U.S. traveler credit card woes in Europe are increasing

credit card terminal by 2Tales, http://www.flickr.com/photos/stigster/

The credit card industry in Europe and the U.S. handle their card security differently, and that’s causing problems for U.S. cardholders traveling in Europe.

In the U.S., we use magnetic stripe technology on our credit cards. Merchants obtain card holder signatures on a paper slip or in their credit card machines to validate transactions.

In Europe, their credit cards use EMV chips (integrated circuits) embedded in the credit card which require the cardholder to input their “Pin” (multiple digit number) into the merchant’s credit card machine to validate the use of the card, similarly to how we validate debit card use in the US.

Unfortunately for U.S. travelers, many European credit card kiosks in railway stations, parking garages, gas stations and tollbooths don’t permit the use of magnetic striped credit cards. They require the European style “chip and pin” cards.

I flew from Philadelphia to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport a couple trips ago. After quickly going through immigration, and retrieving my bag from the carousel, I went straight to the railway station at the airport. My hotel was less than a 10 minute walk from Amsterdam’s Central Station.

At the station, I went to the kiosk to purchase a railway ticket. My credit card was rejected. In fact, at the railway station, the ticket kiosks reject all magnetic stripe based credit cards.

According to an official Visa statement provided to me,

“If the cardholder encounters an unattended rail ticket machine or kiosk that does not recognize non-chip cards, cardholders should present their card to an attendant or agent (e.g., at ticket windows).”

I did that, but it’s inconvenient, and time consuming. I was in line for 15 minutes before being taken at the Schiphol station, and missed the train I wanted. As far as I’m concerned, that isn’t a solution to the kiosk problem.

Earlier this month, I traveled in the Baltic Region of Europe. In Denmark and Sweden I had to insist restaurants swipe my U.S. credit card to pay for my meals, several times. Readers have told me they’ve had real arguments with restaurant and small hotel managers about accepting their US credit cards. A few times, they gave up and used cash.

Erica Harvill, spokesperson for Mastercard, acknowledged the problem stating,

“While this is non-compliant with MasterCard rules requiring merchants to provide for the acceptance of all cards, including magnetic stripe cards, in EMV chip environments, it still occurs.”

Ms. Harvill indicated that often merchants don’t want to accept the U.S. cards generally because they haven’t been trained properly, not because their credit card machines won’t accept them. I agree. When the restaurants finally swiped my cards, they always worked.

Mr. Hopkins, and Ms. Harvill both indicated their companies are proactively working with merchants regarding the acceptance of U.S. credit cards.

So far, from what I can tell, that work hasn’t been effective. For example, at Schiphol Airport, for at least the last three years, no kiosk has accepted magnetic stripe credit cards. Moreover, anecdotally my experience, and that of friends and readers, indicates the situation is getting worse at kiosks, restaurants, shops and hotels, not better, despite the credit card companies’ current efforts.

I spoke with Marina Norville of American Express. I wanted to know if Amex had any concrete plans to issue “chip and pin” credit cards to its U.S. cardholders. She told me they have no plans to make that switch in the near future, and it’s generally the same at Mastercard and Visa.

All three credit card issuers did indicate their companies are constantly evaluating the situation, and speaking with all their stakeholders about the problem.

Any change from credit card magnetic stripe technology to “chip and pin” technology will require a large investment, not just for the credit card companies, but for the merchants who will need new equipment.

In Visa’s statement to me it states,

“Visa is also working with financial institutions who want to evaluate the feasibility of issuing chip cards for frequent international travelers, and conducting market research to determine whether or not the issuance of chip cards for travelers would materially alleviate any acceptance issues.”

Mastercard indicated they are looking into essentially the same possibility. I have no doubt that American Express would follow suit, considering the large number of both corporate and small business travelers in their cardholder base.

Erica, and Marina, tell your respective companies that your international traveler cardholders would more than welcome the opportunity to get new credit cards from you, which have magnetic strip technology for home use, and “chip and pin” technology for travel use, but I’m not so sure that’s anything more than a stop-gap solution. Any traveler, even going to Europe once in their lifetime, will want that card.

Plus, our northern neighbor Canada is quickly moving toward “chip and pin” technology themselves. Thousands of U.S. truck and bus drivers, casual day shoppers, vacationers, patients of dentists and physicians, and pharmacy clients travel to Canada every day.

