Posted July 10th, 2013, 12:31 PM
We have found that the determining factor is almost always whether the payment location is staffed, or unstaffed.
Locations that are staffed use different machines, which (almost) always (in our experience thus far, always) have two reading mechanisms - one for chip cards, and one for stripe cards. You insert the card differently to read the magnetic stripe vs. reading the chip. To read the magnetic stripe, you swipe the card through the reader, just like we do here at every store nowadays. The people staffing these machines are not always familiar with magnetic stripe cards, however...
To read the chip, you inert it partway into a DIFFERENT slot that resembles an ATM (though the card doesn't disappear all the way into the machine). The device locks the card in place while reading it; this takes 5-10 seconds. Then you either enter your PIN, or if you have a chip and signature card with no PIN, you press the "accept" button to confirm the charge. Only then can you remove your card. A receipt will print, and you sign. These slots also resemble the ones at the pumps at gas stations - except you leave your card in while the payment is being processed.
In our experience, unattended kiosks in parking lots, train stations, etc. only have the latter type of slot for CCs. A few of these will still read magnetic stripe, but many will not. I remember that the London underground machines, and the ones in Lisbon, would read stripes (as of 2 years ago), but the Paris ones would not; neither will the ones in Oslo. You can get around this by using bills in some machines; others will only take coins which would be a challenge if you're buying a 100-euro train ticket... These machines are extremely variable - from country to country, station to station - and some stations have multiple types of machines that each accept different payment types! Just because it's the EU, doesn't mean it's homogeneous...
Bottom line(s): 1 - if you're going to use the train/metro, and want to buy tickets on your own from an unattended kiosk, you should read up on the specific country you're going to and see if a non-chip card or cash will work. There are usually staffed stations where you can use cash; they may not be in every station and the lines may be horrible - once at CDG the lines for RER tickets were 20+ deep; we used our chip card at a kiosk and were done in a minute. (2) if you're ONLY going to use your card in stores, restaurants, etc - you will very likely be fine with only a magnetic stripe card. But, you may have to tell / show the cashier how to use it...
I don't think we'd be able to travel the way we want to without a chip card at this point.
Incidentally, I read your ATM card issue with some trepidation - have not yet encountered an ATM that required a chip card. That could be a problem! We use BofA and whenever possible, its Global Alliance network. Was it a bank ATM, or a freestanding ATM in a store, gas station, etc?
JP and Chris
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