30 May 2012

Chip and PIN Credit Cards

Travel Tip for Americans traveling to Europe
If you are planning on traveling to Europe for a cycling vacation or as a tourist, come prepared for the changes in currency transfer. As Americans, protected by our two shores, we may not have realized how far behind the times our country has fallen. More secure and much easier ways of transferring funds between accounts have been in place for some time in western Europe. It is time we get on board.
You will need a chip and PIN credit card
If not now, soon. The time has come, after living in the dark ages for years, Americans can finally obtain a credit card with chip and Signature (PIN) technology. These credit cards are more secure and often do not charge international transactions fees when used abroad. If you plan to travel, apply for an EMV card, you might have to pay an annual fee (mine is $95/yr), but it insures you will not get stuck when least convenient. Here is a list of Chip and PIN credit cards available to Americans. Your bank may also offer a card, call to ask, they should replace yoru current card for no cost. If you travel frequently the card is worth having.
That little chip is good as gold
The day I received a replacement of my British Airways Visa card for one with a chip on it was a happy day indeed. I felt like I had received a travel badge of honor - I am a tourist in the know. I will no longer be rejected! Rejection is hard to take, but without that dandy microchip on my smart credit card I get refused by restaurateurs, retail shops, gas stations, and ATMS - key items to any tourist.

*Update July 2012*: After spending 18 days in France, I can report that my American based chip card worked well in restaurants, markets, shops, E.Leclerc gas stations (with CB card signs), autoroute gas stations, Tollbooths with the CB card signs (only). It did NOT work at standard tollbooths (I kept coins ready), parking meter pay stations, and unattended gas stations (without the blue CB card logo), and some small retailers. It was however very convenient to have, since most credit card machines are not swipe machines but insert your card machines.
Have confidence when facing down a machine
When I see one of these hand held credit card swipers, I have the confidence to know my card will be accepted. Those awkward moments of handing a salesperson or waiter my archaic card and having them flip it over and over with the expression of - what era is this card from? and my matching expression of - I am sorry... I come from America, are over. Now I can proudly purchase away, and eat up a storm, and know I will be able to pay. 
slide it in the bottom
slide it down the side
My transportation flow should be much smoother as well ... through the peage tollbooths, in and out of parking lots, filling up at gas stations (without searching for one with a live attendant), buying train tickets (without wasting many minutes standing in line at the attendant ticket booth). I will have travel freedom. Read more about chip and PIN smart cards in an informative article by msn money: New credit cards make travel harder.
All I need is the chip card and (very rarely) a 4-digit code (PIN).  *Most of the US based chip cards still require a signature (chip and signature cards).
We used to have to look for the Cirrus symbol on the machine to know our bank ATM card would work but be warned that increasing numbers of machines (now a significant inconvenience) will reject your standard ATM card for cash. Bring a credit card along with you (and it's PIN) as a back up to get cash. If you do not have a chip and Signature (PIN) card, be certain to bring your ATM card and a couple credit cards, it might be less convenient but you can work most situations out and find a way to pay.
Money Transfers
Checkbooks are as out of date as 8-track cassettes. Bills are paid by providing a IBAN number to approve direct transfer of money from one account to another. Don't be surprised if a hotel deposit is requested by money transfer, this is actually an old term applied to a very efficient system. You might need to go into your bank and fill out the paperwork for approving a wire-transfer over the phone, otherwise you will need to go into your bank to complete the transaction. The downside is the cost: typically a $45 fee, no matter what the actual transfer amount is. There are some web based transfer sites, but I have not used these and cannot recommend one.
When I recently transferred funds to purchase my VIP ticket for the 2012 Tour of Flanders, I felt the extra fee was absorbed into the incredible experience. However if a €60 bed and breakfast in France is asking for a down-payment, the added transfer fee may make no sense and nearly double your hotel rate. Paypal International transfers might make more sense, check if Paypal is an option for your needs.
How it works, our American banks will need this information from the person you intend to pay:
  • Account holder name:
  • Account number:
  • IBAN:
  • Bank identifier code (BIC / swift):
The IBAN number is a very long (27 digit) code which contains the account number within. Our banks must have the Bank identifier code (BIC/swift) which identifies the bank branch and is needed to send out the transfer.
You might also come across Paypal, an efficient method of collecting and making payment online used by many businesses in the United State and around the world. Paypal is a quick guarantee that funds will be transferred and guaranteed within a couple days. If you don't have a Paypal account already, it is time you created one for yourself. 
Good luck, I hope these travel tips make your journey more enjoyable, so you can get out and ride your bike carefree. For more Pedal Dancer travel tips - visit the France Travel page: FRANCE TRAVEL

Update 06/23/13: Read http://thepointsguy.com/2013/05/us-credit-cards-with-smart-chips/ 
A list of Pin and Signature credit cards, with 2 Chip and Pin cards now available : Updates: A Climb, Credit Cards, Helmets, and TDF .