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Predefinito How to avoid credit card problems abroad: The U.S. has been slower to adopt newer chip technology for cards


How to avoid credit card problems abroad
The U.S. has been slower to adopt newer chip technology for cards


updated 6/8/2011 1:06:21 PM ET
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Like many Americans who have tried to use their credit cards in
Europe, Elliot E. Porter, a historian from San Francisco, has
encountered his share of payment headaches. Perhaps the most
aggravating occurred a few months ago at Amsterdam Centraal Station,
where he learned only after waiting in line to purchase train tickets
that none of his credit cards, which include a MasterCard, Visa and
American Express, would be accepted. The problem? They rely on
magnetic-strip technology rather than embedded microprocessor chips,
which are becoming increasingly common outside the United States.

“This is a big deal when traveling,” said Mr. Porter, who trekked back
to his hotel to get cash, which he then had to exchange for local
currency before returning to the train station to wait in a long line
to pay for his tickets. He encountered similar problems at train
stations in Belgium and Britain. “It just got super frustrating,” he
There may be some good news on the horizon for Americans like Mr.
Elliot. A few banks have begun testing cards with the newer chip
technology, known as E.M.V. (for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) and are
beginning to offer the cards to select customers. Wells Fargo has
issued cards with the embedded chips to about 15,000 United
States-based clients who travel internationally, in a trial program.
JPMorgan Chase is offering the cards to some of its high-net-worth
customers this month. Meanwhile, Travelex, a major currency exchange
company, began selling a preloaded E.M.V.-enabled debit card last
year. Some credit unions have also begun offering credit or debit
cards with chips, including the State Employees’ Credit Union of
Raleigh, N.C., and the United Nations Federal Credit Union in New
It’s about time. Over the last decade, such cards (commonly referred
to as chip-and-PIN cards because users punch in a personal
identification number instead of signing for the purchase) have been
widely adopted in Europe as a means to reduce credit card fraud; the
information stored in the magnetic strips used in traditional cards
can be stolen fairly easily. E.M.V.-enabled chip cards, requiring a
PIN for authentification, are harder to counterfeit and are becoming
the standard in other regions, including Canada, Latin America and the
Asia-Pacific region. More than a third of the world’s payments cards
(approximately 1.2 billion) are E.M.V. capable, along with roughly
two-thirds of cashier terminals (18.7 million), according to EMVCo,
the standards body owned by American Express, JCB, MasterCard and
But the United States has been slow to adopt the technology, mainly
because of the expense merchants and banks would have to take on to
convert to E.M.V.-enabled cards and cash registers. American banks
also point out that fraud involving credit cards with magnetic strips
hasn’t been as prevalent in the United States as it has in other
countries. (Chip-and-PIN cards are different from the radio frequency
chip in some American credit cards, like the American Express Blue
card, which allows customers to pay by waving their card at a
check-out scanner, instead of swiping it.)
Until businesses change their minds, American travelers will continue
to encounter payment issues abroad. The problem is two-fold. Even
though most European cash registers are equipped to handle American
cards, some cashiers simply don’t know how to process them. And many
automated ticket kiosks like those commonly found at train stations,
gas pumps and parking garages simply don’t accept cards without a chip
and PIN. (A.T.M.’s typically recognize and accept many cards whether
they have a chip or a magnetic strip.)
So what’s a traveler to do? Since the cards being tested by Chase and
Wells Fargo are being offered only to a limited number of mostly
high-end customers, the best option for the rest of us is to carry a
couple of cards in our wallets and politely insist that the cashier
keep trying to swipe each credit card, as the card reader may be able
to recognize the magnetic strip and approve the purchase.
That’s what Richard Brill, a public relations executive from Wilmette,
Ill., learned last month while on vacation in Portugal. “In some cases
they’d redo it,” he said, referring to the merchants who were able to
get their machines to accept his Visa card. When such attempts failed,
he tried using his American Express card, which was accepted a number
of times, even though it also lacked the special chip.
For backup, also consider carrying a preloaded debit MasterCard from
Travelex called Chip and PIN Cash Passport, available in pounds or
euros, which is equipped with the embedded chip. But use it only when
you can’t use other cards. While it does not cost anything to use the
card, the exchange rates you’ll get when loading it with cash aren’t
great. For example, in late May, the exchange rate when putting funds
into a Travelex Chip and PIN card online was about $1.50 to the euro.
(It can be higher in actual Travelex stores.) By contrast, the spot
exchange rate, charged by most banks, was roughly $1.42, according to
Bankrate.com, a financial research site. Even after adding the 3
percent foreign exchange fee typically charged by major American card
issuers, it was still more expensive to use a Travelex Chip and PIN
That said, there are some transactions — like buying train tickets at
kiosks — for which you will need a Travelex card; remaining funds can
be converted back to dollars after your trip.
Before you go, also consider buying tickets and other basic purchases
online. For example, Vélib, the popular Paris bicycle rental system,
whose rental kiosks have been known to reject cards without embedded
chips, now accepts online payments for one- and seven-day tickets at
velib.paris.fr. Rail Europe, which lets American tourists buy many
European train tickets in advance, recently added local British train
tickets to its online offerings at raileurope.com.
And when you return home, be sure to let your bank know about any
payment problems. That just may be the best way to motivate them to
issue chip-based cards to travelers.
This story, How to avoid credit card problems abroad, originally
appeared in The New York Times.
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