Do Chip & Signature Cards Really Work in Europe?

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We were recently in Europe, and Emily’s new British Airways card with Chip & Signature technology (whose 100,000 point sign-up bonus ends on Wednesday) was quite useful.

Automatic machines which sell everything from train tickets to food in Europe don’t usually accept American credit cards because they don’t have Chip & PIN technology.

For most travelers, this isn’t a big deal because most stores or shops have a credit card machine which accepts credit cards with chips as well as US-issued credit cards which have a magnetic strip to swipe.  After all, European shopkeepers and businesses would have much lower sales if they refuse to accept credit cards carried by American and other tourists.

But cards with a Chip can be useful and save you time when you have to purchase tickets from a machine, pay for gas at an automatic pump, or buy a quick candy bar from a machine. For example, Emily and I used a chip card to:

  • Buy metro tickets
  • Rent bikes
  • Get a drink from the vending machine

However, some US issued cards (such as the Chase British Airways, Chase Hyatt card, JP Morgan Select) do have a chip in them, but they are Chip and Signature (where you verify your identity by your signature), unlike the Chip and PIN cards (where you enter a 4 digit number to verify your identity) used in Europe.

Our experience using the chip cards

Emily and I were in Paris last week, and we were able to use our Chase British Airways credit card to rent a bike from the automatic Velib kiosks around Paris.

Incidentally, you CAN use an American Express card which does NOT have a Chip to rent Velib bikes in Paris, but we weren’t able to get our MasterCards and Visa cards without a Chip to work in the automatic machines.

We were also able to use the Chase British Airways card to buy train tickets to Versailles and Paris Metro tickets.  We did try using our regular MasterCards, Visa cards, and American Express cards, but we couldn’t buy tickets from the automatic machines because those card didn’t have Chips in them.

However, we had a layover in London, but couldn’t get the card to work in the automatic check out machine at a WH Smith store at Heathrow airport, so the Chip & Signature cards don’t work everywhere.

Bottom Line:  I wouldn’t go out of my way to apply for a card with a Chip & Signature if I was occasionally traveling in Europe or countries which use credit cards with a Chip, unless the card had other benefits (sign-up bonus, free nights, no foreign transaction fee etc.) besides the Chip.

But I’d certainly carry them with me while traveling if I already had a card with a Chip.

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37 responses to “Do Chip & Signature Cards Really Work in Europe?

  1. IIRC, we had no issues using our Capital One Visa (no chip) on the Paris metro machines last summer. In fact, the only place I can ever recall having issues with non-chip cards in Europe (Ireland, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland) is gas stations.

  2. Daraius – This blog saved me the search of which no-transaction-fee cards to take on our European trip next month. We will be driving and definitely will need the cards that would work at gas stations.

    Congratulations to you and Emily!

    Our trip next month is our 20th anniversary. We’re going back to the place where we originally met, Paris, the City of Love.

  3. Daraius
    Did you use a pin when you bought metro tickets with your British Air chip cards or did you just swipe or tap them on the screen?
    TY
    Joe

  4. Pamela and I recently applied for the BA card, but both seemed to come without a chip…or are the newer chip cards not an external gold chip these days?

  5. The issue of swipe & sign versus chip & pin was a huge PITA to me just last month in Scandinavia. In Denmark most merchants flat out didn’t know how to process a non-chip&pin card. In the rest of the Scandinavian countries swipe and signature worked, but only if the merchant knew which magic sequence of keys to press to allow it. In Sweden the machines had a “No Code” option to allow the customer to say they needed to sign. For gas I was once forced to use my ATM card and incur the fees from my bank. Other times I would stop at a full-serve station and pay with the card inside where the clerk had more flexibility than the gas pump.

    I really wish US-based credit card companies would offer a chip & pin option. How hard would it be to offer a card that allows chip & pin *and* swipe & sign.

    Or if they have to do some weird hybrid, how about swipe & pin rather than chip & signature. It’s the signature that’s the issue in Europe.

  6. FYI — If you don’t have a chip card, you can still use the Paris bike share by signing up online — they give you your access codes once you join.

  7. It’s also good to know that chip and pin technology is now the norm in Canada, and yes, chip cards are very useful at gas stations etc. Many merchants still have the swipe and signature system, and all cards can be swiped if the chip isn’t readable. The only glitch that I have encountered is trying to use Amex chip cards which were only introduced last year – my Amex chip card worked reliably throughout Europe, but I have had trouble locally in Canada. Many merchants here apparently have not yet updated their software – if you encounter trouble using an Amex chip card in Canada, just ask the merchant to swipe it and all should be fine.

