Your US smart card will work fine overseas, until it doesn’t work


Question: I recently spent three months in France. I went armed with my Visa credit and debit cards from my financial services company. Every time I used the card I had to sign a sales slip. It was only an inconvenience as long as there was a human on both sides of the deal. But France has automated shopping points – sometimes at hotels, gas stations and toll booths – that don’t have a human present. This was a major problem, especially at gas stations, as France, unlike the United States, does not have stations on every corner. Back home, I contacted every financial organization, from which I received no help. What is the solution ?

James mcintosh


Reply: McIntosh is a member of the 5%. It might sound like the code for “just a little less rich than the 1%”, but what it really means is that it’s out of luck.

He is, it seems, part of the 5% of American cardholders whose cards do not work abroad.

This figure is an estimate by Joe Cortez, points and miles expert at Nerd wallet, a consumer financial website, which said 95% of US smart cards work in Europe.

To understand why this is a problem, let’s travel back in time.

While the United States clung to magnetic stripe cards – swipe and sign – other countries relied on EMV chip cards – Europay, Mastercard, Visa.

“The reason EMV became a standard was that it was more secure,” Cortez said. “It generates a unique code when using the card, unlike the information on a magnetic stripe card, which does not change and makes it easy to create a counterfeit card.

Essentially, having a magnetic stripe card is like giving someone a “key to your house,” he said.

The United States introduced smart cards in October 2015.

Here’s the problem, though: Smart cards come in many familiar forms: chip and signature or chip and PIN, or personal identification number.

In the first case, you pay and sign. In the latter case, you enter a PIN code, much like what you do with a debit card. The PIN card would be more secure, as few merchants compare signatures. Even if they do, a well-practiced faux scribble can be difficult to detect.

When the United States finally implemented the smart card, it chose the chip and the signature. Merchants, it was said, were concerned about the customer experience. Newer smart cards take longer to process, and the addition of a PIN, another layer of protection, wasn’t in the cards, so to speak.

Fraud, moreover, has increased, according to a Fortune item, citing a Javelin Strategy and Research Study.

“Incidents of identity fraud increased 16% in 2016, costing individuals $ 16 billion in losses, which was an all-time high,” the article said. “The study did not look exclusively at credit cards, but Javelin said the vast majority of identity theft fraud is linked to credit cards.”

It’s not that easy for bad guys to create a counterfeit card that works in the age of chips, as the code changes with every transaction, but, according to the story, “the criminals keep their illegal activities online now. where the new chips do not come into play.

Either way, the United States had taken a step forward but was not quite in tune with the rest of the world, where the chip and PIN are prevalent. But, travelers have been assured that their chip and signature cards should work even in unmanned kiosks.

During visits to Europe and Asia in 2016, I had no issues with a chip and signature card, but I also did not buy gas or train tickets. (I had an issue with fraud on my American Express card, which the company alerted me to before charging $ 5,000 in fees for return tickets from Nairobi, Kenya to Sacramento.)

Cortez recommends taking at least two types of credit cards, as unexpected issues (besides signing issue) arise. If a credit card company suspects fraud, they will cancel or freeze a card, which has happened with my Amex card. I would have been done if I hadn’t had others with me. (Be sure to alert your card companies before traveling. You can often do this online.)

But Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at, a marketplace and credit card information site that is part of Lending Tree, believes that “the best thing to do is get yourself a compatible chip and PIN card before you travel.” ‘foreigner.

“For me, it’s a case of ‘prevention is better than cure’,” he said. “My family went to Europe in 2016, and we got a Barclay Arrival Plus. We have found that we have used it several times in unmanned kiosks in parking lots in a few small towns in France.

“International travel is stressful enough. If getting a chip and PIN can take a few headaches and variables out of your trip, to me it’s worth the… the annual fee.

The annual fee of $ 89 is billed, according to its website, within six weeks. The card also does not charge transaction fees abroad.

It is the easiest card to obtain. Others, through credit unions, sometimes require that you join an organization before you qualify. You can find listings on several sites, including Credit card insider (, Portfolio Center ( and Credit (

Three final notes:

►Some credit card companies send you a PIN code, but it can be a cash advance with interest rates that can make you cringe. But see if your credit card company can offer you a PIN for international travel, which has nothing to do with a cash advance.

►Be careful when using your card at petrol stations. They are not required to convert to a chip until 2020, Schulz said. He suggests checking your card or bank statement carefully (if you are using a debit card). In general, look for small fees, not round-trip tickets from Nairobi to Sacramento.

► Money is always king, Cortez said. It might be old fashioned, but until contactless payments become the norm, it may be your fastest financial bailout.

Have a travel question or dilemma? Write to [email protected] We regret that we cannot respond to all requests.

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Darcy J. Skinner

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