Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chip and Pin....aka The Reason I Almost Had A Stroke Today

There are many aspects of living anywhere overseas that are incredibly annoying.  Drivers, rudeness, xenophonbia, cultural differences, etc. but none more so than chip and pin/EMV technology.

Today, I dropped off Thing 2 at a birthday party and proceeded to go to the grocery store.  I went to a store that I have been to many times where Visa and Mastercard are clearly listed as forms of payment. Shopping took about 45 minutes.  I pull into checkout and start loading and reloading my cart (I bag groceries at the car in peace and solitude).  I go to pay with the same Mastercard debit/credit card that I have used in the past that is linked to our bank account.  I run it once.  Transaction failure! (just like that with exclamation point and all).  I figure I inserted the card incorrectly so I run it again.  Transaction failure! The cashier takes my card and runs it.  Transaction failure! I was annoyed since we got paid this week and I had yet to transfer funds to the Austrian bank (that was my first mistake).

Luckily (or not, as you will see), I had a Visa CC on me so I proceeded to use it . She runs it once.  Transaction failure! She runs it again. Transaction failure! I say screw it and have them hold my purchase as I go to the Bankomat to get cash out to pay (should have done that in the first place!). I insert my bank card and it is rejected due to not having enough funds. WTF! We just got paid and I know there are funds.  I just wanted to get out of there at that point.  So, I try to use my Visa CC. Sorry but your card is not accepted at this machine. WTF x2.  I had my phone and proceeded to get on my US bank app to see what was happening.  Much to my horror, my account had been wiped out by three charges from that same store!  I go check the app for the Visa and two more charges were on that card!
Almost $1500 wiped out!

I knew what happened.  Every time the card was swiped, it put a hold on the card for the amount.  Nonetheless, I was livid not to mention embarrassed for holding up the line and looking like I didn't have money to pay for groceries! I go back to the cashier with my apps and show her all the charges that were made on the card that now were preventing me from withdrawing cash to pay for the purchase.  She spoke no English but understood when I told her to get the manager.  The manager speaks no English and brings an English speaking employee with her.  I explain what has happened.  They tell me that I am going to have to call their headquarters on Monday to have the charges reversed.  She asks me if I understand that I can't take my groceries home without paying.  I literally said "yes, it works the same way in the States, thanks."

Thank goodness for my Vonage phone app.  I called my US bank and the Visa credit card in question. To increase my frustration, the phone kept going in and out so I had to go out into the bitter cold to hold those conversations.  Since I was fuming (smoke was probably coming out of my ears), the cold felt welcome. The Visa customer service did not resolve my issue except to say that charges had not been processed.  She told me to try running the card again but the store clerk refused fearing that it would fail again and put them on the hook.  So she told me to try to use it at the ATM, but again it was not accepted there.

Getting nowhere fast, I hung up with the Visa and called my bank to deal with the debit/credit card.  I explained what happened and he completely understood why I was upset. He took the holds off restoring my account to its previous balance and told me to use the ATM.  Finally it worked and I was able to leave with my groceries.  So my 45 minute shopping trip turned into a 2 hour ordeal.  I felt my blood pressure rise to the point of feeling dizzy and initiating a headache. I had to take several deep breaths

I went back to get Thing 2 at the party since the car was an icebox.  I was greeted with cake and a glass of wine that I gladly accepted!

US travelers beware! We are about the only country that doesn't have chip and pin/EMV technology.  This technology requires a pin to purchase anything with a credit card or a debit card.  Unlike the US where you sign for purchases over $20, here you have a unique pin attached to your bank card and/or credit card. US issued cards only have a magnetic strip that may require a pin (debit cards) or not (credit cards.  The good thing is that US cards still work at bank ATMs.

If you travel anywhere outside the US, you should take at least two cards and plan to withdraw cash to avoid the hassle I just went through today.  I had been to this particular store in the past and paid with my US bank card with no problem.  The chip/pin US card issue is a crapshoot.  You can go to one store and they accept it without question and then you go to another and the card is denied.  It has happened to me at two other stores before, but I had a friend who bailed me out and who I went to the ATM to pay back.  I will note that while living in Warsaw we did not have this problem with our US bank card and I didn't encounter it when traveling to Germany, Czech Republic, France, etc. back then either.

Most banks limit your cash withdrawals.  But, if you are traveling, you can request that they switch your daily limit to whatever amount for the duration of your trip.  Even with that, in Austria you can only take out 400 euros at one time. So if you need more than that, you have to do separate transactions.

I contacted all my card issuers prior to leaving the US to see if they offer an EMV card and none of them do.  The US is one of the only nations that do not have this which puts us at a disadvantage outside of CONUS.

Here is a really good article that I so can relate to:

As for me, I just give up! Come next pay day, I will be depositing a US check into my Austrian bank account and using my chip/pin card.   If you can't beat em, join em!

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