Avoiding Credit Card Woes in Europe


Recently, we have noticed that our credit cards do not always work in some areas of Europe. Although not a cause for panic, there have been a few changes that travelers should be aware of when using credit cards in Europe.

Choose your credit card wisely

The Chip-and-PIN cards were introduced in Europe almost ten years ago and now more than 80 countries use them. The Chip-and-PIN credit cards use an embedded chip technology instead of the magnetic strip cards that most American credit card companies use.

Chip-and-PIN is very secure technology that makes it much harder for credit card hackers and fraudsters to steal from consumers. Rather than just stealing the information contained in a card’s magnetic strip, they’d have to know the carrier’s pin number as well.

We  first became aware of the issue when we tried to use our credit card to purchase train tickets from a machine in the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. The vending machine rejected our card, so we went to the ticket counter and the person behind the counter would not accept our credit card either. We paid with cash.

Other places that might reject your magnetic strip card are toll ways, unattended parking garages or gas stations. We also found that some restaurants in Amsterdam would not take our card, and in some instances, wouldn’t even take cash!

We had no problem of this sort in France, but have heard of credit card rejection stories in Italy and several other countries. We have been warned that the demand for Chip-and-PIN cards will only increase. Note: ATM machines have always worked with our debit card and that should not be an issue.

One remedy to this problem is to be sure you have adequate cash in case you run into one of these quirky machines. Another is to get a credit card with a Chip-and-PIN for Europe travel.

Some banks that offer a Chip-and-PIN card are: American Express Platinum, Bank of America, Chase, Citi, and US Bank. However, not all configurations on each of these cards will offer Chip-and-PIN cards. Furthermore, banks are not happy to offer Chip-and-PIN cards, because they are more expensive to produce, so they may try to talk you out of it.

To complicate matters further, some banks will offer a Chip and signature card, which also will not work in Europe’s machines and defeats the safety feature of a PIN. The best place to start is to contact your credit card carrier. Perhaps, with enough requests, this technology will be as readily available to Americans as it is for Europeans.

Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com

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  1. Marcia says

    This is very helpful. My daughter moved to Germany from the Midwest USA last August and we went into our bank here and made arrangements for me to be on her account. While there, I asked about these chip and pin cards and they told us that the bank here would not offer them for security reasons. Not sure if the person telling us this had the story right, but that is what she told us. At first, when my daughter got to Germany, she couldn’t get her debit card to work in an ATM, so I went back to the bank and they checked online to make sure there wasn’t a block on the account. The next week, she got her card to work and has had no problems since.

  2. Amy Lane says

    Wow! Who knew? This is great info and great to find out now than before you get there! Thanks for the article!

  3. John says

    Nice article, but…
    >some banks will offer a Chip and signature card
    Not some, but MOST.
    Americans looking to get a chip and pin card will find it difficult. Believe me, I’ve tried. Beware that many credit card applications WILL say “chip”, but will not tell you if it’s PIN or signature; talk to a bank rep and most often you’ll learn it’s a signature card.
    One more thing. The “chip” card accounts will come with, in my opinion, very large yearly fees. Once you do find a chip and PIN card, how much is the convenience worth to you? 🙁
    My experiences are that a business with a person at the register is fine with my credit card, but an ATM style purchase will not work.

  4. Bill Britton says

    Be sure to double check that your credit card with a chip actually has a pin for credit card purchases. Many now have a chip, but the only pin works at ATM’s for cash advances. The pin will not work for credit purchases. Last fall there were only 2 places that issued chip-and-pin credit cards working overseas. One is the State Dept. Federal Credit Union and the other is the Anderson Federal Credit Union. I have used the SDFCU card around Europe without any problems. I have 2 Citi cards with chips but not a pin that works for credit card purchases.

  5. Dawn Starr says

    Remember that many US credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee for each purchase. One can calculate those rates vs. the foreign transaction rates imposed by US banks for ATM withdrawals to make the best decision. Amex Platinum does not have a foreign transaction fee, but its annual fee is hefty and many smaller towns and businesses in Europe do not take Amex.

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