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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