Living with credit

Visa chip cards and observations from Canada

Emily Crone

We’ve written many times about the fact that credit card issuers in the United States have shied away from using chip-embedded cards. These Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) chip cards offer an additional layer of security and have become the standard in Europe, Canada and increasingly more countries.

Visa, which once refused to get on board with implementing chip technology, has fortunately changed its mind. An announcement was made this week that it will finally begin migrating to chip technology in the United States. These cards will also be enabled to make near-field-communication-based (NFC) mobile payments. Visa says this change will make mobile payment technology easier, enhance security and increase global acceptance around the world.

American magnetic stripe cards still work on most of the machines abroad that now read chip cards, but they aren’t foolproof. I and many other travelers I know have experienced problems getting our cards to work abroad. For example, a few times in France, the automated Metro ticket machines wouldn’t read my card. I hope that in the near future, all of the world will have the same payment standard.

Earlier this week, I returned from a delayed honeymoon to Seattle, Vancouver and Whistler. I didn’t have any issues with my regular magnetic swipe cards, but I did observe some other interesting things:

  • At nearly every restaurant we went to in Canada, the waiters came to the table with a mobile card reader when we were ready to pay the bill. The machine has you select your tip amount (it does give you the option not to tip) and approve the total on the spot without the waiter walking off with your card. It made the payment process at a sit-down restaurant much faster, but I found it to be awkward since the waiter is standing there while you’re deciding how much you want to tip. None of them actually looked over my shoulder, but it prevented me from being able to candidly ask my husband what he thought we should tip, especially in situations when the service was exceptionally bad or above expectations. Some U.S. companies tried this technology a while ago, but it never caught on.
  • Americans haven’t quite adopted dollar coins (unless it’s to earn credit card rewards). I found that Canadians are like Europeans in that they love coins. Whenever I would use cash for a smaller purchase, I nearly always got back dollar coins coins instead of paper bills. My wallet got heavy quickly. It made it easier to just use a credit card most of the time.
  • We flew with Air Alaska, and both times as we were landing, a flight attendant came on the loud speaker and suggested we sign up for its airline credit card. If we filled out the application while still on board, we would be able to count the miles just flown. On the first flight, attendants actually walked up and down the aisles with applications, though on the flight home, they didn’t go that far. I thought that was an interesting way to market. They definitely had a captive audience!

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