I acknowledge it won’t be as easy to move the U.S. credit card industry to “chip and pin” like Europe and Canada, but the truth is, in my opinion, it’s got to be done. We can’t keep isolating our nation from the rest of the world. “Chip and pin” advocates maintain that the changes’ cost will be recouped, at least in part, by a drop in credit card fraud. That will help.

Let’s join the rest of the progressive Western financial world. The switch to “chip and pin” will be good for travelers, and good for the U.S. as a whole.

* This article was edited on 8/30/2010 to correct the attribution of the Visa statement.

  • JoeInAtlanta

    While I share your enthusiasm for getting chip-and-pin technology adopted in the U.S., I believe you are mistaken about Schiphol Airport: I flew in to Schiphol almost exactly one year ago today, and I was able to buy tickets at a kiosk from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station (the same trip you were trying to make). I was using an ordinary American magnetic stripe card (a Citi Dividend MasterCard, if that is of interest).

    The system DID prompt me to enter my PIN (which I had to look up using my laptop because I never use it in the U.S.) — but if I’d been prepared in knowing my credit card PIN before arrival, the transaction would have been as seamless as any transaction in the U.S.

    For the remainder of that trip, I used the MasterCard and an American Express card routinely without incident, in many types of situations in four different countries (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ireland).

    Again, I share your enthusiasm for the change you recommend — but I wanted to offer these details so others might not be overly fearful about a European trip.

  • Dr. J.

    In Australia, I recently found the norm is also the chip & PIN type. But every merchant where I used my US credit card didn’t have a problem with using the signature method as an alternative. By the end of our trip I was used to pushing the Enter key to get the signature method. Though I did sense sort of an “Oh, a signature? How quaint.” attitude at a few places.

  • Dan

    Is there a problem with opening a Canadian or European bank account and getting a card through that avenue? I have heard that keeping the deposit balance below $10,000 avoids any IRS concerns over offshore accounts.

  • jared

    i don’t see it happening in the US. if any thing i think they will try to push near field Communication (like rfid) linked to a cell phone and require a pin to be typed into the phone

  • PauletteB

    I was just in the Canadian Maritimes and had dinner at a restaurant that was using a chip-and-pin machine. When it asked for my credit card “PIN,” I replied that I didn’t know it (although I did) because it’s not required in the U.S. The waitress simply overrode the PIN requirement, telling me, “We do it all the time.” If the PIN requirement can be so easily overriden, what’s the security in that? Plus, every time you enter your PIN in public, you increase the likelihood of identity theft, That’s the main reason I always used my debit card in “credit” mode.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    Thanks Joe.

    I have a PIN on my MasterCard (US Air) too, but it wouldn’t work in any of the Kiosks. My business partner has tried his too, to no avail. We must be missing the kiosk you went to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s there. Its presence would be exactly what Mastercard and Visa said they are trying to do; have locations install kiosk systems which can take both kinds of cards. I’m happy to hear they’ve made some progress, even though I couldn’t find it.

    If I made anyone overly fearful, that was not my intent. At the train stations in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium I’ve been able to buy tickets at all of them, just not at the kiosks. Moreover, I’ve not had my US magnetic striped credit card refused anywhere in Europe, though I’ve had to be insistent with a number of servers that they try the card. It’s worked every time.

    I’ve got many emails from readers, and have had conversations with friends about shops, and restaurants which wouldn’t budge on running their cards. They had to use cash.

    I did have a problem myself, a few years ago, at a toll road in a self service line. They required “chip and pin.” Fortunately there was a toll taker two lanes away who guessed my dilemma and overrode the system. I stopped at a service center a few miles away and got some cash at an ATM. From then on I used cash at the self service toll lines.

    More and more, however, I think we are going to encounter restaurants, shops, hotels, etc. who are going to make it unpleasant at the least to use non-“chip and pin” cards. And there are rumors, which I can’t confirm, that the EU finance people are going to set a deadline in the future, after which they won’t accept magnetic stripe cards. They have substantially reduced credit card fraud using chip and pin and don’t want to look backwards.

  • Pat

    I was in Schiphol airport and Centraal Station, in Nov/Dec 2009. Had no problems at all. I used my credit card for cash and purchases, not to say that is won’t happen.

  • Vacationagent

    The “chip & pin” technology is newer and less vulnerable to fraud than the “magnetic stripe” technology. European vendors were several years behind the USA vendors in widespread credit card acceptance and when they implemented, they did so with the newer technology. Apparently the expense for USA card issuers to implement chip & pin more than off-sets any savings they would see by eliminating the magnetic stripe and its vulnerability to fraud. After all, they have some multi-million dollar bonuses to pay.

