Converting the US credit card system to the more secure chip-and-PIN system used in much of the rest of the world

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the March 2014 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 457th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. We’re now into our 38th year of publishing ITN, the first travel publication based on articles and letters written by its subscribers, travelers like you, people who pay their own way on trips and wish to share their discoveries.

A village woman encountered on a missionary trip to Acheber, Ethiopia, in the highlands  southwest of Addis Ababa. Photo by Theresa Cane, Elverta, CA

To all of you who have sent in a letter or Feature Article to be included in this magazine or who have patronized one of our advertisers or sent in the address of someone to receive a free sample copy of the next-printed issue or who have simply subscribed and enjoy each issue, we appreciate your contribution to this project. Each of you has helped ITN to continue printing issues every month. Thank you.

Let’s keep it going. After your next trip outside of the US, consider writing a Feature Article to be printed in ITN

“Features” can run about 1,500 words, give or take a bunch, and they must include photos taken by the writer or a travel companion (pictures from your trip, not images off the Internet).

Rather than an hour-by-hour recounting of everything you saw and did on a trip, consider writing on a particular theme or concentrating on one portion of your adventure. You might focus on something that you learned or were surprised by or were impressed with in another country, or you could creatively list helpful suggestions to anyone planning a similar trip.

Feature Articles should be submitted directly to our Features Editor, Beth Habian; email or write to her at Box 1148, Florence, OR 97439. Please include the surface-mail address at which you receive ITN. (ITN prints articles and letters from its subscribers only.)

Any emails or letters OTHER than Feature Articles should be sent here to our main office in Sacramento. These would include candid appraisals of tours, cruises, flights, hotels, etc.; travel tips; thoughts on travel, or anything else for our Travelers’ Intercom section. For that section, the shorter the better; once the word count begins climbing over 200, it gets more difficult to find space for the letter.

Also send to our main office any “Funniest Thing” entries; info requests for the “Person to Person” section; general inquiries; suggestions for the magazine, etc. To reach our main office, email or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Please include your surface-mail address.

If you want to check out our Writers’ Guidelines, you’ll find them here; or we’ll mail a copy to you on request. Basically, the guidelines say that in addition to telling us your experiences, observations and opinions, you should include trip dates, approximate prices and the contact info of any travel firms mentioned.

When a Feature Article is printed in ITN, the author receives a one-year renewal to his or her subscription as well as a complimentary one-year subscription to give as a gift. People contributing travel accounts to ITN have always done so in the spirit of sharing information with others, expecting no more than helpful tips in return.

Now some news.


Visa and MasterCard have announced a time line for converting the US credit card system, which currently uses technology based on magnetic strips on the cards, to the more secure EMV chip-and-PIN credit card system used in much of the rest of the world. 

Chip-and-PIN cards have more protections against fraud. The computer chip embedded in each holds account information that is encrypted, and the cardholder must enter a personal identification number (PIN) during any point-of-sale transaction.

Currently, when there is any point-of-sale fraud, it is the credit card company’s responsibility to cover the losses. In October 2015, however, Visa and MasterCard will begin shifting the liability for any fraud to the bank “acquirers.” 

Acquirers — the middlemen between retailers and credit card companies — are the processing companies that gather up the credit card charges from individual retailers and send them in batches to credit card companies such as Visa and MasterCard. (Acquirers also manage and service the credit card terminals.)

Of course, by the 2015 deadline, when acquirers become responsible for any point-of-sale fraud, every acquirer will require all retail stores they do business with to have the higher-security credit card terminals that read EMV chips and require a PIN with each transaction. 

It will cost retail merchants $200 to $300 for each terminal they install with the upgraded, antifraud technology; that’s one terminal for each cash register in a store. Also, every new and replacement credit card will need to have a chip in it. The cost of switching over to the chip-and-PIN system in the US is estimated at tens of billions of dollars.

The necessity of doing so, however, became more apparent recently with the alarming news of massive data breaches of credit card numbers, including those of 38 million customers of Adobe Systems in October 2013 and of another 40 million customers of Target stores in December. If the chip-and-PIN system had been widely used in the US, the risk of charge card fraud following these data thefts would have been greatly reduced (though the potential for ID theft would remain).

Currently, only one percent of credit cards issued in the US have EMV chips embedded in them. In 2014, more than 40 million EMV cards are expected to be distributed in the US, with more to go out in 2015.

Lately, many US banks have been issuing their customers replacement credit cards with magnetic strips and EMV chips. However, these are chip-and-signature cards, which still require the cardholder to simply sign his name, not enter a secret PIN to complete a transaction. Those chips have not been activated to work, using PINs, outside of the US.

By the way, unlike an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip — currently found in US passports and in contactless, “blink” credit cards and some toll-booth cards — an EMV chip cannot be remotely scanned. A card with an EMV chip must be inserted into a terminal to read it.

At this time, the only US banks issuing true chip-and-PIN credit cards are a few federal credit unions and USAA bank (which serves members of the US military and veterans and their families). Also, Chase and Wells Fargo are running extremely limited trial programs (July ’11, pg. 2).

As US retail store owners proceed to install the new credit card terminals, they will continue to also accept swipe-and-sign and chip-and-signature cards. Most terminals in the US are expected to be operating on the chip-and-PIN standard by 2015-2016.


