Having recently returned from France, I thought it would be helpful to post my experience using American credit cards in France, both to inform others who may find this useful and to solicit suggestions to avoid the problems noted.
As background information, the following recent press article may be of interest.
Anyone who tells you American credit cards are universally accepted is either misinformed or intentionally misleading the questioner. While it is generally true that most stores and restaurants can and will accept American credit cards, this is by no means universal. The major problem is that the US is 20 years behind the rest of the world in adopting chip/PIN technology on the card itself. Few other countries still use and rely on the magnetic strip for card information, rather they use the encrypted chip embedded in the credit card itself. This, along with the user PIN, is used to dramatically reduce card theft and fraud.
The major problem one will experience using a US card is in unattended situations. I experienced 3 specifically, namely.
1. Unattended gas/petrol stations will not accept US cards. You must have a credit card with the chip/Pin implementation. This is particularly stressful when trying to refill a rental car prior to returning it. The solution is to go to an attended station and either pay in cash or by your US credit card. Using a GPS aids in the location of smaller stations. Yes, one can do this, but why should we have to?
2. Buying train tickets, including RER tickets to/from Paris from the airport cannot be done at a kiosk using a US credit card. If you have enough coins (for some reason the Paris airport machines don't take paper money) you can buy tickets, if not, you are out of luck. My solution is to always purchase my RER tickets at the manned station (manned during peak hours) and buy a round trip to avoid having to try to buy an RER ticket in downtown Paris.
3. If one wishes to rent a bike using one of the many Velib bike rental stations, you must have a European credit card, there is no option.
If anyone knows of a US bank which provides chip/PIN credit cards it would be very useful to share this information. I don't know of any at this time, but eventually this conversion will be made, it's just a question of how many more years. The French introduced this technology in approximately 1992, it's proven, and it's a shame we don't have what every other developed country in the world has, a secure chip/PIN credit card infrastructure.
This is a marketing opportunity for a nimble bank new business development initiative. I no longer live in Europe, but I would gladly move my banking to one that provided for this credit card facility. More and more travelers would benefit from this, it would seem to be an opportunity to fill a niche market opportunity.
Comments welcome of course.