  • Matthew in NYC

    I don’t have a PIN for any of my US issued credit cards – I want to avoid all temptation to get a cash advance. I’ve used my credit cards all over the world, recently in Italy, Belgium, and Austria, and had no problems. That being said, I was in Rome, Brussels and Vienna where they’re very familiar with US credit cards.

  • Jason

    I moved to London from America 5 years ago and was here when the UK made the final switchover to chip-and-PIN cards. Contrary to the person you spoke to from MasterCard, it was made very clear to merchants at the time that if they accepted an old-technology card after the cutoff date, the merchant would be responsible for any fraud that occurred as a result. Naturally merchants stopped accepting magnetic stripe cards, and they continue to be wary of them.

    This is one time when throwing an indignant American fit is likely not warranted, as the chip-and-PIN system seems far more secure. How many times have you signed for something at a US store and the clerk doesn’t even bother to look at the back of your card? Chip-and-PIN systems take that out of their hands. And if the system were overrode, as was mentioned happened in Canada, there is no guarantee the waitress would check the back of the card. How secure is that?

    As for train tickets in the Netherlands, be grateful they accept ANY credit card, as most stations in the Netherlands still only take cash.

  • Jeff

    It seems to follow that if we Americans have difficulties using our credit cards while in Europe, wouldn’t Europeans have difficulties using their cards while visiting the States. What do they do?

    And my American Express Blue card has one of those chips in it — which is a standard feature for that card. When I go to McDonald’s, I can just scan my card (or wallet) by the reader. No swiping.

  • scottva

    So will any US Banks issue this kind of card for those that travel overseas a lot?

  • Peter

    The chip-n-pin system is increasingly used here in Toronto – all the cards I’ve recently received to replace expired Visa and MasterCards have included the chip. It makes shopping much smoother and also means (especially in restaurants, where they bring the little machine to your table) that the card is NEVER OUT OF YOUR SIGHT. That, alone, has to increase security. On a recent trip to the UK and Baltic countries, chip-n-pin was ubiquitous. I sometimes find the U.S. quaintly reluctant to change its ways – like the way you still print a $1 bill, when virtually no country still produces paper money for a value that low.

  • John Jordan

    Isn’t it interesting that banks & credit card companies lose billions each year to organized crime stealing credit/atm numbers! The crooks are clever enough not to charge more than $1k to 2k, as authorities are not willing to press charges for such low dollar amounts.
    The system used in Europe eliminates the ability to “copy” cards of all types and foils the crooks. The financial institutions are crying about loss of revenue due to reduction of overdraft, etc, but are unwilling to make a business decision bringing them up to this century.

  • http://none wendy

    I returned from Netherlands last week after a three month stay, and I DID encounter problems w/ my M/C in several locations. I could NOT purchase airline/ train tkts. ONLINE!. If a SUPERVISOR was gracious enough to override the CHIP requirement SOMETIMES it was accepted, but couldn’t guarantee. I walked around w/ a lot of CASH taken by DEBIT card / ATM!. AMERICA had better get SMART…. we don’t live in a vacuum! People do travel, and we are expected to meet the requirements (ex; PASSPORT) of the countries that we wish to visit./ wendy

  • Deus Lux

    This is a good reason to always carry local currency when you enter a country.
    I remember landing in Zurich and the only ATM in the arrival hall was not working.

    Most banks can order most world currency and usually has common ones in stock at not too unreasonable exchange rates.
    I just find that after spending 18 hours of trudging through security, schlepping bags around, running to connections, I just want to get to my hotel/flat and drop off the heavy bags, grab my day bag with my camera and go!

    Dan, I came across great deal on a European Card, no 3% foreign exchange fees, but when I contacted the bank they would not issue it to people outside of the EU.

    Many years ago in Ukraine (90’s), they ran my card asked for a pin and when my statement arrived I found they ran my credit card as a cash advance!
    Not only did I have to pay a cash advance fee, but at the time the entire amount charged for the month was subjected to interest.

