Home > Credit Cards > My American Chip Card Was Really Only Good for One Thing in Europe

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As most credit card holders have figured out by now, the new(ish) chip cards in the U.S. take longer to use at the checkout counter than the old swiping method we’ve used for decades. But you know what takes even longer? Using an American chip card in Europe.

Much of the news coverage about the move from mag-stripe technology to chip cards in the U.S. has mentioned how this change will bring American credit cards up to speed with the rest of the world and how chip cards are a necessity when traveling abroad.

That’s true, to a certain extent. In my recent experience, having just spent 10 days in Europe, I found that American chip-and-PIN cards are only good for one thing: Buying things at unattended kiosks.

For example, when I arrived at the airport in Europe, I needed to buy a train ticket to get to my hotel. In order go buy a ticket at the ticket machine, I needed to enter the PIN associated with my chip card. It wasn’t possible to complete this transaction with a chip card that did not have a PIN, and I saw a few travelers encounter this problem. (In the U.S., we’re working our way up with chip-and-signature cards, and only some credit cards offer accountholders the option of setting up a PIN for international travel, like mine does.)

Among my fellow travelers, I was the only one with a chip-and-PIN card, so I bought all our train tickets. It was nice that I had that capability, because buying a ticket from a machine is often a lot faster than getting one from a manned information stand.

But train tickets were an infrequent purchase. Mostly, using an American chip card in the countries I visited was kind of annoying. Here’s why.

Even though my card has a PIN set up, the credit card machines in Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands did not prompt me to enter it. Instead, they recognized my card as American (the language on the machines immediately switched to English), and the worker conducting the transaction had to print out a receipt for me to sign. The workers often didn’t have pens handy for said receipt-signing because most transactions they deal with don’t require them. On top of that, printing multiple receipts — the one I had to sign, plus two copies for me, every time — takes longer than signing a screen in the U.S., or not having to sign at all, if it is a small transaction. But they don’t have screens to sign in Europe (at least, I never saw one). Why would they? Most countries use chip and PIN, not chip and signature.

I get it. Many U.S. cards don’t have chip-and-PIN capability — some don’t even have chips yet — so defaulting to signing a receipt makes sense. But as far as convenience goes, it probably would have been a lot easier to rely on cash for most of the trip, using my credit card only when the PIN was necessary.

Of course, credit cards have their advantages. My credit card is designed for travelers, so it has no foreign transaction fees and allows me to earn points I can redeem for cash, statement credit or travel perks. There’s also the security of traveling with credit cards, rather than a debit card or cash, and when we had to use an ATM, the transaction carried hefty fees. Still, it would be nice if this chip-and-PIN “revolution” in the U.S. picked up the pace. Regardless, such a card is certainly worth considering if you’re going to take trips to other countries (here’s a guide to some of the best travel credit cards out there), but take a minute to check your credit score before applying for a new credit card so you can get a better idea of the terms and conditions you may be eligible for. You can do that for free every month on Credit.com.

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