Shopkeepers and ATMs can still handle the magnetic strip.
A New York Times article earlier this month described the plight of two tourists in Paris attempting to rent bikes. The automated rental kiosk would not take any of their credit cards. The reason? Their cards—and all U.S.-issued cards—do not have the microprocessor chip now used in credit cards throughout Europe. These chip-based cards work in combination with a personal identification number rather than using the swipe-and-sign system that's been universal up until now. The "chip-and-PIN" cards are used in most European countries, are spreading throughout Latin America, and will be required for transactions in Canada beginning in 2012.
The Times article—and numerous blogs and discussion boards on the topic—make it clear that problems arise primarily with automated kiosks. If you are dealing with an actual vendor, that person is generally able to swipe a card as well as use the chip system. Likewise, international ATMs remain swipe-friendly. Nevertheless, if there are international destinations on your meeting calendar, you can avoid some nasty surprises by confirming just what will work for you and your attendees.
For more international planning tips, check out our article "10 Things Planners Should Know About International Meetings" and the rest of the expertise we’ve collected in our International Meetings special report.