  • Elisa

    Wendy is right… America needs to stop assuming their way is how the rest of the world is. Not just with the antiquated card stripe but with so many other things (checks is the main one that comes to mind). I find it surprising that people are indignant about their right to use the stripe – are you really surprised that the shop assistant doesn’t want to take the risk of a fake card? Or did you try paying by check anywhere? Try that in Finland and you’ll either get a blank stare or someone reminiscing, “Oh, I remember these things, I think my mother received a cheque once, back when I was a little girl…”

    There ARE no checks here, because you can’t get a check account, so there’s never a security risk by sending or receiving money by direct deposit (since nobody can write a fake check with that info and empty your bank account!)

    Australia has also had the option of the chip and pin for several years, even before many banks or shops could read them. Some banks adopted it sooner than others. If Visa and Mastercard are saying you can’t have one, then they are telling you LIES!!!!! I have a chip and pin on my Australian-issued VISA credit card which is several years old, so if they can do it, so can VISA in the USA. Vote with your feet and go to another bank. The chip might not be very useful in the USA, but when you’re in some overseas countries the chip’s security could save you from a terrible nightmare.

    In answer to how the Europeans cope when they use their Visas in the USA? Simple, they use the stripe. Our cards have both.

    PS. Take your passport everywhere that you use your credit card – in several EU countries, you will be required to show passport identification any time you spend over €50, regardless of whether you typed in the PIN. Expect to get rejected if the names don’t match.

  • justcorbly

    The pin&chip method method is unquestionably more secure than the signature method. No one and nothing verifies a signature on an American credit card charge. You can draw loops and circles and the machine will accept it. The machine has no idea what your signature looks like.

    American banks do not want to change to pin&chip because it would cost them money. Anything else they say about it is a lie.

  • Graham

    This is a worlwide problem in all sorts of ways. I had a meal in Hong Kong last year and my (UK) chip and pin worked fine. Then they asked me to sign the receipt as well!

    Using any UK issued card in the US in a gas station has become almost impossible because the machines want either a zip code (all numbers and UK post codes are letters and numbers) or a phone number (is US format). And US security is bad and getting worse. On this trip I’ve found that in several places using a card for less than USD25 means no signature at all.

    So, I’ll do you a deal Ned; you clean up the USA for me so I can use my card universally (and securely) and I’ll do the same for you in the UK. In the meantime, just get on with life like the rest of us.

  • ton

    actually there are 2 systems, creditcards are not used as much over here as a variation on the debitcard, (lets call it direct debit)

    these cards are county bound, i can’t use my dutch card that way in a belgian shop (i could use the card to get cash from a belgian machine though)

    i have been told that if you use a us creditcard this way you should be able to use the ticketmachines at schiphol as there are older cards in circulation that stil use magnetic stripes

  • Nan

    Thanks for the article. We travel often to Europe and the problem is getting more common. Just got back from Denmark and had several instances where we had problems, particularly in areas that do not have many American tourists. The potentially most serious one was at a small hotel. The desk person tried to swipe the card several times but finally gave up. We did not have enough cash. Would you believe she trusted us to go on line later and pay ? Otherwise we would have missed our ferry. We paid up at the first opportunity. The US credit card companies need to address this.

  • Jim

    I don’t see why US banks can’t issue chip-enabled cards for international travellers. It would cost them a lot to issue them for everyone, but they should be available on request. If any bank started doing this, they would get a lot of new customers.

  • Edward

    I also believe American banks should step up and offer their customers credit cards for travel. What if they had a limited life span with a capped amount of money dependent upon the consumers need. Why not? Even for a small fee it would be worth it for their customers no?

  • Vacationagent

    @Jim – Implementing the “chip & pin” technology is the expensive part for the banks – that involves cards and readers. Vendors in the USA use readers that read “magnetic stripes”.

  • Daryleann

    On the recommendation of several articles like this, I called Capitol One the other day and requested a chip card as we will be doing some heavy European travel over the next couple years. The agent balked and after some discussion with a ‘supervisor’ came back and said since she had not heard of this, it was not available. Period. Can I send this article to capitol One? I think I will try.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    That’s an extremely interesting response Daryleann.

    Since I’ve never heard of it, it’s not available. Interesting indeed.

    Please feel free to send a copy of the article to Capital One.

    If you want to send a copy to the CEO of Capital One, here’s his postal address.

    Mr. Richard D. Fairbank
    President & CEO
    Capital One Financial Corp
    1680 Capital One Drive
    McLean, VA 22102

    Let me know if you get an answer, and what the answer is, please.

  • ton

    Dutch banks and consumerorganisations want to get rid of al magnetic cards, even the dual ones as these are still vunerable to skimming (last year 32000 cases 36.mil damage.)

