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Debit/Credit Cards and Foreign Travel

When I was in Toronto, Canada this past October, I did many things. Although I used cash for some, I used plastic to pay for most. On my first night there, I whipped out my card to pay for dinner – it was a Visa credit card – and the server looked at my card and in about three seconds, she informed me my card wouldn’t be accepted.

I sat there scratching my head not sure what the problem was, as I had always used that card; so I asked to speak with the manager. I continued sipping my green tea talking with my traveling companion, both of us confused about what was going on.

The manager walked over and explained a new global credit card technology to help guard against fraud. I found it very fascinating. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was finding out about this in a foreign country and not from my own bank or even the US news media, being the news junkie that I am. I had never heard of such a thing. This should be getting more attention, certainly much more attention than some of the garbage news organizations sometimes present.

When my trip was over and I was back at home, I did some research and found a lot of information on the topic. The new technology, known as EMV® is a worldwide standard for credit and debit card payments based on security chip technology, according to Bankrate.com and Visa.com. This new system, named for its developers Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, encrypts all transaction data and is designed to cut down on fraud. The magnetic strip currently on the rear of the cards we all have will eventually be removed. EMV® is appealing to banking security personnel and law enforcement investigators because potential thieves won’t be able to use skimmers to steal identity and financial information. As added security, a PIN will be required to complete some transactions, depending on the equipment the vendor uses. The PIN is in lieu of a signature (chip+signature or chip+PIN to complete a transaction). This new EMV® technology protects the consumer as well as the businesses from counterfeit fraud losses.

Closeup of a credit card with a gold chip
Closeup of a credit card with an EMV chip

This technology is already fairly common in other countries, including Europe, Asia, and South America — and others places too. It’s still being phased in throughout the United States. If you’ve made a purchase lately at Walmart or Sam’s Club in most markets, you’ve encountered it at checkout. After October 1, 2015, vendors that don’t upgrade their system to the new EMV® technology will be liable for any fraudulent transactions. Bankrate.com indicates barriers for some small/independent businesses. This technology is expensive, and some businesses will likely struggle to upgrade their equipment.

So, before your next trip, have a look at your cards to ensure there’s a chip.  You can easily see the chip if it’s there. If in doubt, just check with your bank. Fortunately for me, when I was in Canada, I had another card in my wallet that was EMV® chip-enabled. I paid for dinner and was on my merry way. I sure hate that I had to find out about this the hard way. But I guess that’s how the best lessons in life are often learned.

I'm an avid traveler for both domestic and international venues. I've learned a lot of things, some of them the hard way, that taught me valuable lessons. So, I am passing that knowledge on to others to help make their trip more enjoyable and stress-free. I also will share what I think are great venues, stores, restaurants, or other things that I enjoyed that I think others would enjoy as well. Knowledge is power, transformational. Let us share with each other.

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