American plastic as we know it – is it going the way of the Dodo bird, doomed soon to be extinct? It could very well be. The all-American credit card is in increasing trouble and the European-style credit card, or carte de crédit, as the French would say, is on the rise. Already, problems for North American travelers are mounting when they go to Europe and to many other places as well. Although not a major irritant yet, it is getting to be more so with each passing year.
Do you want to rent a bicycle in Paris? Good luck! Your American credit cards probably won’t work, and even if it happens to, it will take repeated efforts on your part.
Need to use a credit card at an automated ticket kiosk to catch the Paris Metro, that train to Berlin, or pay at an automated toll on a French road? Sorry, no can do! Or maybe you need to purchase gas?
Can you use that automated gasoline station up ahead? Again, you are probably going to be out of luck. You can’t use such services with American credit cards.
That is, you can’t use these and many other automated services unless your card happens to have an embedded chip in it, a version of the so-called “smart card.” And good luck with that idea, because as of this writing, it appears no American credit card company is using embedded chips for such purposes, at least not for Americans getting them in the United States. And the problems don’t stop there. Many vendors, such as merchants, shops, restaurants don’t have, or worse, don’t know how to use, our “swipe” style machines anymore. So, it isn’t just automated service that can be a big problem.
Sadly, although a few years back everyone was touting the “smart card” in the United States, it really didn’t happen for us. We have an older and reasonably reliable system that dates back about four decades, the “swipe” method of authorization for credit cards. And contrary to some remarks made by our European cousins that we should “catch up” with modern times, and do as they do, we really haven’t had the need.
You see, the major reason for using such cards throughout Europe today is to stop, or at least considerably slow down, credit card fraud. In the United States, although we do definitely suffer from this crime, it hasn’t reached the level that it already has in Europe. So, American credit card companies haven’t felt the pressing need to switch. Also, we have an advanced infrastructure in the United States already dependent on, and using, the “swipe” card system. This would all have to be changed to work with such “smart cards.” It would cost billions of dollars to do this. It may be easy for a small country, like Belgium, to accomplish such a changeover, but for a continent-wide country such as ours, it is a major task, and would be at far higher cost.
However, the world does seem to be going the way of this new type of credit card. And, due to mounting international pressure to conform, we may soon have to follow suit as well. This would again make American plastic practical and easy to use all over the world.
But what do Americans do until then? Our options appear to be very limited. For the time being, we probably will just have to avoid using the automated services, and instead use our cards at bank ATMs and/or banks. Our cards are still good at such places and many others. Or we can choose to go back to an older method, and carry more cash with us to feed the automated machines.
Herein is a problem. If you can’t use that credit card to get the day’s best exchange rate automatically, then the need to know the current exchange rate becomes very important. As a smart traveler, you must be aware of the current rate of exchange. And for this, there is no better place than Currate.com . With reliable and daily updated exchange rates, an online currency converter calculator, a Google Earth type world map (http://currate.com/map.php) where you can just point and click to get the currency of your destination, and actual images of over 180 currencies, what could be easier?
And remember what we said about many shops, stores, and restaurants in Europe not accepting our credit cards? This means your only alternative is to have cash on hand to pay the bill. But then what is the daily exchange rate for their currency and yours? What does that menu price in their currency translate to in costs in our money? How much should we tip? What does their currency even look like?
Well, if you have a mobile phone with Internet browser capability, you can access Currate.com simply by going to http://currate.com/mbasic.php. If your mobile phone is capable of using more enhanced features, go to http://currate.com/menhanced.php. This way, you won’t feel embarrassed, will be able to know the real costs of what
you are buying, and can rest easy knowing you haven’t made some major and costly mistake. I find that Currate.com provides incredible peace-of-mind in this respect.
And there is some good news on this whole credit card issue; people do want us to be tourists in their countries, and they like it when we spend money. So many are taking steps to ensure their staff can also use the “swipe” machines, and they are trying different methods of allowing us to use our version of credit cards in lots of places. However, for those automated machines located around Europe, from using those Velib kiosks in Paris for bicycle renting, to those automated Esso gas stations, our cards just don’t work. So, keep some cash handy for emergencies, and remember Currate.com . And this way, your trip will be much less frustrating, much less annoying, and a lot more fun!
Rob Shelsky, Currate.com Contributing Editor
U.S. Credit Cards Becoming Outdated, Less Usable Abroad
‘Smart’ Chip-And-Pin Cards Catching On Worldwide, But Not Here.
Using an American Credit Card for the Paris Bike-Share System