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    Ton, your post is very interesting. First, it’s certainly true, based on everything I’ve read in financial publications while home, and while visiting in the Netherlands.

    Second, if the magnetic stripe is removed from Dutch cards in the short run, Dutch citizens and residents will have a very difficult time in the US and other locations which haven’t gone “chip and pin.” In fact, they will be worse off traveling than people from the US to Europe now. At least most places in Europe can accept magnetic stripe only cards. Because “chip and pin” cards also have a magnetic stripe, in the US, the merchants, which don’t have “chip and pin” ready terminals, as far as I know, can still accept their cards. Therefore, if the Netherlands would unilaterally remove the magnetic stripe at this time, those cards couldn’t be used here. The merchants would have no way to swipe them.

    I continue to believe, over the long haul, the US credit card industry, and US merchants who accept credit cards would be best off to make a commitment to move to “chip and pin” credit, debit, and ATM cards, and set a date for each type of card to be fully changed over to “chip and pin.” That should be done in concert with the international consortium of financial institutions who make up the credit card industry so that the US changeover can be fully coordinated with all other countries and that way make “chip and pin” the worldwide standard. At that point, the magnetic stripe for credit, debit and ATM cards can be removed. This could be easily accomplished by the end of the decade, and in fact could probably be accomplished by 2016 to 2017, if the decision could be made in the US by the end of next year, 2011.

    Of course, I don’t think the credit card companies along with the banks in the US which control US credit cards will make the decision by then. There even having trouble being willing to produce “chip and pin” cards for their customers who travel internationally, and at this time, from what I can find out, the ones which are talking about making “chip and pin” cards available for international travelers, are only contemplating doing it for frequent international travelers, when in fact, it’s probably the “once in a lifetime” international traveler who will have the most problems while traveling due to their lack of knowledge about what they will run into.

    The problem goes deeper when you really start to look at it. If the US starts making “chip and pin” cards available to those customers who need it for traveling, that will be fine for them, but it in no way helps the European credit card industry who wants to eliminate the magnetic stripe altogether. Even if the US starts making some “chip and pin” cards (This is already happening at some banks in the US.) for Europeans to be able to eschew the magnetic stripe for everyone, countries like the US would have to force their merchants to purchase new machines which can directly accept “chip and pin,” which is one of the big reasons the US hasn’t gone to “chip and pin.” We’re talking about an enormous amount of money, far more than the European changeover will have cost. European financial institutions would either be forced to continue to permit magnetic stripes for their “chip and pin” cards for their international travelers, or freeze them out from making purchases in magnetic stripe based countries.

    It’s clear, the only solution to this problem is for everyone to get on the same page. Unfortunately, while that’s easy to say, it’s very expensive to implement, but that’s what needs to be done.

  • Alan Weber

    Why couldn’t credit card companies use a two card system temporarily until a longer term solution is found? Many banks have international operations. Why couldn’t they issue chip and pin cards upon request(possibly through their foreign branches) to U.S. citizens to use when travelling abroad? U.S. citizens would continue to use their magnetic stripe cards in the U.S. Conversely, citizens of other countries could be issued magnetic stripe cards to use in the U.S. They would continue to use their chip and pin cards in their own countries. Merchants should have no problem with incompatibility with their existing equipment since everyone would use the card appropriate to the country they’re in. This should be much less expensive that converting the whole system.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    Hi Alan,

    Those were my thoughts until I corresponded with the credit card companies. There is one bank in the US which issues “chip and pin” credit cards, but you’ve got to work for the UN to use that bank.

    Here’s the problem for the Europeans. The magnetic stripe on the card makes the card more vulnerable than if it wasn’t there. They want to eliminate that vulnerability, hence they are considering doing away with the magnetic stripe which currently makes their cards compatible with the US system.

    In the US, there is little incentive for the Banks or the merchants to switch to “chip and pin” as they see it. To a small point, they are correct. As long as the rest of the world has to maintain the magnetic stripe compatibility for the most part, even their international traveler customers can usually use their cards. Of course, more and more, that’s getting difficult, but for now, it’s still generally possible to use the US cards, except in many kiosks. There are more and more merchants who refuse to use the cards, and what are you going to do if you’re thousands of miles from home, sue them? Fortunately for now, these merchants are a tiny minority, but their ranks are growing.