  8. Darius, thanks for this post and all of the useful info you impart. I can verify that American cards with magnetic strips do not work in the Paris Metro when purchasing Metro tickets. They worked everywhere else in Paris, including shops and restaurants. We have moved on and are now in the Ukraine. We had dinner last night in a nice restaurant in a large city and we were unable to use our American credit cards in the machine that the waiter brought to the table … as it required a PIN. We wound up using an American debit card with a magnetic strip, as it has an associated PIN.

    Perhaps we need to contact our credit card issuers for a PIN to be associated with our cards prior to overseas travels. I plan to call upon my return home.

  9. Do the machines and merchants requiring a Chip and PIN also accept cash, especially gas stations and rail lines? For the latter it seems a small think to use cash. I always get some local cash at an ATM at my arrival airport anyway, using m Schwab debit card that reimburses me for ATM fees.

  10. Since the BA VISA is chip + signature, what PIN do you use at the automated machines? Is it just the cash-advance PIN as if you were using the card at an ATM?

    • @Reader – Thanks for sharing. We tried Citi and Chase issued Visa/MC cards, but nice to know that Capital One cards work.

      @TTN
      – Congrats on our 20th anniversary! We loved our time in Paris. I’m not sure if the US issued Chip and Signature cards will work in gas stations, but to be totally safe you could get a US issued Chip and Pin card –> http://boardingarea.com/blogs/rapidtravelchai/2012/02/23/real-chip-and-pin-for-americans-from-andrews-federal-credit-union/

      @Joe @Haloastro – We were not prompted for a PIN. We just inserted the card using the image of the credit card on the machine as a guide to how to insert the card.

      @W Brian Duncan (AKA IPBrian) – Very strange. Emily got her new card with a Chip. I believe you can call Chase and ask for a version with the Chip for free.

      @rob – I agree! I wish they used the same system elsewhere, though you can get a true Chip & PIN card in the US, but it doesn’t earn any reward points!

      @Stan SSO – Thanks for sharing. I didn’t know about that.

      @Jill I – Thanks for sharing and perhaps it will get easier to use US-issued Chip cards.

      @Ron – Most restaurants and shops should let you swipe a US a card on the side, but the automatic machines usually do not let you swipe US issued cards.

      @Gary Steiger – Some machines will let you insert cash. In the Paris Metro, there was a machine for credit cards and another which accepted bills and coins. I don’t think you really *need* a Chip card while traveling, but it can be helpful if you have one.

      @Joe Nevin – I agree with you that Chip and Signature cards aren’t a replacement for a true Chip and Pin card. Here’s a link to a true US Chip and PIN card.

      @The Deal Mommy – Thanks for sharing and good to know that you were able to use the card while traveling.

  11. Posting from Lucca, Italy – our experience this trip is that chip & signature cards (example: Hyatt) work whenever there is a person to handle the transaction but do not work when you are trying to purchase something from a machine (e.g. train ticket, unmanned gas station, etc.). Same for the UK. My opinion: chip and signature cards are being over-sold re their actual capabilities. I am actively looking for a source for a true chip & pin card.

  12. The Deal Mommy

    Just back from Paris, Tenerife, and Madrid where I had no problems using BA Visa. I DID have a problem using my Marriott gift cards from the Daily Getaways promo at the Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, but that’s another blog post!

  13. WARNING WARNING WARNING!!!!! I just got back from a trip to France and Spain. I got to try out my Citibank Executive AAdvantage MasterCard with Chip. This credit does not have a foreign transaction fee like some credit cards do. I used the chip all the time, but at some merchants in Spain I was asked whether I want to pay in EUROs or in USD. With some merchants you get an option. If you choose to pay in USD the merchant’s bank will charge you a commission (about 2%) and a less favorable exchange rate that Citibank. So my recommendation is if you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, always ask to pay in EUROs. I also noticed that if I did not tell the merchants “IN EUROs not USD Please” when I handed them my credit card, they often selected USD without asking. Not all merchants have the USD or EURO option, so once in a while I got a blank look after asking for EUROs and I just had to explain in some places I have the option of USD or EURO. In Paris, I didn’t seem to have this issue, but I haven’t checked to see if any of my charges came back in USD converted by the merchant’s bank rather than my bank, Citi. One thing with the Chip and Pin comment I have is, I didn’t know my pin since I never do cash advances on my credit card, so I found I could not use it at vending machine like on the Paris Metro since I could not provide a pin since you have to use Chip & Pin or Chip & Sign, and the vending machines you cant sign. I wonder if you use a Chip & Pin, whether it is charged as a debt / Cash Advance or as a charge.

    • @Paul – Thanks for the reminder to not pay for a foreign purchase in USD since you’ll end up paying twice for the conversion. We were able to use the British Airways card in the Paris Metro and it never prompted us for a PIN.

