If you plan to travel abroad this summer, you should be aware that your usual credit or debit card may not work overseas. In other countries, particularly in Europe, EMV or “chip and PIN” cards are standard. Many merchants will not or cannot accept U.S. cards with magnetic stripes, which could put you in a difficult position when you need gas or have to buy a train ticket.
But proper planning can prevent travel headaches:
Cash is king. No matter where you are in the world, everyone accepts cash. While cash can be a security risk, so is not having any. Exchange some currency at your local bank before you leave, since you might need some foreign money the moment you step off the plane. But exchange the bulk of your money once you have arrived at your destination to get the best rates.
Traveler’s checks are still a good option. Traveler’s checks are now available in the form of an EMV debit card. American Express, Visa, AAA, and Wells Fargo are just a few of the institutions that offer traveler’s checks.
Carry photo ID. When paying with a regular credit card, always have a valid ID available. A merchant who is accustomed to accepting EMV cards may feel skittish about your regular credit card, and may require that you present a photo ID.
Train station kiosks require EMV. Many people travel on trains, especially when touring foreign countries. Purchasing tickets can be difficult, as most rail stations have ticket kiosks that require an EMV card (or cash only). Most train stations do also have a manned ticket booth that will accept cash, but be warned that the lines are often very long. Buying online ahead of time is also an option.
Gas pumps also require EMV. In the late hours of the evening, or early in the morning it is not uncommon for a gas station to be unattended, but with self-service pumps left open. However, these pumps generally only accept EMV cards. This is when planning ahead is essential. If you know you will be traveling all night, get gas ahead of time, or you may end up searching for a gas station with an attendant in the wee hours.
Toll roads are tricky. In a Fodors.com forum discussing European toll roads, one user advises, “In France, sometimes a US credit card works, and sometimes it won’t. If it won’t and you have a line of cars behind you all honking their horns, it won’t be a good scene. The credit card toll booths that I’ve seen don’t take cash as an alternative. The credit card machine ‘eats’ your ticket, so backing up (even if there are not cars behind you) won’t work. We had to have an attendant close her toll booth, come over to ours, take our cash, and then we got going.”
So, all that being said, carry cash, try to travel during the day, and be aware of your options are at night.
Read more personal stories and advice at www.GetFluentC.com.