Is my plastic money good enough for them?
May 21, 2012 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Am I going to be stranded in Denmark by my American credit cards?!

Tomorrow, I'll be flying to Copenhagen. From there, I am to take a train to Malmö in Sweden. I have become panicked about whether I will be able to purchase this ticket, because I just called my go-to credit card, and they "do not offer chip and pin service." I have been told that in Europe in general, I won't be able to use a swipe credit card at all anywhere, ever -- and especially not in the automats from whence you buy a train ticket.

Once I get to Sweden, I am mostly taken care of by the conference I am attending, so don't need to worry over much about ex. starving, though it would be nice to have a plan of action for buying souvenirs and maybe coffee. But I am deathly worried about that train.

Does anyone know if:
1. The ticket machines for the train to Malmö in the Copenhagen airport will accept American Visa swipe cards?
2. If not, do the machines take cash?
-2a. If so, how much currency do I need to exchange and what do I exchange it into?!
-2b. If not... help, help, how do I not get stranded?

Panic panic panic!
posted by Andrhia to Travel & Transportation around Copenhagen, Denmark (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In the UK at least, automatic ticket machines don't take swipe cards. But the people at the counters around the corner from them do. Can you confirm that an automatic machine is your only option there?
posted by MadamM at 3:09 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you have a debit card? Those will work as a PIN credit card. You may get hit with a foreign transaction fee by your bank, though.
posted by quadrilaterals at 3:11 PM on May 21, 2012

Well, you're not the only American who will be going to Copenhagen.

Call the American embassy in Copenhagen and ask them what their recommendation is.
posted by dfriedman at 3:11 PM on May 21, 2012

Also: Call your bank NOW and tell them you're going to Europe. I did this before my last trip after a friend got his card eaten. The bank told me they would have put a block on my cards for unusual activity.

I was in Britain most of the time and only ran into a problem a couple of times with the chip and pin thing, in little cafes that didn't seem to know how to deal with a card outside . The train ticket machines also worked fine for me, unlike what MadamM said. Most places still had the swipe machines, so I'd like to say you'll be fine -- but I think dfriedman's advice is great.
posted by vickyverky at 3:13 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

There is a ticket office, so you aren't limited to the automatic machines. Could you take dollars, exchange them at the airport, and then go to the counter and pay cash? That's assuming they won't take your card.
posted by quadrilaterals at 3:16 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll confirm, obliquely, your concern: the automat at the train station in Amsterdam was the only place in Europe that I could not use my magstripe card in 2011. The manned desk was more than happy to accept cash Euros.

I was stymied while attempting to get a chip-and-PIN card from currency exchanges in Seattle. They seemed genuinely flummoxed about why I would want one.
posted by Kakkerlak at 3:19 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of banks offer travel cards in various currencies. This made my trip to Italy a lot more convenient; it's basically a debit card in your choice of currency. You pay the same rate as you would for cash in the chosen currency, and you get a chip and PIN capable card. You can use this to pay with a card anywhere that accepts them, and ATMs will also allow you to withdraw cash from the balance on the card.
posted by fearnothing at 3:20 PM on May 21, 2012

Europe has a vested interest in making sure it can continue to take money off of American tourists, fret not. Wherever you can't use Chip & PIN, you will have an option for a manual transaction. Do make sure your card issuer knows you'll be abroad so they don't block your cards!
posted by DarlingBri at 3:21 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, cut myself off.

You'll be taking Orestunstag for your train provider (schedule here to play around with). I'm not sure which Malmo stop you'll get off at. It will cost you about $30 each way, it looks like. You'll change your money into Danish krone. For this reason, I suggest seeing if you can buy a round-trip at the airport. They'll want Swedish krona once you're in Malmo, and changing your money twice is annoying.
posted by quadrilaterals at 3:22 PM on May 21, 2012

To summarize:

1. Call each credit card company and inform them you'll be in each foreign country you're planning to visit.

2. Ditto your ATM from your bank.

3. Once there, you can probably use any credit card at a ticket window. If not, withdraw cash and use that to pay. The same is true for buying gas, groceries, etc. I can use my American CC's 90% of the time, and the other 10% I can either go inside the gas station and pay with the CC or just need to use cash.

