Chip Requirements: Challenge to Using a Credit Card Abroad

by John Stevenson on November 13, 2011

For many, using a credit card abroad is safer than carrying cash. While this is a popular strategy, there are some challenges to using a credit card abroad.  Travelers who use North American cards, for example, may have mixed success when they try to make incidental purchases or go shopping. The same is true for using a credit card at places like unattended gas stations and bus stops. Many Canadians and Americans see their credit cards rejected because they do not contain smart chips.

One way to go round this is to use a prepaid credit card, explains Canadian travel writer Andrew Satkowiak. Those who travel abroad can load a small amount of money on a prepaid credit card and replenish it when necessary. Jason Steele, credit card expert and traveler recommends another credit card travel strategy. He carries multiple cards and keeps them in different locations. For example, his wife carries one card, he carries another, and they keep an additional credit card secured at the hotel (

Another way to deal with this is to use a prepaid credit card, which may be available in pounds and Euros. It will not cost you anything to use a debit card, but there is another problem. When loading the card with cash, you will not get the best exchange rates.

Travelers to Europe will not have a problem using their North American credit cards at stores, hotels, and restaurants. Credit card processing machines in such establishments can process both smart chip cards and magnetic-strip cards. It may take a few extra steps. Just ask the clerk or manager to follow the instructions that show on the machine. This will make your card work.

What if all cards are rejected, though? Insist that the manager or cashier keep trying to swipe your credit cards as it sometimes happens that the card reader recognizes the magnetic strip and approves the transaction. In some cases, they will agree and redo it. Even if all of your cards have been rejected, your American Express card may work and be accepted at various locations (The New York Times).

If you use an ATM at gas station pumps, parking meters, and railroad ticket machines at some train stations in Spain and France, your card may be rejected. What you should do in this case is find the station attendant or go to the ticket window. Your transaction will be processed this way. However, if the ticket window, gas station, or bank is closed, you may be in trouble (Consumer Traveler).

What can you do in this case? Plan ahead. You can make basic purchases and buy tickets online. For instance, Rail Europe offers European train tickets online, and you can purchase them in advance. The French bicycle rental system Vélib, which rejects credit cards with magnetic strips, also accepts online payments.

When you finally go back home, inform your credit card issuer of any problems you had abroad. This is one way to push them to introduce chip-based credit cards if they haven’t done it already (The New York Times).

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