Using Your American Credit Card In Europe Can Be A Challenge


For those of you who travel overseas every now and then, you are probably already aware that your American credit card may not work. The problem is that automated kiosks in Europe, such as those that sell train tickets and even gas, require card that have a special chip in them. This system, called chip and pin is now used at nearly every instance that does not require a signature.

My Experience

I just returned from a trip to Italy. There, we found out that our credit cards were more difficult to use than we had initially feared. Our first problem came on a nice Sunday afternoon when we attempted to purchase subway tickets in Milan. The automated kiosk simply told us that our card could not be read. Of course, there were no attendants to be found. In other instances, we were trying to buy train tickets at a station. We were faced with the choice of using the kiosk, or waiting in an incredibly long line. I can only assume the line was so long because of others like us who couldn’t use the kiosk. Fortunately, there was a third option. Many of these very machines that wouldn’t take our cards, happily accepted our cash. When we encountered them, it was off to visit an ATM in order to withdraw some Euros for the fare.

How This Is Supposed To Work

Last year, the USA Today had an article about this issue.  The article cited a report indicating that these chip and pin cards were being deployed in places like China, India, Japan, Mexico, Canada and Brazil. Unbelievably, “Visa says most payment terminals in countries that have adopted chip-payment technology can still process U.S. cards. Visa advises American travelers to present their cards to attendants “in the rare instance that a card holder encounters a problem” at self-service machines.”

Frankly, their advice is less than worthless. The entire point of chip and pin is that it is used at unattended machines such as those in toll booths and gas stations. We had several experiences where we visited an unattended gas station that would only accept chip and pin cards or cash, just like the train station. Visa’s advice boils down to seeing the attendant when you encounter an unattended machine.  Furthermore, their mention of “the rare instance that a card holder encounters a problem” at self-service machines” is ridiculous. In our experience, it wasn’t rare, it was 100% of the time that an automated kiosk would not accept any of our credit cards.

What You Can Do

There are just three ways around this problem. First, is to find a card with chip and pin. Currently, Chase’ Palladium Card has the Chip and PIN and they are rolling out the system to holders of its other cards this year. Wells Fargo is also offering trials of this system to some customers. Furthermore, the United Nations Federal Credit Union in New York and State Employees’ Credit Union of Raleigh, NC, offer cards with the system.

You can also purchase a preloaded card that is compatible with chip and pin from a company called Travelex. Unfortunately,  they offer a poor exchange rate.

Finally, you can do as we did and simply use cash from an ATM

Traveling to Europe has long been an expensive proposition, but it ads insult to injury when their machines won’t even take your credit cards.


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2 Responses to “Using Your American Credit Card In Europe Can Be A Challenge”

  1. J.E. Says:

    <> denominated in Euros € steps

    1. open account via scanning in passport and address takes 5 days.
    2. notarize documents, have county clerk verify notary, get apostille from state …
    3. send in passport and address documents via post
    4. after approval get access to UWCFS WEB and FX accounts
    5. apply for EURO Quick Card
    6. takes approximately 3-5 weeks
    7. receive Chip and PIN Euro Card =)
    8. Top Off at Barclays or Post Office =)
    9. Post deposits via IBAN/BACS/ACH/EFT =)

  2. Frank Says:

    I recently returned from a trip to Europe. For various reasons there I only one card that I qualify for (other than the Travelex one). I took the card to Europe and found that it worked only part of the time. The problem with the card is that it is signiture only (no chip, no pin, just signiture). In Europe ATM’s will not take the card at all and most credit/debit card processors will not take a signature only card. For me it appears that cash is the most workable option.

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