You probably already know about foreign exchange fees. But did you know your credit card may not work overseas at all?
Two recent visitors to Europe have returned with cautionary tales that are worth passing along to you, particularly if you’re about to go on vacation. The first comes by way of reader Doug Carlson, who points out that many European merchants require a credit-card PIN number to complete a transaction.
A friend had tipped Carlson off to the fact, so he enabled a PIN on his credit card before he left. He’s glad he did.
During my trip, an airline in Belarus, a restaurant in Sweden, and a railway ticket vending machine in Denmark required me to enter my PIN on a keypad.
No American bank has ever informed me that I might need to use my credit-card PIN to purchase goods or services from a merchant. When I returned home, I called Chase, Capital One, Citibank, and Bank of America. Each bank’s customer-service representative was unaware of this practice!
Carlson says American banks are failing their customers by not advising them to obtain a PIN for their credit cards before traveling abroad. I agree.
Warning number two is about chip-enabled cards. Many European merchants don’t accept cards that aren’t chip-enabled, as reader Christopher Jenkins discovered on a recent trip to Britain.
Chip-enabled cards seem to have spread everywhere and we are having a hard time using our US bank-issued credit cards since they aren’t chip enabled. We keep on having to go to cash machines which fortunately don’t seem to be affected — yet.
I’m no expert on payment systems, but my advice is to do a credit card “check” before taking off on any overseas trip, and particularly if you’re headed to Europe. Seems even the American banks are clueless when it comes to Euro card technology and requirements.
Don’t make the same mistake.
Update (6/9/09): A Capital One representative has pointed out that your card should still work in Europe, even if you don’t have a PIN number. She points to the following language on the Visa site:
Ensure your card is processed successfully when traveling abroad
Traveling to Europe soon? Be aware that many countries throughout Europe, including the UK, Ireland, France, and others, have recently introduced a chip and pin payment system that utilizes cards embedded with a chip and protected through the use of a personal identification number. Some merchants in Europe have mistakenly refused to accept Visa cards issued by U.S. financial institutions because the cards do not have an embedded chip that can be read at the point of sale.
The good news is that U.S. cardholders visiting Europe can continue to use their magnetic stripe Visa card in countries with this system. The merchants’ terminals are designed to recognize and prompt appropriately, and you should still be able to sign a transaction receipt.