Boarding Pass

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the October 2010 issue.
Cannes, France. Photo: Christophe Finot

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 416th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

Lots to go over with you this month!

The British medical journal The Lancet reported in August that dozens of Britons who traveled to India or Pakistan for medical procedures, including cosmetic surgery, returned to the UK with bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics, including the most powerful class of drugs called carbapenems.

The bacteria are of common varieties, such as E. coli, that became resistant with a new gene labeled NDM-1, or New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase. (The identifying gene was discovered in New Delhi but by no means necessarily originated there.)

Cases have also shown up in Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and the US, as people returned home and passed the bug on to other hospital patients. The worry is that the gene will jump to a bacterium that is resistant to the remainder of antibiotics.

The fight against the bacteria involves early identification of new cases and good hygiene throughout hospital operations.

The resort towns of Cannes and Saint-Tropez have long prohibited people from wearing only swimming attire when not at the beaches. Now some inland towns in southern France, including Perpignan in Pyrénées-Orientales department and Cavaillon in Vaucluse, have passed dress codes against men going shirtless.

For locals in Perpignan, the last straw was when British rugby fans took their shirts off while watching a match. In that town, violators face a fine of €38 (near $48). Women in bikini tops on the street also may be fined if they don’t cover up after being asked to do so by police.

In Barcelona, Spain, signs were posted this year prohibiting similar behavior.

Park West Gallery, one of the companies that runs “art auctions” on board ships of various cruise lines, has had several lawsuits filed against it by passengers claiming they were sold fake, forged or overpriced artwork. The company has countersued for defamation, and the cases are ongoing.

Art auctions at sea are run by art dealers under contract, not by the cruise lines. As the sales take place in international waters, they are not subject to many consumer protection laws.

Royal Caribbean announced in June that it will not be renewing its contracts with Park West and is considering whether or not to continue running art auctions at all.

Both India and the United Arab Emirates have proposed a ban on some of the services provided by the BlackBerry, a “smartphone” manufactured by Research In Motion (RIM). Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Lebanon have indicated they are reviewing the issue as well.

On BlackBerry devices, the UAE has proposed allowing phone calls but not Internet access, e-mail or message transmission. The ban is set to begin on Oct. 11.

In August, India announced it was delaying its ban for 60 days, as it had negotiated an agreement with RIM for “lawful access” to encrypted data transmission and had asked all service providers to show that there is monitoring capability in place. India indicated it also will be looking at Google and Skype services.

These governments want to be able to access encrypted e-mail or instant messages to monitor possible terrorist communications. RIM has declined to release its proprietary encryption codes and has proposed an industry forum to establish guidelines for service providers and governments on the issue of “lawful access.”

ITN printed several letters regarding the credit card system used in many places except the United States (May ’10, pg. 36). Kathy Wilhelm of Cary, North Carolina, referred to the chip-and-PIN debit card that Ed Graper got after opening a checking account at a London branch of Barclays and wrote, “Even as a UK citizen, I have been unable to open an account in the UK without proof of a UK address. (I have lived in the US for many years.)”

I wrote to Ed, who replied, “I opened my account about 10 years ago; I just walked in with my passport. There were no questions. The debit card came with the account. The chip-and-PIN card came a few years ago as a normal replacement for that card, which was a standard magnetic-stripe card. Times may have changed. Banks are a bit that way.”

Kathy also commented on the letter from David Harris in the same issue. He opened a Premier account at a Washington, DC, branch of HSBC, which made it possible to, remotely, open an account at a branch in the UK and thus receive a chip-and-PIN card in the mail. The only address required was his USA address.

Kathy wrote, “The problem is that in order to qualify for an HSBC Premier relationship, you need to open an HSBC Premier checking account and maintain $100,000 in combined US personal deposit and investment balances.”

I asked David about that and he wrote, “Yes, the minimum amount needed is $100,000. However, that need not be in a low-interest checking account. It can be in an HSBC CD, Money Market or even an investment fund getting competitive rates with other banks as long as there is a small (was told even $10) Premier checking account included.

“HSBC may have different rules for their Premier accounts around the country, so $100K may not be the specified amount. The important thing is finding a foreign institution that will issue the card.”

David also wrote, “On my May ’10 trip to Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam, I used the chip-and-PIN card frequently, mostly at ATMs. The only time that the PIN was necessary was at a Paris Métro station when adding funds to a Passe Navigo (transport card) for a week’s worth of transport.”