Alan R. Lichtenstein of Commack, New York, read the letter “Battery Bandit in Bamako” (Nov. ’13, pg. 53), in which a subscriber wrote, regarding taking spare batteries on a flight, “Of course, I don’t carry any loose batteries in my carry-on, per the TSA’s ‘Safely Packing Batteries’ instructions.”

Mr. Lichtenstein pointed out that the subscriber’s statement could imply that any loose batteries should be packed in one’s checked luggage, and he would just like us to make it clear that this is not necessarily what the Transportation Security Administration recommends.

On the TSA’s website, under the heading “Travel Tips Tuesday: Safely Packing Batteries for Your Trip,” it is stated that in carry-on bags, passengers may carry “Dry cell alkaline batteries: typical AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt, button sized cells, etc.” 

Under the subheading “Batteries Allowed in Checked Bags,” it states, “Except for spare (uninstalled) lithium batteries, all the batteries allowed in carry-on baggage are also allowed in checked baggage; however, we recommend that you pack them in your carry-on bag whenever possible.”

Under the subheading “Packing Tips for Batteries,” the TSA writes, “If you’re traveling with spare batteries in addition to the ones inside your devices, consider placing each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag, or package, or place tape across the battery’s contacts to isolate terminals.”

Once and for all, on this subject, the only thing the TSA specifically says you cannot do is pack loose lithium batteries in checked bags.

In correspondence with ITN, Mr. Lichtenstein added, “By the way, regarding the foreign carrier Air India, it is the only airline that specifically states that spare lithium batteries should be placed in checked luggage rather than carry-on, and it diligently enforces this rule.

“On a trip that my wife and I took from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Delhi, India, on Nov. 26, 2013, Air India set up a security checkpoint just shy of the steps leading up to the plane and proceeded to confiscate loose batteries from passengers’ carry-on luggage. (There were no jetways in Kathmandu; all passengers boarded from the tarmac.)”

Air India’s website states, under the heading “Baggage tips and restricted items,” “Battery cells in any electrical/electronic items are permissible now & will now not be removed at the security point. Loose battery cells/dry cells carried in the hand baggage are liable to be removed and the airline would not be in a position to hand over the same at the destination. Please carry the same in the checked baggage.”


2013 was the safest year ever recorded for scheduled commercial air transport, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization

Worldwide, among scheduled commercial operations involving aircraft having a maximum takeoff weight above 5,700 kilograms (12,566 pounds), there were nine accidents involving fatalities in 2013 and nine the year before, but the number of total fatalities dropped from 372 in 2012 to 173 in 2013.

It appears that, these days, when an airline accident does occur (God forbid), it is more likely there will be fewer casualties. Safety regulations, accident investigations and technological improvements are saving lives.

An ICAO report released on Jan. 17 stated, “Using ICAO Regional Aviation Safety Group areas of responsibility as a basis for comparison, the Middle East had no fatal accidents, Africa and the Asia/Pacific region each had one, Europe had two, and the Americas saw the highest number with a total of five fatal accidents in 2013. 

Also, of the nine fatal accidents worldwide in 2013, seven occurred during the approach or during a go-around. (Pilots “go around” after an aborted landing or missed approach.)

Among additional findings — 60% of all fatalities were in accidents involving narrow-body jet aircraft; 37% of all fatalities were in accidents involving turboprop aircraft, and 3% of all fatalities were in accidents involving wide-body jet aircraft.

Despite the scary lingo and statistics being thrown around here, the big picture is this: air transport remains the safest means of rapidly moving people and goods worldwide.


Each year, we at ITN conduct an unofficial poll among our subscribers. Two things make this poll unique: the participants’ names are entered into a drawing for prizes, and there’s only one question. Here’s the question: What nations did you travel to last year (outside of the US)?

It’s helpful for us to know where our subscribers are traveling — what places are coming into fashion or going out — plus we can use the poll results to inform and lure advertisers. (The more ads there are in an issue of ITN, the more pages we can print.) 

Write up a list of all of the nations you visited anytime in 2013 and address it to Where Were You in 2013?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail Remember to include your mailing address (where you receive ITN).

Once we have completed the poll, we’ll have a random drawing for dozens of winners, with the grand prize being a 50-dollar gift certificate for Magellan’s Travel Supplies. We’ll announce the results — and the winners — in an upcoming issue.


Subscribers Lee and Jan Kline of Leesburg, Florida, wrote, “We love your magazine. The Internet is no substitute for the sort of information one gets from ITN.” 

Mary Hess of Wakefield, Rhode Island, wrote, “I first started reading ITN in 2002 when I picked up an issue on a Volga River cruise in Russia. On the ‘Where In The World?’ mystery-photo page, I saw a picture of some sort of monument sticking up out of the water. To my astonishment, as I looked up, there it was right off the side of the ship. I took it as a sign and have been a happy subscriber ever since.”

Frank Schneider of Chicago, Illinois, wrote, “We took along an issue of ITN on our Costa Rica trip, and our friends loved it. Please send a complimentary issue to the following addresses. Thank you.”

We are pleased to send a free sample copy of the next-printed issue to anyone, anywhere, on request. On tours, some subscribers introduce their fellow tour members to ITN by passing around a copy with a sign-up sheet on which to write their addresses so they each may receive a free copy. All can rest assured that ITN does not sell or trade anyone’s name and address to any other firm. We respect your privacy.

Whether it’s to submit a trip report, your 2013 trip list or free-copy addresses, let’s hear from you!    — DT