Saturday, February 6, 2010

European Credit Card Problem

There is a rising concern among Americans visiting Europe about the European credit card system switching from a magnetic strip (swipe-and -sign) to an embedded chip (chip-and-pin) which is used with a pin number.

Rick Steves writes:

Chip and PIN
"As a fraud-protection measure, some parts of Europe (especially the British Isles, Scandinavia, France, and the Netherlands) are adopting a "chip and PIN" system for their credit and debit cards. These "smartcards" come with an embedded microchip, and cardholders must enter a personal identification number (PIN) instead of signing a receipt.
In areas where this technology is becoming standard, some merchants might request that you key in a PIN with your credit card. US credit-card companies insist that their cards should be accepted without entering a PIN, and are working on conveying this message to overseas vendors. The merchant has the ability to override the PIN request — try asking if they can press a "no PIN" or "signature" button to print out a receipt to sign. (They might ask to scan the barcode on a picture ID, such as your driver's license or passport.) However, a few merchants might insist on the PIN. For this reason, it's smart to know the PIN for your credit card (ask your credit-card company); in a pinch, use your debit card and PIN instead. Some newer, chip-oriented pay points — especially automated ones (such as pay-at-the-pump gas stations or ticket machines) — can no longer read the magnetic strip on American credit cards at all. If this is the case, try to find a clerk to process the transaction the old-fashioned way. If the machine is completely unstaffed, you might simply find yourself out of luck. So far, no American bank has announced plans to issue chip and PIN cards (although they are being introduced in Canada). "

View Rick's complete essay at Money 101

Michelle Meyer, press officer for APACS -- the UK organization that arranges credit card payments writes:

"Often it is a case of miscommunication where a customer warns the retailer that their card is not chip and PIN compliant, and then the retailer incorrectly replies that the card cannot be accepted. In reality however, provided that both retailer and card are Visa/Mastercard compliant, the machine would automatically default to ask for a signature rather than chip and pin entry."

So what can US travelers do?
  • Get a four-digit PIN number from your credit cards' issuing banks before leaving the US. Just call the number on the back of each card and ask for one. Get the PIN for your credit cards -- this isn't for your ATM card. Some British businesses are comfortable with swipe cards as long as they have PINs, Hamilton says.

  • You can try to stand up for yourself, but I'm not sure how far that would get you. APACS insists that every business that takes Mastercard and Visa can handle swipe cards, even if they don't know it. But pub owners may not take too well to random American tourists telling them how to work their machinery.

  • Keep an eye out for the right logos. You want Visa and Mastercard, not Maestro, Visa Electron or Carte Bleue.

  • American Express is accepted at fewer locations than Visa or Mastercard, but you know your AmEx will work where the AmEx logo is shown.

  • Make sure you have enough cash. As a last resort, you should be able to cover your purchases with cash.
As for ATM cards... They are a different animal than a credit card. You should have no trouble getting cash from those machines, although the maximum allowed may be different than in the U.S.

1 comment:

  1. Great info. Thanks Daniel. But I just can't wait to add another layer of complexity to my European travel!