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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Your Say: Credit cards abroad
Credit card

People using their credit cards abroad are increasingly finding they are being short-changed by retailers who convert their purchases into pounds rather than record them in the local currency.

The practice in now very common in Spain, France and Italy but it can happen in other countries too.

Rules say that customers should be given a choice over which currency it is charged in as they pay. But it seems that is often not what happens in practice.

We asked for your experiences. Below is a selection of your comments. This debate is now closed.

On a recent holiday in Australia a hotel in NSW charged me in GBP instead of AUD on my credit card. The rate of 2.268776 compared poorly with all the other transactions in Australia which averaged 2.4, the rate I was also charged later that day in a shop.

I consider myself duped
Richard Sweet, Swansea
I only realised what had happened after I completed the transaction and checked the exchange rate on the receipt, which was in GBP at 0.44070.

I consider myself duped, as I was not verbally advised and all the other 60 or so transactions during our stay were paid in AUD. I have written to the card issuer about my experience and await its reply.

On the bottom of the receipt was the following: "Please debit my account with the final amount in the transaction currency shown. I acknowledge I had the choice to pay in AUD."

I suppose the adage "check before you sign" springs to mind. I didn't on this occasion but I will every time I travel abroad in future.
Richard Sweet, Swansea

Recently when I booked car I was charged in sterling although I signed the paperwork in Euros. I had to complain and after many e-mails and phonecalls the car hire company agreed to give me a good gesture credit.

A flight operator also charges the price of ticket bought from France to Stanstead converted into Sterling. Just because the credit card is a sterling credit card, they then start converting the sum in their own exchange rate and apply the cost to us.

The difference was not that much to go into the hassle of claiming the money back, hence i just paid it.
Jamil Hashim, London

Dynamic Currency Conversion seems to be common also in Ireland. Despite no language barrier, I have often found it nearly impossible to exercise the choice of paying in Euros that is indicated on the receipt I have been asked to sign.

Terminals can get the exchange radically wrong on occasions
Andrew Barnard, Maidenhead
The view of Stanley Scoglund from Visa that rolling out pin entry devices providing a choice will reduce retailer abuse of the system is misguided, as the retailer has every interest in taking payment in pounds and could therefore press the appropriate buttons before passing the terminal over. I also know that the terminals can get the exchange radically wrong on occasions - a hotel in Thailand attempted to charge me over £30,000 for two nights stay due to an incorrectly configured terminal.
Andrew Barnard, Maidenhead

I have repeatedly tried to use a variety of cards in France and have been turned down. The local banks confirm the cards are valid and should be acceptable, but they invariably refused in small-town shops displaying the Visa sign. I have had no problems in 26 other countries! I also bought a radio cassette unit using a card in New York which failed to work properly due to an electronic malfunction. Despite the Visa guarantee which covers goods not fit for the purpose due to faults, the card issuer totally refused to cover it.
Nick Sharp-Rees, Maidenhead

I had a holiday in New Zealand from 14-31 March 2006, armed with two credit cards. On 15 March, I made purchases at a local supermarket but found that after I had been asked to enter my pin number in the chip and pin machine, it was "not recognised". I tried again... same response. "Never mind", said the shop assistant "you can sign". I did not try to enter my pin number in any other chip and pin machine but stated that I wished to sign. One petrol station manager said that other overseas visitors found that they could not pay for fuel using chip and pin. I wonder what would happen if a New Zealand visitor found the same thing happened to their card in the UK.
John Baker, Folkestone

When hiring a car in France my bill was converted without my permission or sight of the final bill. I did raise it with the hire company but they were not much help.
Alan Bennett, Yorks

Are you and the credit card companies not missing the point with this article? I would guess that the majority of purchasers would want the cheapest option. Why not give us that option - the technology is already available so use it!
Dr Alfred Vella, Milton Keynes

I was very disappointed to hear that this practice is still continuing and was appalled at the response from the Visa representative on your programme. I first complained to my card issuer about not being offered a choice of currency in April last year.

