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I'll be visiting the UK in a few weeks, and I understand that the UK credit/debit card system works on a "chip-and-pin" system. As far as I can ascertain via Google, US cards don't have this system on them. I've also read on some websites that certain readers will not process cards without the chip-and-pin, but I'm not sure how widespread such readers are.

With that in mind, is it likely that my US-issued card will be generally usable in the UK and other countries with the chip-and-pin system, or should I be ready to exchange cash? In addition, does credit/debit make a difference in this regard?

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You can get a Travelex chip-and-pin card from any Travelex office in the US, they offer one in GBP and one in EUR. You deposit your USD (based on their current rates), and its pretty convenient and reasonably priced (I managed not to pay any fees, had several trips to the UK with one of those). –  littleadv Jun 24 '12 at 7:58

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is it likely that my US-issued card will be generally usable in the UK and other countries with the chip-and-pin system, or should I be ready to exchange cash?

You should be able to use your card at most places, in the UK and other countries too. At least ATMs and most shops accept it, while some vending machines may require a chip-and-pin (i.e. EMV) card.

Wikipedia has this to say (regarding UK & Ireland):

While most terminals will still accept a magnetic strip card, and the major credit card brands require vendors to accept them, poorly trained staff may refuse to take the card under the mistaken belief that they will be held liable for any fraud if the card cannot verify a PIN. Non-chip-and-PIN cards may also not work in some unattended vending machines at, for example, transport stations.

If you're still worried, there are options like this:

In 2010 a number of companies began issuing pre-paid debit cards that incorporate the Chip & PIN which allows Americans to load up cash as Euros or British Pounds.

In Finland, ATMs have two slots: blue for chip cards and yellow for legacy cards with only magnetic stripe. (In most counties using EMV there's just one slot for both kinds of cards though, AFAIK.)

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Photo credit: Etelä-Suomen Sanomat

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As for the side question, my guesstimate is that credit will generally work for you while debit doesn't. (Not sure if this could be the case even if American banks issued EMV cards though.) –  Jonik Jun 24 '12 at 22:08
    
Anyway, keep us posted after your trip to clear things up :) –  Jonik Jun 24 '12 at 22:12
    
it is April 2014 now. Any news on this? Is the situation "worst" now? Do this agencies charge outrageous amounts for the prepaid cards (like they do for money exchange)? can the prepaid cards be paid with no-chip cards? –  alfC Apr 6 at 21:18

Whether or not your card will be accepted may differ from store to store and bank to bank, depending on the (updated) equipment they use. It is rare, but there are still instances where you can pay with your credit card being swiped over a piece of carbon papers.

As important it is to consider your interbank network. The biggest on the market are Cirrus and Visa Plus. Most cards have their logo printed on them:

Cirrus VPlus

So, even if you have a chip-and-pin system, but are with the "wrong" interbank network you might end up being stuck.

I guess the best advice I can give is to contact your bank for advice. There are so many factors to consider that there might not be a generic answer.

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I have two chip-and-pin cards, from two different countries, and neither have any inter-bank logo. One is visa, the other is MC, and that's the only logos they have. Didn't have any issues with either (used both in the UK, France and Belgium). –  littleadv Jun 24 '12 at 7:56
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@littleadv Cirrus is Mastercard's interbanking network and PLUS is Visa's interbanking network. –  Gilles Jun 24 '12 at 8:23

In France, which was the first country to generalize credit/debit card with chips, credit cards without a chip are still accepted in all stores (or at least should be, I believe this is part of the merchant agreement with Visa or Mastercard). You'll have to sign the receipt as usual, whereas most other customers (who have a card with a chip) will type their PIN on the merchant's terminal instead. I expect the situation to be the same in other countries that have switched to chip cards.

As far as I know, there are no ATMs that require a chip card.

There are automatic vending machines that may require a card with a chip. For example, in France, if you purchase a ticket on the web, you can print it out on a train ticket vending machine only if your card has a chip (you can still get your ticket from a ticket office window). This kind of restriction is common in transport-related vending machines throughout Europe (some even require a national banking card), for some reason. I don't know what the specifics are in the UK.

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