We are now inside of four weeks until we leave for our extended stay in Europe. Our itinerary is set and we have taken care of essential travel stuff. Now can get down to packing art supplies, clothes, etc. We also must get back into the routine of posting on our travel blog. That has been seriously derailed by the many details we’ve been trying to iron out these last several weeks. Traveling abroad for many months entails a good deal more preparation than our previous trips of 3-4 weeks.
I’m going to take the next couple of weeks to talk about our preparations. Perhaps some of you have other experiences, suggestions, etc. We’d love to hear from you.
My first topic is money. A few years ago the European Union gave banks permission to change to chip and pin cards for bank transactions. These cards have a computer chip instead of a magnetic strip and they require a PIN number for every transaction (charge or debit). For a few years the banks and businesses have maintained two systems: magnetic stip readers as well as chip and pin readers. However, early this year the EU gave countries, banks, and businesses permission to use only chip and pin machines. This means that U.S. cards will not work in an increasing number of places in Europe. I won’t go into the reasons U.S. banks are slow to make the switch. Read here for some history: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/travel/04pracchip.html
The good news is that a couple of American banks are beginning to offer the chip and pin cards. http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/13/wells-fargo-will-test-chip-cards-for-travelers/ However, they aren’t available yet and would not help us.
Therefore, we had to find an alternative that would work in Great Britain, Ireland, and France. Travelex currency conversion stores offer a pre-paid chip and pin card in either Euros or Pounds Sterling. Our solution was to get a card of each for our trip. We loaded them with some starter cash, but we will be transferring more money to them as we need it abroad. In this way we will have a European card! Another advantage is that these cards are loaded with the local currency so we don’t have to pay fees everytime we withdraw money from an ATM like you do with your US Bank cards in Europe.
It’s all a new world to us. The folks at Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door were very helpful with advice. Do not trust solely to your American credit or debit cards the next time you go to Europe!