A reader asks: can an American get a credit card from a European bank, which would contain the special chip that allows them to be used in ticket machines and other outlets in Europe?
My answer: Probably, but you don’t need to if you’re simply interested in getting a card with chip technology rather than a card issued by a European bank.
A bit of context for people unfamiliar with the technology: American credit cards use a magnetic strip to exchange information during a financial transaction. In European and other countries, card issuers have turned to EMV chip technology (named for Europay, MasterCard and Visa). Where people are handling the charge, American credit cards often work. Not so at unmanned kiosks, such as those at train stations and gas pumps.
According to Greg McBride of bankrate.com, getting a card from a European bank isn’t impossible, though “banks are understandably reluctant to lend money on an unsecured basis to borrowers in a foreign jurisdiction.” It’s likely you could get one after opening a deposit account with that bank.
Fortunately, you likely don’t need to go through the hassle of opening an account overseas. “Chase has recently rolled out chip-and-pin technology,” McBride said, “and other large national and regional banks will most certainly follow suit.”
Wells Fargo, the largest bank in Minnesota, is one of them. Eric Schindewolf, vice president of product development at Wells Fargo, said the bank is rolling out a pilot program this summer with 15,000 customers who are frequent international travelers. “The pilot program is about understanding what it means to do a smart card program, how will customers use the product, what questions will they have.” The card will have both a magnetic strip and a chip for use here and overseas. Schindewolf said he didn’t know when or if such a card would go into production. Though this might be hard to accept for avid overseas travelers, the company has already identified the customers who will be part of the pilot program.
If you can’t track down a card with a chip through Chase or another bank, there is another option. Travelex, which used to issue traveler’s checks, now offers prepaid currency cards with chip-and-pin technology which you can use just like a debit card.