Do you remember the 80’s?   I was a kid back then but what I remember about it was the sudden proliferation of credit cards.  It was extremely difficult to get credit cards before 1980 or at least for most of the people I knew back then.    There is an interesting history of the credit cards here.  The reason I bring all of this up is because lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outside the United States in Europe and South America.

Much to my surprise, I find it increasingly difficult to use American style credit cards overseas because overseas they all use a “chip & pin” type credit card instead of just a magnetic swipe and signature.    If you don’t understand chip & pin, it’s fairly simple.  When you dine out at a restaurant, the waiter will bring out a little wireless machine and sticks the chipped credit card into it.    The machine is then handed to the consumer and he/she puts in a pin code to authenticate the transaction.   In theory, it is safer because the chip in the credit card is not easily cloneable and the pin authenticates the transaction so even if someone manages to glimpse at your code, the card will be safe.

While most restaurants or other merchants will eventually figure out a way to take the American style card, it is fairly frustrating to have to wait for someone to figure out how to take the American dinosaur card.     Worse yet however are the unmanned kiosks that require a chip and pin to buy tickets to trains or subways because there isn’t anyone there to take the alternative method of signature so you end up being stranded!

I phoned several banks and credit unions and asked if they offer any “chip & pin” credit cards and most did not even know what I was talking about!  What the hell kind of bubble do American banking people live in that they don’t understand what’s used all over the world?

With the world becoming more globalized and families more heterogeneous (it’s increasingly rare for me to encounter couples from the same nationality/ethnicity) it’s hard to understand why the banking system is dragging its feet.

In case you’re having the same issue, after much googling I came across this list of EMV cards however most are still “chip and signature” and not true chip & pin cards so be weary.