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Preloaded Chip and PIN card returns, now can carry several currencies

By Catharine M. Hamm

Los Angeles Times Travel editor

10:45 AM EDT, August 23, 2013

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Travelex again is offering a preloaded Chip and PIN card for the traveler abroad, but this one allows you to carry five kinds of currency concurrently.

Say hello to the Multi-Currency Cash Passport Prepaid MasterCard, which allows you to carry British pounds, euros, Canadian dollars, Japanese yen and Australian dollars all on one card. Travelex says it is evaluating other currencies for possible future inclusion, including the Mexican peso and the Hong Kong dollar.

You must load at least $50 worth of currency. The card costs $5.95 if you buy it at a Travelex location, but you don't pay the $5.95 if you order online and pick it up at a non-airport location or if you have it shipped to your home (although you'll pay shipping fees for orders of less than $1,000). (Find your nearest Travelex.)

The card represents another option for travelers to those countries that use the currencies above. Why not simply use your U.S.-issued credit card? Although the magnetic-stripe cards are supposed to be accepted widely, readers have told me that they have encountered opposition from some merchants and that they often could not use their mag-stripe card in an unmanned kiosk at, for example, a train station. That mirrored my experience last year in London, where the previous version of the Travelex preloaded card came in handy. (You can read more about credit card conundrums here and here.)

Now that Chip cards are becoming more widely available and ATMs are accessible in many locations, is the Travelex card as critical as it once was?

I'd still say yes. For one, unlike some of the newer Chip cards being offered in the U.S., this card offers the protection of a Personal Identification Number; many U.S. cards with a chip are Chip and Signature cards, which essentially means the merchant must verify that your signature is your signature.

With a PIN, no one can access your card without knowing that PIN. (You, being a smart traveler, will not store that PIN anywhere near the card. Your control of that number gives you an extra layer of security.)

For another, you're not paying foreign transaction fees, which can add as much as 3% to a credit card transaction.

And one of the biggest pluses is a budgeting issue. With a preloaded card, you won't get a big credit card bill when you get home because you are paying cash.

Readers who have followed some of our credit card stories in the last few months know that it is now possible -- but still not easy -- to get a Chip and PIN credit card. I have one now, a USAA Platinum Mastercard, which I learned about through a FlyerTalk Forum. Why not just go with that?

For the same reason, I suppose, that I used to carry traveler's checks. If I get into a jam -- if I lose the credit card, for example, or it fails to work or, as has happened to many of us, the credit card company has simply shut down the card (adjudging that fraud may be occurring because you're charging something in China, even though you called the card company to explain where you would be), I want that built-in redundancy.

Or if, miracle of miracles, I can pay cash for a vacation, I like the idea of coming home to no bills. Plus anything I don't spend I can get back.

Info: Multi-Currency Cash Passport Prepaid MasterCard.