In my experience, the merchants involved had no choice in the matter
Chris Sheldon, Stirling

I was refunded the additional conversion charges as a one-off gesture, but advised that any further refunds would not be considered. In my experience, the merchants involved had no choice in the matter, the conversion to Sterling happened automatically and they didn't know how to change it. I was never offered a choice of currency as stated on the transaction receipt.
Chris Sheldon, Stirling

We have a credit card which we got specifically for our regular trips to France. We go to Calais every four or five months to stock up on wine. We have had the card refused on many occasions, even though we phone the company up before we go. If we phone from the shop we can sometimes get the transaction cleared but we can't phone after noon on Saturday as their lines are closed. The retailers, who we know very well, say that if they phone Visa for authorisation it can sometimes take hours for it to come through, by which time the customer has left the premises. Sometimes it doesn't arrive until the next day!
Mrs Lorna Ivory, Essex

Not once have I been given the choice to pay in local currency
Allan Leadbitter

I have stayed in Dublin on several occasions at different hotels and not once have I been given the choice to pay in local currency even though it said I had on the receipt.
Allan Leadbitter, Newcastle upon Tyne

We always use our credit cards in Tenerife for the well-known beneficial rates. In January, I was annoyed to find that our car hire company had debited my card in pounds. Unfortunately, I did not notice until later as the Euro figure was also there. Once I realised what was happening, I was careful to check and had to ask one restaurant to charge in euros. They said that their machine "always" charged in the card issuing bank's currency, but were prepared to charge in euros as they "had been shown how to do it". The ATMs also defaulted to charging in GBP at less favourable rates and you had to opt for charges in Euro. Friends using resorts in Spain have reported refusals by suppliers to charge in Euros.
Phil Elliott, Lichfield

Spain/León - Xmas time at the hotel check-out: (a) No advice on conversion; (b) On rejecting pounds conversion, hotel staff unable to re-configure the bank's payment terminal to pay in Euro; (c) on our rejection of signing the receipt declaration (You have been given a choice on paying in EUR or GBP), the hotel was only willing to accept cash and not produce a manual credit card voucher. A similar thing happened in a department store. Unfortunately, when we raised this with Spanish consumer protection, we had no response.
Jorg Forster, Peterborough

Our card issuer although helpful, says the only way they can take it up is if individual cardholders formally protest
John Wilson, Bury St Edmunds
In Spain, we found in several cases that the machine used to arrange the transaction had been pre-programmed to accept only the currency of the card: the operator was unable to vary this, even when the statement that we had a choice was printed out - there was no choice. At one hotel, a visiting IT expert voided the transaction after we protested, and found another older machine, and organized the transaction in Euros. Our card issuer although helpful, says the only way they can take it up is if individual cardholders formally protest any such transaction on a case-by-case basis.
John Wilson, Bury St Edmunds

As my wife is French we regularly travel to visit family in the Somme. One aspect which nobody seems to have commented on is the sheer variability in new Chip and Pin cards. Two weeks ago we used our credit card in the local supermarket where it was accepted and validated by PIN, we bought some cigarettes in the local cafe where the card did not work at all, and in the garden centre up the road they swiped the card and required a signature! Before Chip and Pin the only problem we faced with French retailers was showing them how to swipe the card. Now it appears a lottery as to how they will work. This has happened with various cards and it appears completely pot luck.
Michael Matthews, Ramsgate

It is just an unfortunate fact of life, currency exchange is an opaque costly business
Andrew Summers, Essex
The solution is very simple on using a credit card abroad, especially in Europe. Britain should join the Euro. I have a Belgian (Euro) credit card. I use it all over Europe and Euros are converted 1/1. As long as we change currency pounds to Euros (where the exchange rate changes on a hourly basis) banks or retailers will add exchange rate charges, no matter what any regulatory authority has to say. It is just an unfortunate fact of life, currency exchange is an opaque, costly business.
Andrew Summers, Essex

In Barcelona last November my credit card purchase of artwork was converted to sterling and the slip said I'd been offered a choice of currency. Trying to argue with the assistant was pointless despite various people intervening to aid my poor Spanish and her poor English. She didn't understand my problem and anyway couldn't change what the machine did automatically. In England I e-mailed the card issuer a couple of times but they didn't seem to understand what I was talking about either, although I pointed out that the conversion rate was higher than that applied to a cash withdrawal the same day. I abandoned my efforts but felt very miffed. I will try to use only cash in future which will mean fewer purchases. This won't help overseas traders.
Jenny Cowles, London

Because of the cost, many organisations in Peru have either stopped using credit cards, or pass on the cost (8% in one case) to customers.
Edwin L Jones, Bristol

The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received. It is helpful if contributors state if they work for any organisation relevant to an issue discussed. Readers should form their own views on whether messages published represent undeclared interests, or views prompted by a common source.

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