Yes, there’s a strong chance your credit card with the old-fashioned magnetic strip won’t work at most cash registers in Europe. American banks and retailers are woefully behind in security technology, and consumers are suffering for it. The recent hacking of ATM and credit information for tens of millions of Target shoppers is one example, and this growing obsolescence of our cards when we shop across the pond is another.
Here’s the basic difference between cards with magnetic strips and those with smart chips. With magnetic-strip cards, in one swipe, your personal information is accessed and stored by a restaurant or retailer through their card reader. Employing a little ingenuity, thieves can steal this information with surprising ease. That’s why half the world’s credit card fraud reportedly occurs in the U.S.
Smart-chip cards have an embedded microprocessor instead of a magnetic strip. Your personal information is encrypted within that, and accessed—but not stored—when you verify your identity by punching a PIN into a keypad.
The reason most American credit card companies haven’t caught up with the rest of the world is cost: all card-swipe machines in the country would have to be replaced with smart-chip readers (and the merchants would be on the hook for buying them). But times are changing. The card companies have set a deadline of October 2015 to make a full transition to smart cards. After that date, merchants who don’t accept smart cards in the U.S., and not the banks, will be liable for payment fraud.
Follow these steps to get a smart-chip card for your European travels:
- Call your credit card company at the toll-free number on the back of your card. Ask if you can get a smart-chip replacement. There’s a chance they can oblige. American Express can do that for you with a handful of the cards they offer, as can Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. If they can’t, your other options appear below.
- Get a card connected to a European company or bank. The British Airways Visa Signature card (through Chase) uses a smart chip; the Barclaycard Arrival Plus does as well.
- Get a Travelex Cash Passport. It’s a prepaid card that comes with a smart chip. You can load (and reload) it online with the local currency, and it works at any MasterCard location.