a French credit card with Crédit Agricole. Before I had the card I remember trying to help the lady at the cinéma figure out how to swipe my card with her machine. Evidently it had been too long for her! I joked with her that I had a prehistoric card from the old country.

Posted by
19091 posts

so far, in every station except one, the Bahn ticket automat has accepted cash, and the only on that didn't accepted my strip card.

Posted by
49 posts

Chase Bank has the chip n pin card here:
http://www.chasecreditcards.com/jp-cards.asp It's apparently free of fees the first year, but after the first year, it's around $95/yr to maintain the card. The interest rate is close to 14%. Looks like there's no foreign transaction fees....

Posted by
1152 posts

Apple and the cell phone companies are bent on making our cell phones function as credit devices. I wouldn't bet against the whole chip & pin debate becoming moot sooner than you might think.

Posted by
9099 posts

Nice find Holly! This is a momentous occasion! The citizens of the US of A now have access to a chip & pin card!!!!!! I've got goosebumps, my hair is standing on end, and I feel empowered and in control of my own destiny! Is this this how the German's felt after the collapse of the Berlin Wall?

Posted by
1446 posts

I'm just back from 9 weeks in France, and I'm sad to report that chip&pin doesn't always work either... 3 different cards, from 2 different Canadian banks (TD & BMO), could not be used in any of the toll stations in France. So, we kept a coin bin going and had to point ourselves to the correct lanes, that had the machines accepting cash. Change is given. Oddly enough, at some points, one card would work, another wouldn't... and there was no rhyme or reason for it - as each card had it's non-working moment. This never happened in restaurants or stores. It often happened at gas bars (automated and manned) and occasionally when paying admission to sights. Luckily, one of the other chip&pin cards would work in those instances. As our experiences show, the only times that chip&pin did not work well for us was especially for tolls and gas... the two things that you would want the cards to really come through for you :-(

Posted by
12040 posts

Since we've exanded the scope of this thread outside of France, I'll weigh in on Germany and the use of magnetic vs IC cards . I don't use my US-style card here anymore, but when I did, I usually only ran into problems with businesses that tourists wouldn't use anyway, like utility companies, building suppliers, and certain stores, like Bauhaus, Ikea and Media Markt. Pay-at-the-pump does not exist for German petrol stations, and the cashiers always take magnetic swipe cards. There are no tolls on the autobahn. The desk service at the Reiszentrum at a Deutsche Bahn station will take US credit cards, but the ticket machines will not (they do take cash, though). Likewise, parking garages accept cash, but only IC cards. I never had a problem in restaurants, grocery stores, museums, monuments, etc.

Posted by
19091 posts

Tom, I have never had problems with my strip cards in Bahn automats. And most of those I saw did not take cash. A few years ago, I arrived at FRA and bought tickets at the Regbf. The first one was an S-Bahn to Mainz. I used the RMV automat and it only took cash. Then, because FRA is in Hessen, the RMV automat only sold the Hessen Länder-Ticket, but the Bahn automat right next to it sold the Rheinland-Pfalz-Ticket. It accepted my strip card, but, like most Bahn automats I've seen, wouldn't accept cash. I am aware that the Bahn is upgrading their automats. The new ones have touch screens more like the query pages on Bahn.de. According to the online tour on Bahn.de, the new machines accept "Banknotes and coins" and Kreditkarten. The instructions on the tour for paying by credit card say "Bitte beachten Sie unbedingt die Postion des Magnetstreifens. Er muss rechts unten sein." Please, absolutely observe the position of the magnetic strip. It must be to the right, on the underside. That certainly seems to indicate that they will still take magnetic strip cards. They also take EC-cards, which, I assume, are the chip cards. The tour indicates that the automat also takes Geldkarten, which are preloaded (€200, max, I think) debit cards. I know MVV also takes the Geldkarte. They have chips and you can load them with cash from the ATM. I've been trying to find out how to get one the next time I arrive in Germany.

