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.