Also, find out what foreign transaction fees you'll get hit with before leaving. Capital One doesn't charge any; Amex seems to plan to build a private fleet of rockets from their foreign transaction fees alone. My credit union gets me excellent service with low fees.

Have a blast!
posted by Capri at 3:27 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take a handful of American $20s as a backup. Especially in e.g. the train station, tellers will often accept them, though you may not get the greatest conversion rate.
posted by alexei at 3:30 PM on May 21, 2012

The safest method is to use cash to purchase your train tickets to and from the airport. There are ticket counters at both the Copenhagen and Malmo stations but they are not open 24/7. The Malmo station's ticket machines do not accept American credit cards. If I had not had cash, I would have been stranded (or gotten on the train without a ticket and ended up with a huge fine - the ticket checkers were working 24/7).
posted by SakuraK at 3:31 PM on May 21, 2012

ATMs can get you cash with just a magstripe card. Cash can get you tickets. You won't be stranded.
posted by pmb at 3:49 PM on May 21, 2012

To be honest, I've never bothered planning ahead for this issue or even calling my bank. I do tend to travel with $100 in US cash just in case. I've never had a problem.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:50 PM on May 21, 2012

I've always taken cash out from ATMs while traveling abroad and Sweden is the only country where I have had problems using my card. It is a recent thing, too - when I was there in '08 I had no problems using my US debit card to take out cash, but last December neither I nor my girlfriend were able to use our US or Canadian debit cards in the ATMs of most banks (Handelsbanken, Nordea, SEB, etc). As well, my girlfriend was unable to purchase movie tickets online with a Canadian credit card. For what it's worth I was able to use my US credit card successfully in a restaurant, so you might get mixed results.
posted by pravit at 4:07 PM on May 21, 2012

For many CCs, remember that drawing out cash from an ATM will hit with you with Cash advance fees from that day onwards at the full APR!

Consider taking cash from here and get it converted into the currency at the airport - you may get a little less in conversion rates, but that is much better than the CC fees.
posted by theobserver at 4:10 PM on May 21, 2012

Don't worry about the chip and pin thing! You wouldn't have been able to get one today, regardless - you would have needed to get an actual different card. Also, I know several people who went out of their way to get chip-and-pin cards and then the chip-and-pin part didn't work and they had to swipe it anyway. I personally have used American swipe credit cards in several supposedly chip-and-pin countries, with zero problems.

Moving on. I can't speak to Sweden specifically but it's my understanding that many places *can* process a non-chip-and-pin transaction, it's just a pain in the ass. You know how sometimes at a store or restaurant in the US, the credit card processing machine isn't working right and they have to get out the old machine with the carbon paper and the roller thingy? It's like that.

Maybe your card won't work in the ticket vending machine, but if you can find a real live person to buy a ticket from at the Copenhagen airport (and surely, such a person must exist? your situation as an American without the appropriate card/currency is not unique - you're at an INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT!), then I would be willing to bet big money that you will be able to buy a train ticket from that person, even with a swipe credit card.

If you're really nervous, bring, say, a few hundred bucks in American cash (the train ticket only costs $15); you should be able to find someplace to exchange the money (albeit at usurious rates) at the airport, unless Copenhagen airport is different from basically every other international airport in the world. If you really, really can't buy a ticket with cash, or you really, really can't exchange the cash at the airport, some kind soul (maybe not the first one you ask) will use their credit card to buy you a ticket from the machine if you give them cash.
posted by mskyle at 5:14 PM on May 21, 2012

OK. Panic receding. Consensus seems to be I should bring some old-fashioned cash with me and armed with that, I can just sort of make it all work out. Whew!
posted by Andrhia at 6:48 PM on May 21, 2012

I lived in Copenhagen for a while and went back two years ago for a visit. I had a regular, US Mastercard and used it just about everywhere I went: grocery stores, department stores, train stations (including a trip to Malmö), and restaurants. I had a problem in exactly one place out of several dozen, and that was a Føtex grocery store--although I had no problems in the non-grocery part of the very same shop.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:32 PM on May 21, 2012