Posted by
32699 posts

If, like me, you have a wife for a co-pilot you don't need to stick the Telepeage (Liber-T) to the windscreen. As you pull up to the blue lane barrier your co-pilot pulls it out of the glove box and holds it up at mirror height until you clear the gate (and hear the sound) and then returns it
to the glovebox. No mess on the windscreen....

Posted by
10175 posts

We need to remember that what worked a few years ago or even last year could now be outdated. My original post is due to the changes I'm seeing this summer compared with last summer.

Posted by
9110 posts

Last summer, hell. It's changed since November. I ain't going back. Never.

Posted by
9420 posts

Thanks for this helpful info Bets. What is the name of the pre-paid card you can buy at the post office or a tabac? I'd like to know what to ask for. Thanks!

Posted by
12040 posts

"Tom, I have never had problems with my strip cards in Bahn automats. And most of those I saw did not take cash." All of the touch screen machines take cash. And after two attempts of my swipe card not working on different machines at different stations, I drew the conclusion that they only accepted IC cards.

Posted by
19091 posts

As I said, I've only used my credit card three times in Europe in the last four years (6 weeks), and every time it was at a Bahn automat. I was always prepared to pay cash, but the automat only took cards. If all automats now take cash, I'm fine. At least until ATMs start refusing magnetic strip cards, By the way, the Bahn has a credit card, presumably with a chip. It costs €49/yr. That's less than Chase's. I wonder if American residents can get one.

Posted by
9099 posts

" ....If cost €49/yr. That's less than Chase's...." The Chase card also includes a points scheme, and also excacuation/"sickness" coverage overseas. I haven't looked over the fine print, but for someone like myself who flies overseas 4+ times a year, those perks alone make the card attractive...even with the fee.

Posted by
32198 posts

@ Paul, "Apple and the cell phone companies are bent on making our cell phones function as credit devices." The new iPhone 5 will reportedly have NFC technology (for payments) however it will likely be awhile until this type of payment scheme is actually usable. A LOT of POS terminals will have to be updated to be able to accept NFC payments. Also, I haven't heard whether any kind of common standard has been developed for payments using phones? As a number of different operating platforms are involved (Apple, Android, RIM), something "common" will have to be worked out. The merchants and financial institutions here are barely over the cost and trouble of upgrading to "chip & PIN" POS terminals, so I doubt whether there will ANY desire for another update in the near future. Cheers!

Posted by
10175 posts

My first reaction to using the phone was "cooool" but then I remembered that it already costs people a fortune to use their smart phones overseas. Imagine if we're charged overseas rates each time we make a purchase or if one cell phone system doesn't recognize another. It might be even worse for us.

Posted by
12040 posts

"By the way, the Bahn has a credit card, presumably with a chip. It costs €49/yr. That's less than Chase's. I wonder if American residents can get one." You might be able to, but if you don't have a Euro-denominated bank account, you would have to pay the bill by international wire transfer. And this can be an extremely cumbersome process.

Posted by
32699 posts

" I ain't going back. Never." (Ed from Pensacola and all other points) Yeah, right.

Posted by
24 posts

After reading these posts and several articles including those from the New York Times, we called Capital One today and asked whether our Cap One Cards will work in Europe. We were, of course, assured that we would have no problem! Has anyone had negative experience with Capital One cards not being accepted? Still the same issue with unmanned gas stations and toll booths, etc.? We may look in to the Chase card just to be safe. Thanks for the help.

Posted by
19091 posts

"if you don't have a Euro-denominated bank account, you would have to pay the bill by international wire transfer." Couldn't I pay the bill by charging it online to my US credit card (I don't need a chip for that)? I don't know why I, personally, am worried. I've only used a credit card three times in my last three trips, all at Bahn automats that didn't accept cash, and apparently they all do now. I still wish SOMEBODY in Germany would find out more about the Geldkarte for me.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Couldn't I pay the bill by charging it online to my US credit card (I don't need a chip for that)?" If your online credit card payment method is formatted to accept IBAN and BIC numbers and foreign addresses, then possibly... But I am not aware of any that allow this option.