One of the drawbacks to traveling to Europe and a few other countries is that they have adopted what is known as chip and pin or EMV credit cards. These cards have a chip in them which is entered into the POS (Point of Sale) terminal and a pin is entered. Most of these POS terminals still support the magnetic stripe used by US cards, but unattended terminals found in train stations, gas stations, and other places require a chip/pin card. This means you need to wait in line to see a person to run the mag stripe.
Upgrading the POS terminals in the US would be a costly feat and upgrading the software back-end of credit card companies to support issuing cards hasn’t taken off either. The UN Credit Union began issuing chip/pin cards earlier, but membership to the UN credit union is limited to people associated with the UN…most of us are not.
Finally Travelex, the people who gyp you on foreign exchange at airports finally got the hint on another way to gyp us fill a need. They are issuing a reloadable prepaid mastercard in Euros or British Pounds Sterling (GBP) called the Cash Passport. You must actually go to a Travelex location to get the card, but it is still an option open to many more Americans.
Ultimately I’d prefer for my own credit/debit cards to have this feature so I don’t have to worry about topping up a reloadable card. Now that Canada is migrating to the Chip and Pin system maybe there is hope for the US, but until then, I’ll probably pick one of these up before heading back into the Euro Zone.