Travel tips

I tried to be as prepared as possible for my recent trip to Sweden. I inquired about use of my ATM cards, credit cards and cell phone, and received incomplete or inaccurate advice.

I have a Verizon cell phone. I learned from the Verizon web site that my phone will not work in Europe (many models don’t – you need one with a sim card), but I was able to borrow one that would. When I called to activate it for roaming in Europe, the customer service rep I spoke with said he needed the sim card number, which appears on the card. While removing the card, I disconnected the call.

When I called back, I reached another rep, who told me my phone would work in Sweden without any further ado; he insisted he did not need to know the sim card number, even after I told him the first guy I spoke with said he did.

Suspicious, I called again, and reached a third rep, whom I determined would be the tie breaker. She agreed with the second rep, told me she didn’t need a sim card number, and assured me I was all set.

Needless to say, when I got to Sweden, the phone wouldn’t work. Verizon has a number in the US for foreign support (you pay for the call; a prepaid Skype account is a good, cheap way to call the US from abroad if you have a computer or smart phone with internet access) — (908) 559-4899. I called, and talked with someone who knew what he was doing. He did need the sim card number, and told me how to locate it in settings without taking apart the phone, and he got the phone working very quickly.

The moral of the story is to call the foreign support number before you leave the country – the reps there know what they are doing, unlike the regular reps you reach through 611, who clearly have not a clue.

I had read that credit cards in Europe use an embedded chip to store data, rather than the obsolete magnetic stripe technology used in US cards. I had heard using a US card in Europe could be problematic, so I called Bank of America, issuer of my Visa card, and was assured I did not need a card with a chip. I was told that if my card was refused, I could ask the merchant to enter the digits manually, and there would be no problem.

Well, there was a problem, but not the one I feared. In Sweden (I don’t know about the rest of Europe), many stores, especially outside the tourist areas, that take credit cards use a machine that will read a card with a magnetic stripe but that requires entry of a pin number. Since in the US, one needs a pin only to take cash out from an ATM (from which time interest at an exorbitant rate starts to run), I did not have one associated with my credit card account. Fortunately, I was able to use my Visa ATM card at these terminals, and I had prepared by making sure I had money in my checking account. Therefore, if you wish to use your credit card in Europe, make sure you arrange in advance (it takes several days) to have a pin number assigned to it.

A few other tips:

Let your credit and ATM issuers know in advance the dates you will be out of the country and where you will be traveling. That will prevent a security block from being placed on your account.

If you are taking electronic devices with you, check to see if they work on dual voltage (most modern phone, computer and battery chargers do). Dual voltage devices require only a small, inexpensive plug adapter, not a bulky power converter transformer.

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