Spending Abroad

When I took my first international trip over 5 years ago, there were so many things I read about to try and prepare myself.  There’s the typical search for what to see, what to do, and where to go.  When I’m feeling extra studious, I’ll try to memorize key phrases and look into the customs and history. 

One thing I’m always worried about is how much cash should I take compared to how many places accept credit cards.  Over the years, I’ve seen a shift of not only adoption rate, but in technology that brings US payment options close to the advancement seen in other parts of the world. In 2015, when most of the world, especially Europe, was “dipping” their chip-enabled cards into card readers, the US was still swiping and signing.  This wasn’t a huge deal, but it made it very easy for credit card fraud.  At that point, I was just happy to not have to use cash and was swiping my way through every eatery I saw.

A few years later, the US card issuers wanted to limit liability and rolled out chip-enabled cards, though we still had to sign receipts to verify our identity.  It was around this time that I learned about chip + pin systems.  How did I learn about this you ask? Easy, when I was nearly trapped at a train station because the unmanned kiosks only accepted chip + pin enabled cards, I realized where my trusted Chase, Citi, and Amex cards failed me.  After that trip, I made sure to have a Barclays or BofA credit card on me as they are the few cards in the US that allow for this payment type.

Months later, I returned to Europe, new credit cards in hand, and was again the odd man out as I handed my card to vendors and saw them wave my card past the reader without even making contact with a device.  It didn’t leave me stranded this time (Thank God!), but it did point out that I was a tourist and it took much longer to process than the customers in front of me who were equipped with a contactless form of payment.  I wanted to request this feature immediately, however, the more I thought about it the more I realized that I likely was walking around with the tech in my pocket the whole time and just never thought to use it.  Enter Apple Pay, or Google Wallet/Android Pay for your green bubble text messengers.  Using my phone was a theory based on being a contactless wallet, so when I had the opportunity to test it out at an empty shop the anticipation on my face likely made the shopkeeper think I had insufficient funds versus me testing out my phone’s payment option.

Over the past 12-18 months, I’ve received new versions of nearly all of my credit cards that show they have contactless payment ability.  This, along with doing away with the need to sign for credit card purchases, was the US catching up with the rest of the world.  Now, with Covid placing greater importance on limiting contact with shared surfaces, businesses all over are upgrading their payment systems to get greater use out of contactless payments.  I’m curious to see what’s next in this evolution of credit cards.

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