I have sometimes had problems using credit cards in Europe especially since when you get out of the major cities in some countries (as happened to me in Saint-Malo France a few years ago). I learned then that if your card doesn't have a chip (most American cards do not, though MR Premier cards now do) it's harder. I desperately wanted to buy a painting but the guy selling it couldn't get my credit card to work. He finally took it to a restaurant and they told him to sweep it through faster. He did and it worked. One lesson learned.
Before I left for Venice, I heard on CNBC that Europe is officially again (or still) in recession). That may explain some things. Places in Venice where I used to use my American Express card (even in Piazza San Marco) no longer take it. Fortunately they took my Chase Sapphire Preferred. But I think that while Amex was always less likely to be accepted in Europe because of its higher percentage of the take, now it's worse. It'll be fine in restaurants if they display it on the door, but make sure you have another card in stores unless it states otherwise.
Then I had yet another new problem, partly because of the design of the newer cards. Both my Chase Sapphire Preferred MC and my MRI Premier VISA no longer have raised numbers so when I went to get a refund in the usual place in San Marco, they couldn't process the cards because of lack of raised numbers! But the good thing is they COULD process my Amex card for my refund because it did have raised numbers.
So there are some new things going on, I expect mostly because of the recession. I will write more about Venice -- which I love more every day, even now that I've experienced acqua alta -- but I think this is likely to be a trend elsewhere.
Very good points!
If in doubt, make sure you ask first! I had a problem in Paris on a taxi ride to Monmartre. The card never worked (No chip), and I did not have enough cash. Lucky, that the driver took what I had and waived the rest.
If people are going to Germany, be especially cautious, especially, in rural areas!
Thanks for your post!
Thanks for sharing your experiences! I, like you, carry more than one brand. I will likely keep a Visa and MasterCard with me when I go later this year. The Visa being the Marriott, and the MC being an AAdvantage card with embossed number and a chip.
Have you ever encountered the need to use a PIN while using your chip card? I've heard various stories about not being able to use US chip cards because they don't support offline PIN transaction, to stories that all you need to do is enter 0000 for your PIN.
I've never had to use a pin except once in Turkey at an ATM machine, when my home back did not process my very frequent request to use my ATM card (apparently Turkey is where the most fraud occurs -- I was surprised because I had no problem in Greece). I had to try every card I had in the ATMs since I never do cash advances but finally remembered a number I had chosen a pin for one.
I've never had to use that for a credit card purpose in Europe. You can use your bank debit card in Europe (it had never occurred to me until a separate occasion in Bologna buying a train ticket when the machine wouldn't take credit cards, but did take my debit card). In that case you will need a pin, but not with a credit card except for cash advances.
Note that even though I almost never use my Marriott Premier Rewards card anymore, it now has a chip (I got mine about three months ago), and I'm hoping Chase goes that way with all its cards. Normally I have no problems.
Here's where you will have problems, and where Jerry did: when I rented a car in France on two occasions, the toll booths would NEVER accept my credit cards (because they didn't have the chip), and possibly taxis are the same way.
In most hotels and restaurants in major cities in Europe, expect that they will take take all the cards, but be sure to ask before you dine, lest you end up washing dishes. At stores, however, you may be encouraged to use other than AMEX cards. For me, I'd much rather use it for anything except travel and dining, because I get Skymiles. For others the Sapphire card gives me 2x dollar spent for ALL forms of travel and dining.
Thanks for the info! I plan on using my chipped Marriott Premier card as my primary card in Europe because of the lack of a foreign transaction fee
It's great to hear you haven't run into PIN issues there. From what I've read in industry papers, there's two EMV (chip) standards, Chip & PIN and Chip & Signature. The US uses Chip & Sig because it conforms to current standards and is cheaper to implement and operate. In Europe, they use Chip & PIN, which allows offline authorizations, so the card itself can approve transactions without an internet connection because it keeps track of limits and balances on the card. I've heard US EMV cardholders have had issues using certain unattended rail ticket kiosks in France because they use Chip & PIN with this offline authorization system, as does certain self-serve bike rental racks, etc. Chase, has stated that I shouldn't have any issues, but one can never be too sure, especially when I've read different experiences online. Just gotta cross my fingers i guess!
