What to Do if Your Credit Card is Not Accepted Internationally

There’s an interesting article in USA Today about the increasing problems experienced by Americans internationally when they try and use their credit cards.

One of the most beneficial and positive changes to international travel in the last many decades has been the introduction and growing prevalence of credit cards and places that accept them internationally.  Some of us may remember the bad old days of travelers checks, but these days probably none of us ever bother with them any more.

Unfortunately, this is another area where the US is falling behind the rest of the world.  In an effort to cut down on credit card crime, many countries and the credit card companies within those countries have now introduced a new type of credit card with a computer chip built into it (pictured here).  When you use this credit card to buy something, you not only swipe the credit card but also must enter a PIN code into the credit card reader.  This means that if someone steals your credit card, it will be useless to them because they will not know your PIN code.

This is particularly appealing in countries which do not have the same limits on liability that apply in the US to protect credit card holders if their credit card is stolen.  It is also good sense for everyone, everywhere.

Unfortunately, in the US, banks have resisted a move to issuing credit cards with the computer chips built into them.  Why?  The answer to this question is unclear, and the cynics among us might think that it is simply due to the extra cost of producing credit cards with integrated computer chips.

And now for the problem.  Due to the growing prevalence – indeed, the near universality of what are termed ‘Chip and PIN’ credit cards in many parts of the world, and due to their greater security, some types of credit card readers no longer handle old-fashioned and insecure standard credit cards such as we still have here.

In theory, all merchants are required as part of their Visa/MasterCard acceptance accreditation to agree to accept old-fashioned American credit cards as well as modern Chip and PIN cards.  But two problems remain.  The first is that some poorly trained staff may not know how to do a manual override and enter your credit card number themselves.  The second problem is that if you are somewhere that only has unattended automated machines, there is no person to turn to to help you complete your transaction.

If you confront a situation where a store employee says they cannot accept your credit card, insist on speaking to the manager and tell them you know they are required to accept your credit card as part of their merchant agreement with Visa/MasterCard.  Ask that they call their merchant services help number for assistance if they do not know how to manually process your credit card transaction.

But if you are at an automated unattended machine, you are out of luck.  For sure, it is always prudent to keep an emergency reserve supply of cash in both US and local currency, but this too will be of no use to you if there is no way to use cash at the automated machine.

7 thoughts on “What to Do if Your Credit Card is Not Accepted Internationally”

  1. There’s just no logic to it. Do these cards really cost more than a few pennies? How is that a consideration when I pay $$$ a year for the privilege of carrying an AmEx card?

  2. What goes around comes around. Decades ago in France, VISA was known there as Carte Bleu, and despite having “VISA” (albeit in small print) on their cards and promo signs, I never won an argument with a shopkeeper (it was France, after all). Except once.
    At Le Bourget during the Paris Air Show I filled up at a gas station, went inside to pay and had the card refused. I had cash but decided to play the game and after some period of anguish I went on my way despite threats to sic the local gendarmerie on me.

  3. I just made arrangements this week for my Bank of America Visa card renewal to be done early because I will be traveling out of the country when it was due to expire. At the end of our conversation, the clerk told me he would send me a PIN to use with my card overseas. Now I just hope that merchants will know how to enter it manually.

  4. Having a PIN won’t help you if you are confronted with a credit card reader that reads chips not magnetic stripes (see the picture at the top of the article).

  5. Chip and PIN credit and debit cards have been in use in France and Germany for well over a decade and in the United Kingdom for at least five or six years!
    The alternate ‘get the manager involved’ routine is similar to our local cards, where due to eyesight limitations, users may opt for a ‘signature only’ card which was introduced to allow customers to sign the slip instead of using a PIN. This caused similar lack of awareness problems with many store staff, until the card companies got sufficiently kicked to do something about it. Now it is a standard routine in terminal training routines, DVDs and paper manuals!

  6. Pingback: Miscellaneous Weekly Roundup 4 June » The Travel Insider

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