Liz Peotter of Sparks, Nevada, asked, “A question in reverse — do the users of the chip-and-PIN cards have any problems using the US magnetic-slide system?”

May Targett of Cleveland, Ohio, answered that question, writing, “Our daughter lives in Ireland, where chip-and-PIN cards have prevailed for several years. On her visits to the US, she has had no problem using her card, which does have a magnetic stripe as well, as do all the ones she has seen.”

One subscriber wrote that she had a chip-and-PIN credit card issued by Zions Bank of Salt Lake City. I called the bank to confirm that and reached Brian McCaul, VP of Bankcard Marketing, who told me that the card was an RF chip card, the type that you wave over a contactless reader (and Zions is currently not offering it). He pointed out that the chip is different than that in a chip-and-PIN card, which must be inserted into a reader.

Brian then mentioned that he had read about chip-and-PIN cards being offered by the United Nations Federal Credit Union (Long Island City, NY; 800/891-2471 or 347/686-6000,, so I called UNFCU and learned from Elisabeth Philippe, PR Manager, that they are planning to introduce EMV credit cards this fall but only for Platinum Visa cardholders at first — and, of course, only for UNFCU members, which comprise active and retired staff (and their family members) of the United Nations and related agencies.

The UNFCU EMV credit card will be issued by Gemalto (North American headquarters in Austin, TX; 512/257-3900,, the number-one bank card provider in the world. At Elisabeth’s request, a representative of JustAskGemalto, Debra Montner, phoned me and confirmed certain facts, including the following.

Except for (soon) UNFCU, there are NO financial institutions in the United States currently issuing chip-and-PIN credit or debit cards.

The technology between RF chip cards (like the Visa Slate, with a “blink”) and chip-and-PIN cards is incompatible. An RF chip card cannot be read by a chip-and-PIN card reader even if inserted into it.

The website has information on chip-and-PIN cards and invites comments. The site is a creation of www.justask, a “digital lifestyle advice site,” which includes “Traveling” among its subject headings.

In last month’s issue, I related how ITN columnist Wayne Wirtanen pulled a rabbit out of a hat, identifying a particular bargain among travel insurance policies. He dubbed it the Betty James Travel Insurance Strategy. Wayne has learned that this type of insurance coverage does not allow for a waiver of unstable preexisting medical conditions. He advises the following.

If you’ve been in stable good health and have had no changes in medications for the two months prior to your purchasing the policy, the Betty James post-departure plan will work well for you. If you think that you might not meet the “stable conditions” requirement and want to get a waiver of the preexisting-condition clause, you should step up to a full-feature travel insurance policy.

Wayne has some thoughts on preexisting-condition clauses and will be writing about the subject in an upcoming issue.

Tim Ramstad of Gresham, Oregon, wrote, “Just read in my latest ITN that you will provide random past copies for travel classes. I would like 50 copies of ITN to pass out to students in my World Lit class to broaden their world knowledge and possibly make future travelers out of them. Thank you in advance.”


After we printed in our August issue an information request from Suzanne Powell of Stone Mountain, Georgia, she wrote, “I would like to express my appreciation to the many ITN readers who have contacted me with suggestions for a tour guide in Cape Town. ITN’s ‘Person to Person’ section is a valuable tool for helping travelers receive firsthand information.”

For those with Internet access who are seeking travelers’ firsthand recommendations and advice but can’t wait a couple of months for answers, remember that you can post any questions or responses on the ITN website; just go to the Message Board page. We launched a redesigned Message Board page on July 16, one capable of allowing more useful features to be added in the future.

Just realize that all Message Board entries are unedited and that nonsubscribers also may visit the site, though they do have to log in; no one can “hit and run” anonymously. (Only a username is shown with each post. However, users can send more lengthy responses to each other by forwarding them through the Message Board. Once logged in, just click on “Private Messages.”)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers who monitor our Message Board. The two ITN subscribers faithfully help keep the site “on message.”

Regular visitors to the ITN website will have noticed the most recent addition: online advertising! Clicking on an ad provides you with instant extra information — and encourages our advertisers.

Take a look, and we welcome your comments and suggestions regarding improving the site.

As our website evolves, the print magazine also will benefit. We’ve got surprises in store.— DT