Our Preparation Timeline

Getting ready for a long-term trip, whether it be around the world or just a month abroad, requires quite a lot of advanced planning. Most people don’t realize how much advance planning is required to bring everything together at the right time. Heck, I didn’t know until I started.

As I look back on the last month before our departure, I realize that things didn’t go exactly as planned. Some things took much longer than anticipated and other things just didn’t get done and will have to be dealt with on the road. I think it would have been wonderful to have had some sort of timeline to help with my time management, but until I actually started working on the tasks, I didn’t know how long things would take. And I couldn’t find that sort of information on the Internet since everyone’s situation is different.

Here’s the timeline based on our hindsight that I wish I would have had, outlining what we needed to do and when. It might be helpful in planning your own journey. Continue reading

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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