Updated 06/07/2012 09:21 AM
Travelers In Europe Get Full Purchasing Power With Chip & PIN Cards
If London is calling — or any other European destination for that matter — a standard American credit card may not cut it overseas. NY1's Money Matters reporter Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
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Planning a trip to Europe? Familiarize yourself with three little words — "Chip and PIN." Most European countries have converted over to this type of credit card. It has a smart chip built in and requires holders to enter a PIN number, not unlike a debit card.
"It's really a security measure so that somebody can't take your credit card and be running around Europe with it. They need to have those four digits and a signature," says Frommers.com senior online editor Jason Clampet.
The technology may offer extra security, but it can also cause extra headaches for Americans abroad. While many stores and restaurants in bigger cities can still process a regular credit card, Clampet says there are some instances where Americans could run into a roadblock.
"Throughout France, Italy and Germany there are a lot of gas stations that there's no attendant there. You're pumping on your own, and you can't get gas unless you have a Chip and PIN card," says Clampet.
"Definitely unmanned kiosks such as train ticket kiosks and gas stations, places like that, you will have a very difficult time using your magnetic-striped card," says Jon Dario of Travelex Currency Services.
Travelex began offering a prepaid Chip and PIN card called the "Cash Passport." The card offers all the security of Chip and PIN technology, is replaceable if lost or stolen and can be reloaded directly from a bank account.
"It gets loaded either in euros or pounds, so essentially you are spending euros and pounds instead of converting every time you do a transaction," says Dario. "We charge exactly the same exchange rate that we charge for cash conversion and that's comparable with what you would receive at any retail exchange location anywhere in Europe."
This upfront conversion means vacationers will not be hit with a foreign transaction fee on every purchase.
However experts say any exchange comes at a cost. On June 5, for instance, $1,000 was worth 802 euros, but at various retail sites, that same $1,000 could get anywhere from 720 to 760 euros.
Clampet advises travelers check with their bank and credit card companies to see what their fees are and always carry a number of options.
"Having a good debit card, a good credit card, and cash on hand are the best things to do," he says.