    That being said, I disagree with the US bank’s (In the US the banks, in general, issue the cards, not the credit card companies.), position. Here’s an explanation.

    The main attraction in Europe for “chip and pin” is the “liability shift,” which is precluded in the U.S. by Regulation E. This shift in Europe shifted the liability of fraudulent credit card transactions to the consumer if their PIN number was used, and the merchant otherwise. So, at least in theory, the banks have lost their liability through the adoption of the “chip and pin” system. While the system has decreased the number of fraudulent uses of the card, in the real world it hasn’t nearly worked all the time, in part because the banks and merchants guard the system which the consumers pay the cost of system’s failures.

    This “liability shift” has been a huge incentive” for merchants to adopt “chip and pin,” but in the US, under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act of 1978 (“E”) the shift in liability isn’t possible.

    According to Steven J. Murdoch, Ph.D., a security researcher at Cambridge University, this is good news for US consumers, as according to Murdoch, since the new liability standard was adopted in the UK, it’s been next to impossible for British consumers to recover money stolen in fraud.

    In Europe, the banks get to make up their own rules, and they’ve decided that if your PIN is used, then you must have been negligent about protecting your PIN, therefore you’re liable for the fraud.

    So, in the US, the card issuers and the merchants haven’t wanted to spend the money to switch to the “chip and pin” system because they can’t get the main benefit, as they see it, that the European banks and merchants have reaped. Of course, that argument misses the mark, in my opinion. If the “chip and pin” system reduces fraud substantially, the system will pay for itself over time. It may take a few years, but from what I’ve seen, the investment would be worth it, especially for the card issuers, the banks. They could even take some of their initial savings and pass it on to the merchants to get them on board with the new system.

    The way I see it, everyone would benefit except the thieves.

  • 2burks

    We just flew to Amsterdam’s Schipol in August 2010 and not only found that the train ticket kiosks would not accept our credit or debit cards but the manned desks would not accept them either. Luckily we had enough cash for our tickets to Rotterdam. Upon arriving in Rotterdam, the first ATM machine we tried would not accept our cards. We were nearly in a panic wondering how we would get by on our trip. Our hotel, which accepted our magnetic strip cards, was kind enough to advance us cash – for a charge higher than we would have paid on an ATM. Later that evening, after walking down the street a bit we tried another ATM and we were finally successful in getting enough cash to manage any further embarassing and frustrating moments. My bank informed me that our magnetic strip cards should not be refused by any location displaying the VISA sign and that we needed to look for ATM’s with a VISA or Star logo, though I am fairly sure the ATM we tried first displayed a VISA logo as we checked for this while trying to figure out why our card wouldn’t work. It seems that perhaps some of the merchants have tired of making exceptions for the magnetic strips or are unaware of how to accept them, but we were flatly refused at the train station – in person. I would love to find a card with the chip and pin to save going through this extra trouble when traveling. We also found these questions in Australia, but did not have as much trouble as in the Netherlands. However, being asked the question ‘doesn’t your card have the chip’ at every restaurant and hotel gets old too. It’s my opinion this problem makes us look backwards and outdated.

  • JohnF

    This was a wonderful article! After reading about credit card fraud in the US getting worse, of which I can attest – my VISA company stopped a large transaction on my old card – a more secure system seems obvious and necessary.
    I’m surprised by all the comments I read where people had no trouble or bypassed the pin phase of the transaction. I don’t doubt these stories are true, but that makes the “my card failed” stories no less true.
    On a trip to France in mid-July 2010, gas pumps, toll booths, even some grocery stores would not take my VISA. Note: not once was there a pin requested – a simple “transaction denied” type of message was displayed.
    It looks like I’m going to have to rely heavily on cash for the next trip.
    Thanks for all the info, Ned.

  • Ed

    Other than the European banks using the “chip + PIN” technology, has the same technology been implemented in Asian countries?

    All of this discussion reminds me of the United States slow adaptation of the Metric system, which would have made global trading of goods and services a logistical nightmare (if the US was the only nation on the old English system).

    Now, back to the issue of US credit card acceptance internationally – it would be a political and bureaucratic nightmare: the US would probably require some law to force compliance among the credit card industry (similar to the current laws regulating bank ATM fees, and credit card disclosure that had passed).

    In addition, like the previous posts, credit card vendors that supply verification devices/kiosks, would have to provide retailers with newer, up-to-date hardware and software to make “chip + PIN” work.