But you do make a good point Prof, best to check acceptance before dining! You're probably right that less merchants are accepting AMEX because of the economy. From what I understand, AMEX charges the highest interchange fee of any of the card companies. So even here in Hawaii I've seen less and less small businesses accept AMEX. But that's why I carry an AMEX, Visa, and MC. Costco only accepts AMEX, Sam's Club is only MC, and almost everyone else carries Visa!
I've never had the problem except the one time in Turkey. Some tollgates will absolutely refuse American credit cards, though if you have the MR Preferred card that one now has the chip. My other cards don't but that is the only issue I've had that can't be resolved. The others can be done without the chip because most people here know how to or you can show them. Toll booths on highways, however, have their own minds. But I've even used my cards to buy tickets at train stations without a pin.
Thank you once again! Very good to know!
On another note (off subject) how important would you say it is to have actual Euros rather than relying on credit cards for Paris, Berlin, and Rome, as well as GBPs for London? It's difficult to get a hold of European currency in Hawaii at a good rate. Best I've found is at the DFS Galleria in Waikiki, but that's only if a tourist has come in to exchange of USD. Thanks!
Unless you are going to a place with frequent strikes (where you can check online anyway for what's happening), you can almost always get euros from an ATM at the airport using either a debit card or a credit card. It's helpful to have some euros ahead of time (though I'm sure there is a desk at Honolulu Intl Airport that will be happy to sell you euros at quite a commission. The key is whether you're arriving at the start of the weekend when some bank machines run out or very early in the morning and just need to catch a train to, say, Paris before finidng plenty of bank machines.
It is much better to do it this way than at change desks. If you use a debit or credit card, you'll only be charged wholesale commission rate (unless your bank adds a charge - mine doesn't, but in any case it will be less than commissions and other charges).
As to the other part of the question, I rarely use euros except for tips, diet cokes, postcards, etc. I use credit cards for everything else. Still it's helpful to know going into a restaurant that you have enough to cover the meal just in case your credit cards at home haven't updated your info (be sure to notify them and your bank).
The universal currency converter is a useful thing to subscribe. If the euro is going down (hallelujah when it does, but rare) I get more money out for the next trip since I travel so often. If it's going up I wait.
That's great advice, thanks! I honestly wasn't even thinking of bringing my debit card, but I just may have to reconsider. Thankfully, DFS Galleria exchanges for Euro here at just about market rate. There's virtually no commission. But, again, availability is an issue. I'll keep trying I got about 150 Euro so far, which should be enough initially (I hope), but I've only managed to buy 30GBPs. I think I still may have some 1GBP pieces and a few pence from when I went in '99!
I ALWAYS use my debit card in Europe. Most European banks (unlike American ones) don't add surcharges and you get the wholesale exchange rate. As I said, though, try to make sure to do transactions in a reliable place and for security cover your hands when you punch in your pin.
It's tell you something that in the past 6 months I have used my debit card twice at home in the US (at my own bank); I use credit cards exclusively to get points then pay them off. By contrast, I've used my debit card in Europe at least10-15 times.
Before we left for Italy last summer I kept watching the exchange rate at our bank, then a few days before had them order what I thought we'd spend to have it delivered to the bank and then we could pick it up. Got a pretty good exchange rate as well, but then we had to pay attention to making sure we didn't misplace them.
Thanks for the tip David! I know what you mean! I was watching the rates like a hawk until the wedding started becoming all consuming once again (in terms of time and money)! But the Euro and GBP I have now, I'm having to make sure I don't lose it! I almost lost my GBPs once already!!
Excellent information and it is not only in Europe that you can find AMEX being accepted less and less. In South America earlier this year I took both an AMEX and Visa and normally tried to use AMEX first, the only places it was accepted seemed to be the hotels I stayed. I didn't even take AMEX to Grand Cayman last month, just Visa.