It seems that the American plastic cards are getting them in trouble, at least when they travel in Europe. Of course, cards without chips still work perfeectly in restaurants, hotels, and stores. However, things are very different at automated machines. If you are in France and you want to pay for underground parking, for renting a bike, or for a subway trip, your card better have a chip with which to perform an EMV transaction. Otherwise, you may well be out of luck.
There are a few exceptions to that rule. If you are lucky enough to be in a place that accepts American Express, these cards will be accepted even if they don’t have a chip (this is quite natural, since even those issued in Europe have no chip). But in many cases, you may well be really out of luck. Consider the subway example, for instance. In many places, it is becoming common to close all tellers at late hours, only to leave automated machines. And if you can’t get them to work, well, things may get ugly.
Things are only going to get worse, and apparently, some American companies have understood that. According to the NYTimes, Travelex is getting ready to issue prepaid smart cards for its customers in a bout a year from now. That means that, in a while, we should see American tourists with smart cards. And if it works, we are quite likely to start seeing American businessmen with smart cards as well, as corporate cards for international travellers will start having them as well.
Good news for smart cards? Not necessarily. If we consider that only 20% of all Americans have a passport, this also caps the number of Americans with that specific need. Most likely not the killer reason for American banks to switch to smart cards, which are still considered too expensive to manage.