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- Travel Tips
US cards beware in Europe: pin+chip
Fri, 01/06/2012 - 19:35
I post a lot on another travel forum that also covers money issues, and thought I’d pass along some of those tips to fellow Eurotrippers.
As more and more merchants in Europe adopt the pin+chip card technology, US cardholders with the older magnetic-strip debit and credit cards can face hassles trying to pay for things. Although merchants displaying Mastercard or Visa logos are, in theory, supposed to accept your card, in practice, they don’t always — because they don’t know how to handle it (improper training), don’t want to put forth the effort, or have been trained not to take them. An argument over merchant agreements doesn’t get your train ticket paid for when it’s arriving in … 4 minutes! What to do?
Plan ahead, and have cash as your backup plan. I have never encountered ATMs that would not take my US magnetic-strip cards with 4 digit PIN. Even if you show a waiter your card before ordering, and they assure you it’s fine, still you can be surprised at settle-up and have to dash out to get some cash.
Train kiosks usually take coins as well as cards. Hold on to change! They rarely take bills. Fortunately, European currencies come in larger amount coins. 1 and 2 Euro coins, 1 Pound coins, 10 and 20 Kroner coins — depending where you are, of course.
Get a 4 digit PIN for your credit card, in addition to your 4 digit ATM card PIN. Sometimes the card will be read but will require you to enter your PIN instead of signature.
Mastercard and Visa are the most widely-accepted cards in Europe. Amex… rarely. Diners… even less than Amex. Discover… they don’t have it in Europe at all.
Merchants in some countries or regions can tend to favor one brand over the other. Last several times in Bavaria, for some reason, nearly every place I went would not take Mastercard (called “Eurocard” there) — and would only take Visa. What to do? Have 1 of each — a Visa credit + Mastercard-branded debit card, or vice-versa.
There are 3 potential fees on ATM transactions:
1. What your card issuing bank charges for you to use someone else’s ATM.
2. What someone else’s ATM charges you, a nonmember, to use it.
3. What the foreign network charges you, a non-network member, to make a transaction.
I’ve seen these range from $2 to $6 — each! That’s expensive money if not careful. What to do?
Ask your bank how much it will cost you to use your ATM and credit card overseas. You want 1% total or less. This is the base fee that MC and Visa charge on all foreign currency transactions. Some banks add another 1-4% on top of that; a very few will even “eat” the 1% to attract and keep high-spending international travelers.
Look for ATM networks that work with your card’s network(s) for free foreign withdrawals. Some even let you search friendly ATMs via online maps.
Having a MC or Visa logo on your debit card means you can use it just about anywhere in the world; but, if you’re out of network, or if your bank charges to use other ATMs, then you’ll still get hit with fees at the dispensing ATM. Shop around for cards well in advance of travel. Credit Unions, generally, have lower card fees.
Credit Card? Just beware the foreign currency transaction fee noted above. Try to get one 1% total or less. Oh, and have some cash as a backup-plan.