Security technologies such as chip-enabled credit cards are supposed to reduce fraud. Achieving that goal has come at a high price, however -- they're getting harder to use overseas all the time.
Picture by andresrueda
One of the standard bits of modern travel advice is to dispense with travellers' cheques and the like, since it's often easier and cheaper to rely on credit cards to pay for goods and the exchange rates are often favourable, This has long been the strategy I've used, but a couple of recent experiences have underlined how anti-fraud measures often make life very difficult for overseas travellers.
I recognise that credit card fraud is rife and that technologies such as chip-enabled credit cards or additional online security systems like Mastercard SecureCode or Verified by Visa are a means of making that fraud less prevalent. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of consumer convenience. That's a fancy way of saying: these technologies often fail completely when you're overseas (or using an overseas site) and the end result is you can't use the card to make a payment at all.
My most recent exposure to this was when trying to pay UK supermarket giant Tesco using an Australian credit card which has its own chip and PIN setup. The problem is that the Australian PIN isn't recognised (as far as I can tell) by any UK retailer, so the signature becomes the only available means of verification. Most stores are OK with that, but Tesco refuses to accept any signature verification (or so the local manager told me). So I've got a secured credit card (which is store policy), but they can't read it, so therefore it can't be used, despite being backed by an international credit card organisation. The fact that their system is too stupid to recognise an overseas card is apparently my problem, not theirs -- though what it means in practice is that I'll probably stop using Tesco altogether.
A similar scenario often occurs with Verified by Visa and Mastercard SecureCode, two technologies which add an extra password to credit cards to (allegedly) reduce the possibility of fraud. In both cases, the development manuals were apparently non-existent or written in a hurry, because it's all too common to find that sites can't utilise them at all, being unable to cope with overseas addresses and returning endless failed transactions as a result. That's annoying enough if you're trying to score a better price on a commonly available item, but really frustrating if you're dealing with a site selling a monopoly item such as train tickets. When I've contacted both my Australian banks to check whether there's a problem at my end (which is the first suggestion any online retailer will make), the response has usually been on the lines of "We get complaints about this all the time" and "We'll try resetting the password several times, then it might work". None of this inspires confidence.
I haven't yet moved to the stage of entirely shifting back to cash for overseas trips. On the other hand, if this kind of hassle continues, it's going to prove easier in the long run.
Got your own credit card annoyances when travelling, or tactics to avoid the pain? Share them in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.