  • Ed


    A link from a UK news report exposing the ‘flaws’ of the “Chip + PIN” technology and concerns.

  • Deus Lux

    Great article and made me alert for my (then) upcoming trip to Germany.

    After a week there I had no issues with my cards.

    There was no trouble at all in my usage at, the hotels, train stations, parking kiosks, restaurants, the Transportation Museum at Speyer and Heidelberg Castle.

  • Ken


    Partly yes, partly no. The best example is Japan who faced complaints from their card users five years ago when they were travelling to Europe.

    However, unlike US financial institutions, the Japanese banks figured out a more practical solution: just issue an optional single hybrid card that has the embossed numbers, a magnetic stripe on the back, the Chip and PIN on the front, a contactless chip inside as the next generation of payment and give them out to consumers who are willing to pay the extra cost of this super-Swiss Army knife of credit cards. It may not be for everyone, but for those Japanese corporate road warriors or Japanese who depend on it for international travel, these cards were a blessing.

    Here’s an example of one of those Japanese swiss-army knife credit cards: http://www.ana.co.jp/amc/reference/anacard/suica/
    the magnetic stripe on the back (reverse not shown but stated)? check
    Chip and PIN? check
    embossed numbers? check
    contactless (the Suica feature)? check

    Basically instead of changing the entire Japanese payment system from magnetic stripe swipe and signature, they just issued a single universal credit card that handles four different types of transactions depending on the situation.The embossed numbers are retained for those really old carbon copy imprinters, the magnetic stripe is still there so that Japanese merchants and retailers don’t have to make the costly switch, and since magentic stripe is still there Japanese travelers to the US can still pay for their goods and services in the US the same way we do. But their cards also have the chip allowing Japanese travelers to Europe to process payments through the chip and PIN feature. The contactless “wave” chip is in there also so that same card can be used to pay fares for public transportation within Japan.

    Obviously these cards does come with a high annual fee, but for 10,000-20,000 JPY (approx $100-$200 USD), it’s worth it for high value customers who don’t want to face the frustration of being logjammed when travelling abroad.

  • Chris

    Ned, thanks for the really informative post–I didn’t know the difference in the regulations between the US and the UK, but it makes a lot of sense…I’m an American living in England (with US bank cards only), and now I know why I’m being treated virtually like a criminal (signature checked with a magnifying glass, often against my driver’s license or passport) even when I’m only spending the equivalent of $5! If my choice of the magnetic option places the liability on the bank/retailer and not me, it makes sense…

    That said, I love coming back to the US and not having to sign for things under $25 (and often under $50). Breezy–especially with my RFID credit cards–I don’t even have to open my wallet, let alone take out 2 forms of ID!

    @Graham–this means that US security isn’t “getting worse”, it’s getting better–easier transactions for all of us. Just look at your statements every once in a while and you’ll be able to meet the generous reporting deadlines for putting the liability all on the banks’ head!

  • Tom

    I am currently living in Ireland, but also have lived in the US and the UK. I have active debit and credit cards in all three countries.

    Both the UK and Ireland are chip and pin. As mentioned by Jason, merchants were told they had to use chip and pin or take a potential hit, indeed TK Maxx (same company as TJ Max in the US) has ordered it’s staff to deny any non chip and pin cards! This is at odds with the merchant rules, which state that if a card has a chip on it,the merchant must attempt to use that first. If the chip and machine directs to use a swipe instead that must be used

    So here is what I have found during my travels:
    – My UK HSBC cards work everywhere as chip and pin or swipe
    – My UK Amex cards do not always work as chip and pin in Ireland, but do in the UK, US (more on that later) and Singapore. In ireland approx. 60% of the chip and pin machines cannot deal with my (UK) Amex chip and pin cards
    – My irish cards, well my bank here has a (broken) debit card system called laser which doesn’t work for purchases outside Ireland.
    – My US cards work everywhere (they are allowed to work) – apart from where people get antsy about the chip missing(!)

    There is a mention about the credit card issuers not producing cards with pins, but the real issue is the fact that issuing all the cards with pins is useless if the handful of companies who are ‘merchant acquirers’ (the organizations whose machines sit in shops and process cards) don’t accept them.

    I have noticed over the past few years a growing number of new machines appearing at merchants – at least on the tri-state (NYC) area – and see tourists entering pins happily – so I suspect chip and pin may be coming to the US within the next few years.

