In Washington DC, last week, I inserted my Visa card into a subway ticket machine to buy a metro card so I could ride the trains.

The machine requested I type in my five digit zip code. I don’t have one as it is an Australian card. I entered the four digits of my Australian postal code. Not accepted. So I tried again but added a “0″at the start of the four digits. Believe it or not, this sometimes works in other machines! Not accepted, this time. I then entered 00000 which I have also successfully used in some other machines. I still could not use my cards to buy a ticket.

The number of retail outlets and services where I have this experience is increasing as more organisations automate more transactions.  I am assuming things like a zip code help reduce fraud. It means, though, I have been unable to buy gas (petrol) at self service pumps, groceries at some US supermarket automatic check outs, airline tickets or train tickets.

At the Charles de Gaulle airport Regional Express Station, on the edge of Paris, none of the ticket machines will accept a non European card. This leads to many tourists searching for a human or an ATM. How many tourists pass through there every day? How many start their Parisian experience with unnecessary frustration?

This week, at a Tesco supermarket in England, the check out operator refused to accept my Visa card. The UK like many countries, have adopted “Chip and Pin” which requires customers to enter their PIN number into a small number pad instead of signing. It is a much more secure system than signing and my Australian cards have the facility. In fact, I use chip and pin in Australia all the time. However, for some reason the Australian issued chip and pin cards do not function in the UK and require a signature instead. This operator told me that her accepting my Visa card would be illegal. It took a call to the customer service department of the chain to get her to accept my card.

How many others are experiencing the frustration of these incompatibility issues? More and more of us are abandoning cash in favour of credit and debit and preloaded cards. If at the same time, some outlets are making it harder and harder to use them, then we are going to start having some real frustrations and potentially lead to a less than positive travel experience.

Have you had an international card comparability fail?

How to get around potential problems:

  • Carry more than one sort of card
  • Tell your bank that you are travelling
  • Have some local cash when you arrive in a city- enough to get a taxi or train from the airport
  • Get a local card either a prepaid or a local bank’s product
  • Know what codes you can type in if you are asked for a Zip or postal code

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  • NB said,

    This is a growing problem, so much so that I now have a card with a US accommodation address just so as I can use it.

    It’s driven by Visa and Mastercard who have made significant threats against retailers (at least those in the UK) to stop them accepting non Chip and Pin cards – yet they make no effort to get their own house in order.

  • Carl said,

    I had read in a number of places that 99999 works.

  • Martin J Cowling said,

    Oh. Not tried 99999! But its ridiculous, I have to

  • matt said,

    I’ve used my us issued chase Hyatt visa (chip and sig) for the RER and a few other cranky kiosks in Europe. It is a key component of my travel wallet.

    Chip and pin is more secure, however it s3ems to have moved more liability away from the issuer and onto the cardholder. There are definite consumer drawbacks from a regulatory perspective, at least in thevus under current law.

  • Chris said,

    Chip and pin is far less secure than issuers would like you to believe. (Google will quickly turn up various security researchers on the topic.)

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