We recently traveled to Norway for a combination of work and vacation. As a tech enthusiast, I’m all about ways to make life easier and tech can often accomplish that. But, there are some downsides, like the one I’m about to describe.
I have three credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, one of which I got specifically because of that feature. I planned on using those cards exclusively when in Norway. At point-of-sale locations (e.g., grocery stores, museums, etc.), those credit cards worked great.
But there was a serious problem with them when I tried to use apps. On our trip, we rented an electric car. Electric cars have to charge. The charging stations in Norway do not allow you to use a credit card while physically at the charger. Instead, you have to download an app, add your credit card to the app, then use the app to charge your car and pay. This seemed a little daunting to me for several reasons.
First, I own a Tesla. Charging at a supercharger on a road trip is super easy. I added a credit card to my Tesla account when I first set it up. When I pull up to a supercharger, the supercharger recognizes my car, links it to my account, and then bills me automatically when I’m done charging. I don’t have to use an app or deal with anything. It’s all automated. So, I’m a little spoiled when it comes to charging my electric vehicle.
Second, I wouldn’t mind setting up another account with another app, but there are many different companies that own charging stations in Norway. As I am writing this (the day before we fly home), I have set up accounts with 4 different companies to use their charging stations, including BKK/Evinty, Mer, Ionity, and Fortum. Having to set up multiple accounts with multiple companies is a pain. It would be way, way easier if they all agreed to use a single app.
Third, and here is where the problem comes in, whenever I would try to set up an account, the app would ask for a credit card. If I entered one of my credit cards that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee, I would then get sent to a screen that would ask me to have a two-factor authentication code sent to my phone. If I was in the US and using my US phone number, that wouldn’t be a problem. But I’m not in the US. I’m using a pre-paid SIM with a different phone number. I have no way to get those text messages.
Effectively, the two-factor authentication, which I understand is important for protecting my credit card, was preventing me from using my credit cards. I called two of my credit card companies (one a Visa, the other a Mastercard, since those are the most widely used in Norway) and asked them if there was a solution. Both said no. I asked if they could send email verifications. They said no. They both said that, so long as I was living in the US, I couldn’t even change the phone number for SMS authentication codes to an international number as their systems would not allow for SMS messages to be sent to an international phone number.
This was a problem with the charging apps. But I also used two parking apps while in Norway (about the only way to pay other than the Norwegian-specific VIPPS, which only Norwegians can use) and tried to make several online purchases or reservations and all of them wanted to use two-factor authentication. In other words, the two cards I wanted to use in Norway because they didn’t charge foreign transaction fees, my Visa and my Mastercard, could only be used in physical, point-of-sale locations and not with any of the many apps that Norway requires.
This is, effectively, a security Catch-22. I can’t use my US phone number to get text messages because I’m using a Norwegian SIM. And I can’t use my US-based credit cards without access to my US phone number.
There are some clunky solutions to this, but Visa and Mastercard really need to solve this problem.
Solution #1: If you have a US cell provider that allows for international roaming at a relatively cheap rate, you can opt not to get a foreign SIM card. Then your SMS messages should still work. My provider doesn’t allow this.
Solution #2: I realized that I had a bank debit card that is a Visa after failing to set up all of these other cards. That debit card did not have the same multi-factor authentication requirement for some reason (I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but it saved my bacon on this trip). I ended up using that on almost all of the apps I had to set up.
Solution #3: I ended up using Skype’s landline call feature to call both of these credit card companies to see if there was a solution. As noted, both said no. However, with one of them (my Mastercard), because I was calling from Norway, they asked about 20 questions to verify my identity. With my identity verified on the phone, I was then, temporarily, able to enter that card into two different apps without needing the SMS verification. I’m guessing it was because I had been verified on the phone, but I don’t know for sure. Regardless, this was the immediate solution I used for the first parking app and another app that I had to set up.
Solution #4: If you can find out all of the apps you’re going to be using in a foreign country and set them up before you go, this shouldn’t be a problem. I, of course, didn’t realize I’d have to set up a total of 7 apps in Norway to be able to drive an electric car, charge it, park it, and to set up my international SIM card.
If you have another solution to this problem, please comment. I really don’t want to get stuck in this situation again in the future. It took days to resolve this.