    The biggest problem I have had (and this is pertinant to this board) is where a merchant has not trained their staff about the possibility of a card needing a pin entered and the staff blithly enter 0000 three time and locked the chip on the card. When this happened to me at the start of a month long trip to Singapore in 2008 I then discovered that a chip and pin card can only be unlocked at an ATM. An ATM in the county of issuance. In IMHO that oversight can’t be put down to a teething problem 5 years after the system came in


  • Robert

    Reducing loss to credit card fraud is more than just the technology on the cards. US banks have far better fraud departments to identify fraudulent activity in real time than do European banks. European banks opted to implement technology at the card instead of bank end to reduce loss. So you can’t just compare the cost vs rewards for the two technologies and assume all else is the same, they are not. In addition, the chip & pin technology is dated. RFID or contactless card technologies are better. Why should US merchants incur the costs to adopt an older chip & pin technology when they can go directly to the newer contactless technologies that are out their.

    Several banks are already shipping cards with contactless technology. Mastercard calls it’s program Tap-n-go or PayPass, Visa calls its program Blink, American Express calls it ExpressPay. Chase being the biggest supporter. Look at the back of your Chase Visa, many issued in the past year have the blink logo on them already and already have the technology in them.

    Someone had mentioned the American Express Blue card, most of the Amex BlueCards I have seen uses a contactless RFID technology and not the chip & pin technology that another poster had mentioned.

    Lets move forward with technology and work on contactless cards instead of the out-dated Chip & Pin technologies. I recently spent 5-months in Europe and used my swipe card heavily, only twice did I encounter problems. Swipe cards are outdated, but it will take many years from them to get to the point where they won’t be accepted by all. US Travelers are a huge business for Europe, they may gripe, but in the end they will accept whatever form we use, most though will do so with a smile.

  • Mike

    I presently have a French debit card issued by Credit Agricole. The documentation required to obtain it was extensive, however it has been well worth the effort. When you’re on a long road trip you are able to fuel up just about any where at any time of the day. Before getting the card I once had to wait for a friendly French motorist to pump gas for me, using her chip card before I could proceed with the trip. Of course I had paid her before she pumped the fuel, but it was a life saver for me.

  • Tom

    To tell you the truth, most Americans don’t internationally travel (especially excluding soldiers), nonetheless most of us don’t even own passports. I wouldn’t undermine that our population makes us seem in places we are more often. But most Americans who do overseas are doing three things: 1) Beaches in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico and Virgin islands are ours lol) or Mexico, 2) Immigrants visiting family in countries they or their parents are from (usually Latin America or Asia, usually not western Europe) or 3) If they do go to Europe, Australia or elsewhere, it’s usually a one time thing. And it’ll usually be a early-20’s type or retiree. The only other type are # 4 and 5, which are soldiers and international business people, both of which are statistically insignificant to the overall population. The soldiers technically live on US soil there too so most of their lives still are there. I wish Americans traveled more. But we really don’t and I wouldn’t overestimate our physical aspect in other countries. It’s more our businesses out there that make an impact. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s because of our availability to go to all types of environments within our country. Maybe it is a fear of being mistreated. Maybe it is being to lazy to learn minimal amounts of languages in non-English speaking countries. I don’t know what it is. But this is reality for most Americans.

    I’ve seen Americans overestimate the amount of American tourists and even residents in Europe. Those are usually the same people who think everyone in Europe can speak English. Maybe it is because they are in Amsterdam or Denmark too much, and don’t see France, Spain or Italy much, especially outside the nice hotels and restaurants. The number is very low, even considering our population. People just aren’t that interested in international travel, and our recession, increasing poverty rate and unemployment, and weakening dollar versus the Euro (currently only about 1 dollar to 0.70 Euro), it only further discourages people from travel.

    Even if this were an issue, most Americans who only do intend on traveling once or twice, will deal with it. I know I would. I like traveling though. I’d hope they do get the chip so it is compatible. I’m interested in knowing what other countries are doing too.

  • Arjhome

    Is a “chip and pin” card the same as a “blink” card, such as Chase issues now?

  • JML

    Most credit card terminals are already equipped with chip and pin readers. If you notice on a terminal there is a small slot just wide enough to fit a credit card with a small rectangular picture and a small square inside of it! Who’d have thought this is a chip and pin reader!!!

    Ohhhh Emm gee!

    So their line of bs stating that it would be difficult to make the equiptment switch is just so they don’t have to send out 3 billion new credit cards