Do Chip & Signature Cards Really Work in Europe?

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Do Chip & Signature Cards Really Work in Europe?

Million Mile SecretsDo Chip & Signature Cards Really Work in Europe?Million Mile Secrets Team

We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

 

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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@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.

@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.

@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…

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.

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.

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