Solving your “chip and PIN” debit/credit card problems abroad

A new product could make life – and a plastic charge card rather than cash – much easier for Americans traveling abroad. A currency exchange company called Travelex has begun selling a preloaded debit card that uses the “chip and PIN” technology (the card has an embedded microchip and a PIN number you have to use, like with a debit card) widely used in Europe – rather than the card common in the U.S. that has a magnetic stripe.

I ran into problems with my magnetic stripe credit card when I was in London a few years ago – a few places, especially those off the tourist beaten path, would not accept my card  because it didn’t have the chip and PIN and they didn’t have the machine needed to process my magnetic strip card. (Before this, I didn’t know I HAD a magnetic strip card.)  We also had some troubles in France with this – at gas stations and paying highway tolls at machines that only accept chip-and-PIN cards.

If I’m reading the NYTimes travel story from Dec. 5 about this correctly, the new Cash Passport smart cards will include both the magnetic stripe and the chip and PIN.  They’ll be sold initially at Travelex airport and retail locations and then early next year online. And they’ll be available in euros or pounds and can be used wherever MasterCard is used.  Word has it there’s no fee to buy or use the card from Travelex but some ATM operators abroad may charge fees.  All good but one question: Why don’t U.S. credit card companies adopt the chip-and-PIN technology which I gather better safeguards us if the card is stolen since people can’t use it without knowing the PIN?

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