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Originally published Saturday, June 5, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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U.S. credit cards sometimes don't work in Europe

Will European retailers accept U.S. credit cards? Most will, but not having a chip-and-pin card can cause problems when travelers try to use their credit cards at some places in Europe, including at some train-station ticket machines.

Problems with U.S. cards in Europe

Q: We have heard that U.S. credit cards with the magnetic stripe on the back are being rejected by retailers in Europe, who are using a new microchip-based reader. Our bank doesn't issue such a card. What can we do when the little cafe in Venice says we can't use our Visa?

— Doc D., Bellevue

A: Many European banks are replacing the traditional magnetic-strip credit and debit cards with chip-and-pin cards. They contain an embedded microchip and are authenticated with a personal identification number (PIN). The system has cut down on credit-card fraud, but U.S. banks have so far resisted, mainly due to cost. Only the New York-based United Nations Federal Credit Union is offering a chip-and-pin card at this time, according to a recent article in the American Banker (but the credit union serves only United Nations staff and retirees).

American travelers have reported problems using their standard U.S. cards in ticket machines, such as in train and subway stations, especially in Britain and in France. The alternative is to stand in line at a ticket window. That's not always possible in stations where there are only automatic machines. One solution is to buy the tickets you need in advance. And always carry extra cash.

Most retailers, restaurants, hotels and shops still accept U.S. cards. I used my Visa card in Italy recently everywhere, including at gas stations, with no problems. How long this will continue is anyone's guess, but for now at least, paying for a coffee in the little cafe in Venice shouldn't be a problem.

Gemalto NV, a Dutch card maker, has tentatively set June 23 as the date for a webcast on the topic. See www.justaskgemalto.com. The site will include an online petition that consumers can sign urging U.S. banks to issue the cards.

Carol Pucci / Seattle Times

If you have a question about travel, ask us. Go to www.seattletimes.com/travel (scroll down to the middle of the page to "Ask Travel") to submit a question. We'll answer as many as we can, but are unable to answer all due to the volume of submissions.

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