Quick Tip: Hello Kitty!

On one of our European trips, a portion of the time was with an organized tour. Alcoholic beverages weren’t included in our tour price. However, our tour leader was a bit of a wine connoisseur and enjoyed wine with meals. Since he was familiar with local wines and wanted to share the experience with us, he asked those who wanted to have wine with their meals to contribute $50 to a kitty that would be used during the tour to buy wine for the meals. I thought, what a great idea that could be applied to lots of group activities. Continue reading

Quick Tip: Bring Clean Money

I’m not talking about “laundered” money. We’ve had this problem a number of times when exchanging currency in other countries. If there is any writing on a bill, or if it’s torn, or even if it just looks crumpled up, foreign banks and moneychangers won’t accept it. Most money exchange businesses insist on clean, crisp bills, even with smaller denominations. They will also not accept older currency, especially older $100 and $20 bills with the smaller portrait image of Ben and Andy.

So before you go overseas, inspect the money you’re bringing to make sure it will be accepted. Most cash dispensed from ATMs is acceptable. Better yet, you can go to your bank and ask for new bills.

Quick Tip: The Plastic Shuffle

On our travels, we’re bringing a few forms of payment: credit cards, ATM card, and cash, in small and large denominations. For our credit cards, Sheri will carry two cards, our primary card and one other. I will also carry two cards, our primary card and another totally different card than what Sheri has. That way, if either of us has our wallet stolen, we cancel two cards and still have another credit card that can be used until we can get the others replaced.

We thought about doing the same with ATM cards, but concerns with express kidnappings have made me think twice about carrying another ATM card that kidnappers could also drain. In an emergency, we can get a cash advance on our credit card, but only if we have and know the PIN.

Jumping Through Hoops for a Chip & Pin Card

After lots of research, I finally found a U.S. financial institution that offers a true chip and pin credit card. I didn’t choose Barclaycard because of all the stories of bad customer service, especially when overseas. Instead I went with UNFCU, United Nations Federal Credit Union because their web site actually advertises it as a true chip and pin, the reviews have been favorable, there are no foreign transaction fees, it’s a credit union and not a bank, and applying benefits United Nations programs. Choosing them was the easy part. Now we have lots of hoops to jump through.

In order to get a credit card through UNFCU, you must be a member of the United Nations or a member of the United Nations Association of the United States of America, UNA-USA. To join the UNA-USA, you must make a tax deductible donation of $40 annually for a regular membership. Then we need to include the email of the membership confirmation with a 4-page application to join the UNFCU along with copies of ID and a utility bill. Oh, and we also must open a savings account with a minimum of $50. After we’re “members,” then we can apply for the credit card.

All this just to get a true chip and pin card.

Update: New Chipped Credit Card

I just received our new chipped credit cards from Chase today. They aren’t chip and pin. Here’s what their Q&A page on their web site says (colored emphasis added by me):

Q. Where can I use my chip-enabled credit card globally?

A. Having a chip-enabled card allows you to use your card when traveling internationally because chip card readers are already standard in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and Asia. We also recommend that you carry an alternate method of payment, such as local currency, in case you encounter an unattended kiosk that requires a PIN.

Q. Can my cash advance PIN be used to make purchases?

A. No. Your cash advance PIN can only be used at the ATM.

Q. What if my chip-enabled credit card isn’t working at an unattended kiosk while abroad?

A. If the kiosk is asking you for a PIN, you may be able to select one of the following to bypass the PIN prompt: “Cancel,” “Enter” or “Continue.” If the card reader still will not accept your card without a PIN code, there may be staff in the area to assist you with using your magnetic stripe. Otherwise, local currency may be needed in this situation.

Wow, that’s really helpful. They recommend carrying an alternate method of payment. How about I carry an alternate credit card that actually works abroad? That seems like the correct answer.

American banking FAIL: chip and pin


Last year, Sheri and I went on vacation in the U.K. and France. Our previous trip to Europe together was back in 2010 to Italy and our credit cards worked fine. However, we had our share of difficulties back then with our ATM card, but that didn’t prepare me for the frustration I had in London and France last year.

We stayed with friends on the outskirts of London and took the commuter train into London one morning. After getting off the commuter train, we planned to take the underground to our tourist sites, but quickly found that our credit card didn’t work in the automated machines. There should have been someone there to help us, but nobody was around. So we went back up to the street and walked around until we found a place to exchange some U.S. dollars to British pounds sterling. Back underground, we finally got our subway tickets and were on our way. We were inconvenienced, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened in France.

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