A European credit card employing modern "chip and pin" technology, is clearly superior to the old-fashioned "magnetic stripe" credit cards issued to Americans. But is it worth the time and expense to equip yourself with a "chip and pin" card for your next trip to Europe?
That's a hotly-disputed question. My own one-time experience in buying a "chip and pin" card was not a good one. To get the card from a U.S.-based outlet selling it, I had to fill it with Euros at a badly-disadvantageous exchange rate, in addition to paying an initial fee for the card's issuance. On the trip for which I had obtained the card, I did not have a single need to use it. When I returned to the States and re-visited the card outlet to turn it in, I again had to pay a fee to get the money that had been "inserted" into the card.
Still, would the European card have proved useful in other possible circumstances? Consider the following:
Just as we Americans have to insert a pin number into an ATM machine to get cash, a European must provide a pin number to make use of a credit card. The chip inside the card will permit it to be used only if a pin number is given. This prevents the card from being used by a thief who has stolen or found it. That makes the European card clearly superior to ours. How many times have you had to undergo convulsions when you have lost or mislaid a credit card, and feared that it would be used by a scoundrel?
But will a European hotel, restaurant or store accept one of our old-fashioned cards? In the overwhelming number of instances, the answer is Yes. Europeans have learned how to confirm the validity of one of our outmoded magnetic stripe cards. I have never once been unable to use my U.S. credit cards at a broad range of European establishments.
But recently, I've been receiving letters or calls from readers who had problems. One of them told (on a recent broadcast of Sunday's Travel Show) of traveling in a lightly-inhabited countryside area of Denmark, where she attempted to use the card in a tiny shop that rarely saw a tourist. The proprietor was utterly puzzled by her magnetic stripe card. Throughout a one-week stay in this rural backwater, she could not use her card.
Others have told of an increasing number of unattended kiosks or card-accepting machines at serve-yourself gas stations, or unattended railway stations, or even in the subway stations of several European cities. Those machines do not accept a U.S. card. Even at stations where an attendant sat behind a ticket window, the time needed to use a U.S. credit card was considerable, and the attendant was often irritated to devote time to such an old-fashioned contrivance.
So I'm starting to wonder. If I am planning a trip only to large European cities, never involving rental of a car or late-night use of a train station, then I don't feel it necessary to obtain a European chip-and-pin card. If, instead, I am planning a free-roving trip away from the big cities and through the European countryside, then it might be the way of wisdom to obtain such a card. USAA--the military bank that civilians find increasingly easy to use--issues them. So does a firm called Travelex, with 200 stores all across America.
Do any of our readers know of additional places for obtaining a "chip-and-pin" card? I'd be grateful if they'd inform us of them. And I'd also love to know whether anyone else is a firm opponent of the need to get one--as I partially am.