More EMV Options than Ever for U.S. Travelers

Last updated: 19 March 2014

It used to be that the stereotypical U.S. tourist was the one wearing the white sneakers, shorts, and a fanny pack.  Oh, and don’t forget the giant camera. Today, you can recognize them in other parts of the world as the folks trying to pay with the antiquated magnetic stripe cards instead of the more widely accepted EMV chip cards.

EMV is not commonplace here in the United States yet, but we’re on our way – MasterCard, Visa and now Discover are all on board, and 19 U.S. financial institutions issuing EMV credit and debit cards.  We know we need EMV chip technology to increase security and prevent fraud and the use of data from breaches (like the Global Payments data breach) .  But there is an even more basic reason why U.S. consumers should not wait around for mandates to kick in, and find a way to get an EMV chip card as soon as possible: it takes a lot of the hassles out of traveling.

The truth is, going to Europe, Asia, even Canada and Mexico with a standard U.S. magnetic stripe credit card just won’t cut it anymore.  Even if you plan to rely on cash, you’ll still get stuck when dealing with unmanned toll booths and ticket machines that accept only EMV chip cards.  The only way to get through an international trip hassle-free is by putting an EMV credit card in your wallet.

The good news is that actually getting a chip card is easier than ever.  Last week, Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance, gave Fox Business News some tips on how consumers can get the cards.

Vanderhoof said that “all banks are going to tell you their cards will work internationally,” so it is best to ask specifically for “EMV” or “chip-enabled” cards.  We agree.  If they don’t offer the technology, find another bank that does.

He also said, “Customers who want a card for international travel purposes might be able to qualify for that card, but they might lose some other features, such as cash back or rewards, that they have on their existing card.  It’s up to the individual financial institutions how they package the other capabilities.” So, it is best to ask your financial institution about features and rewards on your new EMV chip card.

We also like this new option for consumers that don’t want to commit to a new credit or debit card – a prepaid EMV card.  Last week, FIS launched the FIS Travel EMV Card.  It has both chip and magnetic stripe, so it can be used at home and abroad.  FIS is planning to offer the card to financial institutions so they can instantly issue the cards to customers.

At Gemalto, we think it’s great that travelers have so many options to travel more easily, and are happy to pass along all of this helpful information.  The white sneakers, shorts and fanny packs?  Sorry, we can’t help with that…