I am pretty familiar with that exact train ride, having done it a few times (and I'm not particularly well-traveled but pretty familiar with southern Sweden)--you will be fine. I would recommend getting enough cash out at the Copenhagen airport to purchase your ticket to Malmo--the Danish train ticket machines don't take American cards without a chip, IIRC (and I was there last summer, but it's easy to second-guess). Sweden, on the other hand, is different--even at a rural train station, the ticket machine read my American Visa sans chip. I also used my card on the local bus.

As an aside, many Danish stores do not accept American cards--I have never had this problem in Sweden.

Have a great conference!
posted by nonmerci at 8:45 PM on May 21, 2012

Hi! I'm an American who lives in Malmö!

I called Skånetrafiken, the Swedish train operator, and they said that their ticket kiosk does not take "normal" credit cards. However, there is a DSB (the Danish train operator) office at the airport, which is open until 11pm at night; you should be able to use your credit card there.

Once at the Malmö central station, there is a foreign exchange and ATMs. I forgot to ask, but I think there's at least one ticket kiosk in Malmö that accepts cash; I'll check on my way home. There's also a Skånetrafiken office at the train station, it's open until 8pm M-F, 6pm Sat/Sun/Holidays. You can MeMail me if you need more info or a contact in town.
posted by beerbajay at 2:26 AM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have flown into Copenhagen and taken the train to Malmo to visit my sister. The ticket office accepted my American dollars to pay for the ticket. So just remember to bring a $20.

Protip: Buy a ticket back (if you need it) at the same time. One less thing to worry about.
posted by kuanes at 3:50 AM on May 22, 2012

I'll confirm, obliquely, your concern: the automat at the train station in Amsterdam was the only place in Europe that I could not use my magstripe card in 2011. The manned desk was more than happy to accept cash Euros.

I found in Belgium and Amsterdam my UK credit card was not accepted in some machines, and that was a chip and pin. I couldn't even buy a train ticket to Utrecht online with my British card. How common is this for foreign travellers?

There's a load of ATMs at Copenhagen Airport, though, so I'd go that route.
posted by mippy at 4:21 AM on May 22, 2012

I'm a Swedish "expat" who returned to Sweden for about a month at the beginning of this year.

Because I had been cunning enough to get a chip-and-pin credit card before leaving Canada (they're being phased in there), I figured everything would work smoothly. Not so. My foreign credit card was refused at a cinema ticketing machine (the largest chain), at the cashier in two separate medical clinics, and using the online payment system of the (largest) Swedish travel agency. When I called the travel agency, they said foreign cards could not be used because of anti-fraud measures, and that I'd have to go into a store and pay the "in-person service" fee to finish my purchase.

However, as you can see, there is a pattern: a general tourist on a short-term visit to Sweden would not be expected to use any of these services. I had no issues in restaurants, hotels, and retail stores -- these cater to tourists all the time.

For ATMs, I could not use my Canadian debit card (on the PLUS network) in any ATM attached to a bank (most notably, Bankomat). However, I had no issues using the orange "Kontanten Uttag" (looks like this). These are not attached to banks and are usually placed in grocery stores or close to other retail spaces.
posted by yonglin at 7:14 AM on May 22, 2012

There are ticket kiosks in Malmö that take cash, although several do not.
posted by beerbajay at 11:28 PM on May 22, 2012

For posterity: The ticket machines only took chip and PIN cards. There was this sign by all of the windows where you could buy tickets from people. Sorry for the glare -- it does say "Payment with Debit/Credit card only possible with PIN-and-chip." So no credit or debit cards for meeee. They did take multiple currencies, though, so I wound up just paying in dollars.

Thaaaannnnk youuuuuuu!
posted by Andrhia at 4:31 PM on May 24, 2012

Bah; it figures that Skånetrafiken would give incorrect information about DSB. Hope you enjoyed Malmö!
posted by beerbajay at 6:20 AM on May 25, 2012

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