As you may have heard, U.S. credit cards are finally catching up with the rest of the world by placing a chip, known as an EMV -- for Europay, MasterCard, Visa -- on the plastic currency. The chips greatly improve security and are readable by new terminals that have been installed over the last few months at many big supermarkets, retailers, and restaurant chains.
Unfortunately for Americans traveling to Europe, most U.S. card issuers are utilizing a simpler, but less secure, system that just requires a chip and a signature, rather than a chip and a PIN number. With just a signature card, you may be stuck waiting in long lines at European airports and train stations to deal with an actual person, rather than just being able to use a kiosk. The cards may also not be accepted by restaurants or at toll booths.
For a time, the only chip and PIN cards Americas could get were issued by the State Department Federal Credit Union and the Andrews (Air Force Base) Federal Credit Union, which required you to join the American Consumer Council. The only bank card available used to be a BMO Harris Diners Club card, which for some reason the bank never seemed to advertise.
But Americans are starting to have more choices. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, launched in May, has a chip and PIN for an $89 annual fee, which is waived the first year.