You might think that the U.S. is on the cutting edge of technology, but when it comes to credit cards it most certainly is NOT. The rest of the world uses something called an EMV card. Instead of a magnetic strip, EMV cards have an embedded chip that is both safer and easier to use.
If you stay in the major touristy areas, your card will work fine. But if you are planning to spend 2-3 months in a small village, you may run into some problems:
- Automated kiosks cannot process your card. This includes tollbooths and parking lots. If you don’t have a EMV card, you will need to pay cash.
- You cannot “pay at the pump.” You can’t pay-at-the-pump with an American credit card. Someone has to be working there who is willing and able to “swipe” your card. Keep in mind that French gas stations aren’t staffed 24-7 like they are in the U.S. I found I needed to plan my gas purchases in advance. Once I was so desperate for gas that I had to ask a perfect stranger to buy gas for me with their credit card and then I gave them cash in return.
- Some merchants don’t have a swipe machine. Particularly if their business does not put them in touch with “tourists.” For example, I once needed to buy two new tires for my leased car, but the company only accepted EMV cards or cash. Unfortunately, there was a limit to how much cash I could withdraw on any given day, so I had to come back 3 days in a row to make payments.
- Some merchants have a swipe machine, but have never used it before. You might have to (kindly) show them how to use it. If you are in grocery store, this transaction will likely involve manager approval.
How to get an EMV credit card
American credit card companies are slowly starting to offer EMV credit cards that also eliminate foreign transaction fees – but most only offer these cards to their Corporate Clients.
At time of publication, there is only one U.S. based institution that offers EMV card to personal account holders: Andrews Credit Union offers a Globe Trek Visa card. For information, go to www.AndrewsFCU.org.
If you decide not forgo the EMV card, just remember to carry cash with you at all times!