  14. Here is how credit cards work in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark:

    http://grabamile.com/2012/06/30/credit-card-usage-in-europe/

    I wrote it out a couple of weeks ago to help travelers like myself who don’t have the newer version of the cards 🙂

  15. Amsterdam trains at the airport: no go with my Citibank AA Exec MC w/chip.

    Finally got a debit card to work as a credit card, still with PIN, but with no chip.

  16. In Turkey it is often possible to charge in U.S. dollars without dynamic currency conversion or other currency conversion rip-offs. We found our cave hotel in Cappadocia and our travel agent there actually have bank accounts in US Dollars, Euros, and Turkish Lira. The credit cards credit those accounts directly in the appropriate currency with no currency conversion loss. I was told this works for Visa and Mastercard, but not American Express. But do be sure to compare the price after conversion if you charge in Lira to the U.S. Dollar price, to be sure there is no built in conversion rate.

    In almost all other places I always insist on charging in the local currency.

  17. After doing extensive research, you would think that chip and PIN is further along and more advanced than chip and signature. It boggled my mind that US issuers were opting for this versus the chip and PIN. However, according to the Visa blog (http://blog.visa.com/2012/01/13/as-u-s-chip-adoption-advances-visa-provides-guidance/) the chip and signature appears to be the future standard. I wonder if this means that chip and PIN will be phased out in Europe and worldwide? If that’s the case, then I will keep my chip and signature and not apply for a chip and PIN. If not, then I will likely apply for a chip and PIN as a backup for when chip and signature doesn’t work. Maybe this is already answered somewhere in the literature the issuers have put out, but I really wish Visa/MC/AmEx would make it easier to understand where they are going for the average consumer worldwide. Just my thoughts.

  18. After facing some awkward situation when you used the service and do not have required currency instead Credit card/other currency, I find out CITIBANK is the worst bank in the world and they never sleep and not let you sleep. When recently I gone to sweden and swiped my mastercard the TAXI man said that it is asking for PIN but CITI did not provide any PIN for credit card. Then after continuusly explaining the issue to international help line no, no improvement in the service.F**k this card and the citi as well.

  19. I just learned that Citi ThankYou Premier joined the ranks of “Chip & Signature” cards. Look at the picture on their new landing site —
    https://creditcards.citi.com/credit-cards/citi-thankyou-premier-card/
    Any idea what’s the current best signup offer?

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  22. I think many people have the issue that the EMV (chip) standard is the exact same in all countries (or even in same country).

    Some cards seem to require the PIN (Personal Identification Number) be sent over to the bank which is called online PIN while others are authenticated by sending it encrypted to the card itself (offline PIN). Other countries are on the chip-and-signature system where the chip is used to authenticate presence of the card and the cardholder signs a receipt. If an online PIN card is used on an offline PIN (not necessarily offline authorization), then the transaction will be a signature one.

    Even chip and PIN countries, such as the UK, have chip-and-signature options for those unable to use a PIN and merchants are required to accept the card. Canada also had a few issuers send out chip-and-sign cards as a middle step (ex: PC MasterCard until mid 2011, RBC Avion Visa from 2003 to around 2008).

    Furthermore, there is a term called PIN-bypass (signature acceptance or PIN failure) which many countries employ as a option until people get used to entering in a PIN; the bypass is usually initiated by the press of the button. The machine will take a chip and PIN card and attempt to get authorization with a signature instead; if approved than the liability defaults to the bank provided proper signature checks are done. This can also happen if a PIN is locked (after 3 wrong attempts) and the machine will attempt to process; occasionally, this will also be approved. PIN bypass often has a cutt off date in which the chance of approval will be minimal.Many merchants mistakenly believe those date prohibit signature transactions where it is actually up to the bank to decide; many banks seem to ignore these deadlines anyway and approve.

    As Jill above mentioned, there is also a Magnetic Stripe fallback route for cases when the chip cannot be read. When this happens, the chip-enabled machine is expected to attempt to process and send a special code identifying as a fallback transaction (sometimes words chip card swiped is printed on receipt to bring attention to). Depending on country, the approval rate for fallback transactions can be quite high even though such transactions are expected to be blocked; if for any reason a fallback is approved, the liability falls to the card issuers as they are considered fully of both the card and machine being chip enabled.The set up is likely done on purpose so the card issuer can decide on a case by case basis whether to allow the transaction (might be small or safe enough to justify); many issuers also like the option of card still being functional if the chip is broken but the stripe is working until a new card is sent out (a few days is not really a worry to most banks).

    In case anyone is wondering about overseas merchants feeling concerned about extra liability for swiping cards. That scenario only applies if the card is chip enabled but the terminal itself is NOT chip enabled; since most machines are able to process chip transactions, that extra liability never applied anyways regardless if the card has a chip or not.

