The Problem with American Credit Cards

chip and pin cards- what they are and why you want one!

The U.S. is on the cutting edge of technology, right? WRONG – at least not when it comes to travel-friendly credit cards. If you are planning to take a séjour, particularly to a small town – here’s a tip: Get yourself a chip and pin credit card.

Most American credit cards require merchants to “swipe” the magnetic strip through a machine. Chip and pin cards– which are widely used in Europe and  – have an embedded chip that is both safer and easier to use.  These types of cards are quickly becoming the industry standard around the world. Except in the U.S.

Unfortunately, if you are an American with one of these antiquated cards (like me), and you are travelling outside the major tourist destinations, you may run into some problems.

1. Good luck getting gas. 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. Which is not as easy as it sounds.

Let’s just say, for example:  you need gas on a Saturday evening at 5:10pm in a village Provence. Oops, sorry, no one is working right now. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Oh, but they are closed on Sunday. And Monday (because this is France). So, Tuesday. Oh, wait, Tuesday is a holiday (because this is France), but maybe Wednesday! How’s that for you? You can get gas on Wednesday! What? You can’t wait until Wednesday because you are running on fumes today, which is Saturday? Oh. Sorry. I don’t know what to tell you.

Maybe you can ask a perfect stranger to buy your gas with their credit card if you give them some cash. (which I’ve done. twice.)

2. Many places simply don’t have swipe machines and can’t process your card.Parking lots, toll booths, automated kiosks and small-town merchants: if they don’t have a swipe machine, you’re out of luck. I’ve had strangers pay for my tolls, and I’ve had to convince a mechanic to let me come back with cash to pay my bill.

3.  Sometimes, particularly in a small village, the merchants will have a swipe machine – they just don’t know how to use it. I’m not being condescending. They literally have never used it before. The first complete phrase I memorized here was this (translated): “You must swipe the card on the side of your machine like this. Voila. And now I will sign this copy for you and you must put it in the bottom of your register.”

Sometimes this action requires manager approval. Who is on his break right now. And they are not sure when he will return.  So maybe you can come back later (with your two children) and buy all these groceries. AAAAAHHH!