July 22, 2024

Practical Traveler: Credit Card Problems Abroad: Readers Respond

Within three days, more than 100 readers had weighed in with tales of woe and hard-won knowledge.

Many of the comments expressed frustration about using American cards — particularly when traveling in Europe — which rely on magnetic-strip technology rather than embedded microprocessor chips used in cards that are becoming common outside the United States.

For example, Ian Keay, a painting contractor from San Francisco, wrote about his encounter with fickle credit card acceptance on toll roads in France. “We rented a car in Paris and sailed South on the A6 and A7,” through various tollbooths, without a problem, he noted. “Then, suddenly one just rejected every card we had, and not a soul in sight, holiday traffic backing up behind us, nightmare city.” He managed to cobble together enough cash to continue, but not without feeling “the lingering embarrassment of being from a backward country.”

Another reader, Amin Nosrat, from Houston, recently returned from Vienna, where he tried to buy a train ticket from an airport kiosk. “I must have tried five machines and three credit cards,” he wrote. “Amazingly (and I don’t know why), one finally worked.”

Other readers offered suggestions for workarounds, like carrying cash (or, more specifically, coins) in case a card is rejected by an automated ticket kiosk at train or metro stations. Sunjay Mohan, an American lawyer currently living in Bangalore, India, is one of many readers who simply take out cash at A.T.M.’s, which generally don’t discriminate between cards that have chips and those without. “I travel extensively in Europe and Asia and cash is king,” Mr. Mohan wrote, adding “I get local currency as soon as I get down at the airport using my US Bank ATM card and I am good to go.”

Others found that politely asking a clerk to swipe their card again or punch the number into the keypad seemed to do the trick. “Most merchants now can process both chip and PIN and magnetic swipe cards,” noted Tracy Myers, a software architect in Beijing who frequently travels to Europe for work. “They just don’t know how to do it and it takes some patience and a bit of insistence,” he wrote.

Indeed, several readers pointed out that merchants are equipped and, in fact, obligated, by providers like Visa to accept your card, even without a chip, if they normally accept cards by that provider. But as Riley Peterson, from Brooklyn, who spends two to three weeks a month working in Paris, put it: “Most places will accept Visa in theory; but in practice, if your French is bad or your magnetic strip is old, you’re in for some trouble. Nothing worse than trying to buy groceries at rush hour with 20 people behind you and having to explain to the cashier why your card should work, but doesn’t.”

His solution: “I opened a Euro account with Credit Agricole and they issued me a chip PIN card within a week.” This was a process, Mr. Peterson added, that involved digging up hotel bills to prove how long he had been in Paris. “While opening the account was a pain (U.S. utility bills, passports, etc.),” he wrote, “it’s made life here much more convenient. I just wire money from my Chase account and keep it as a backup for the inevitable situation where my card doesn’t work.”

Since the article was published, some banks have announced they are adding chips to the credit cards they offer. On June 17, Chase announced that the newer chip technology known as E.M.V. (for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) will be available on a second card in the company’s portfolio, the J. P. Morgan Select Visa Signature card, which comes with a $95 annual fee. The bank previously offered E.M.V. chip cards to a limited number of high-net-worth customers. And U.S. Bank,, which recently introduced an E.M.V. chip to 20,000 customers who use its FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa, said it plans to offer chip technology in more travel cards later this year.

Travelex offers a preloaded debit MasterCard called Chip and PIN Cash Passport, available in British pounds or euros, equipped with the embedded chip. But some readers pointed out that the card is not a perfect solution. For one, it isn’t available online in certain states, including New Jersey, which means those customers must purchase it at a retail store (where the cost is slightly higher) listed on Travelex.com. Also, if you link it to a credit card instead of a debit card attached to your bank account, the transaction may be treated as a cash advance by your credit card company, including associated fees. Furthermore, the exchange rates you’ll get when loading it with cash aren’t great. And even with the special chip, the card may be rejected as it is accepted only by merchants who take MasterCard.

“I bought one for a recent trip to the Netherlands and never found anywhere where it was accepted,” wrote Eliot Smith, a university professor from Bloomington, Ind., who ended up turning to the A.T.M. instead. (MasterCard says the situation Mr. Smith encountered was “a technological glitch” that has since been addressed.)

Also, according to cashpassport.com, there are a number of countries, including Albania, Belarus and Bosnia, where its Cash Passport cards are not allowed, as they are subject to United States economic sanctions. The site goes on to say that if you attempt to withdraw cash from an A.T.M. or use your card at merchants in those countries, your request will be declined.

Another issue readers encountered was having their charges rejected because their purchases abroad prompted a fraud alert or account freeze by their bank — even after the banks were notified that the cards would be used in foreign countries. “We have had that problem over and over again — with Chase VISA and with Citi MasterCard,” wrote a reader with the screen name “katmon” from Jerusalem. “We are just finishing a year of travel, and regardless of how many times we went through the list of countries and approximate dates, we were unpredictably denied.”

For all the problems Americans encounter when using their credit cards abroad, a few readers pointed out that foreigners have similar problems when using automated kiosks like those found in New York City subway stations, which require credit card users to enter a United States ZIP code to complete the transaction.

“When a booth wasn’t available nearby, this caused problems,” wrote Judy McGinnis, from Wellesley, Mass., who frequently encountered this issue when living abroad and visiting the States. “With the number of visitors to NYC, I am surprised that this stumbling block exists,” she said. “Not too welcoming.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=efc890380da1135b632c806207c9a29d

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