  23. Did you ever have to use your cashback pin in conjunction with your US Chip card when you were in europe? I have heard certain automated machines will ask you for a pin number

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  25. Brooke Babcock

    Like you, we have brought home currency from many countries – easy to file in zip-lock bags – and enjoy pulling them out for return trips. For the rare countries where we have none, we order $20 worth of foreign currency from our bank before each trip. That way we at least can buy a bus ride on arrival. (We go on a lot of foreign cruises and may have only 10 hours in port; we don’t want to waste our first hour looking for an ATM.)

    We use ATMs, not currency exchange booths, in each destination country but have decided to use only ATMs at an open bank, in case the card is held captive in the ATM. That way, we can go inside the bank for help retrieving it. This pretty much rules out airport ATMs. If we have two debit cards with us, then this rule isn’t so important.

    Last year when I applied for a chip-and-pin card from Andrews Federal credit union, they wanted me to send them a copy of my last tax return! I lost interest but may have to bother before our next trip to Europe.

  26. I just got a BA Chase Visa with chip and signature and went to Canada briefly. I tried to use the card twice, but it was not accepted. If I tried to swipe it, it detected the chip and asked me to insert it, then wanted a PIN. There was no other option presented. Keep in mind you operate these terminals yourself and the clerks are 12 years old 🙂

    I also have real European chip & pin cards and travel in Europe frequently, and I can assure you that these US-only chip & sig cards will be a problem in many places. All UK train stations, for example, require chip & pin to buy a ticket from a machine (the usual method) although it might be possible to line up and have a real person deal with a US card. I suspect it would be better WITHOUT the chip, as that seems to confuse the readers.

    To the commenter who thought the rest of the world might go backwards and embrace chip & sig – you were kidding, right? It’s not as secure. It just costs less to implement.

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  30. @SteveP

    I have had the opposite problem. I have a new Hawaiian Airlines card that is both chip & pin and chip & signature, but before you can use it in an offline machine as chip & pin you need to once use it on a connected machine as chip & pin. Unfortunately, the times I tried to use it in Canada the machines didn’t even ask – they just spat out a piece of paper for a signature. But Canada’s a big place. I was in British Columbia. I’ll be trying that same card in Ontario next month. Along with my Chase BA card.

    One day (soon?) it’ll all be sorted out…

  31. @Rob – You obviously know more about these things than I do, but when you say online and offline, what does that mean? The PIN in a chip & pin card is obviously encoded in the card itself – I deduce this from it flashing up “PIN OK” instantly upon my entering the correct code. So it doesn’t have to check with some database first. But when I use chip & pin, it then does “dial out” and confirm the sale. So sales are “online”.

    There are only five (very big) banks in Canada, so the card readers should be a lot more consistent than the USA, but I’m just a bit confused by 1st your card which you say is both chip & pin and chip & signature. Not sure how this can be as chip & signature cards by definition do NOT have a PIN, and all chip & pin cards still have the signature strip, to allow acceptance “offline”. So a chip & pin card *can be used as* a chip & signature card (although it isn’t one) but a chip & signature card *cannot* be used as a chip & pin card. The banks were too cheap to implement the more secure system (instead sucking up the losses from fraud – which we pay for through fees and interest – rather than investing in a better system and readers).

    That was the root of my problem when I tried to use the chip & signature (no PIN is provided) in Canada – the reader “saw” the chip and demanded a pin, which of course chip & signature cards don’t have. Sounds like the opposite of your problem.

  32. @SteveP:

    I’m going by what B of A has told me regarding the card, or at least how I interpreted what they told me.

    The Hawaiian Airlines card is, from what B of A has said , is both chip & pin and chip & signature. You have to call them to get a link to a website where you set the pin – it’s by default chip & signature – but once you’ve done so you need to then use it in a machine that is *not* a portable machine first. Presumably it will then “call home” and perhaps set the pin on the actual card.

    It didn’t seem to do so when I used it in the machines in Canada, but it occurs to me now that I should try it in a 7-11 or some other place in the USA where the machines are connected to the network in some way and will read the chip on the card. Or perhaps I can take the card into a B of A branch or a B of A ATM and have the pin programmed there.

    All in all it’s very unsatisfying the way banks are rolling this out. Several of my new Chase cards have chips, but chase reacts like I have three heads when I phone them to ask about setting a pin so I can use the card outside the USA. Except for the gal at Sapphire Preferred customer service. She indicated that I was only one of many who had called about this but that so far they have been told nothing. She suggested trying a “default” pin of 0000 which some people have reported to work with the SP card in kiosks in Europe.

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