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I will be travelling to the US soon and for that I obviously need a proper credit card, because Americans love their plastic money. I already own a credit card but I am a little bit confused, because the magnetic stripe seems to be just plain black paint with blocking number of the bank written in the middle without any actual function (I could be wrong). This fits to my research where I learned that in the EU the chip-and-pin verification is almost the only acceptable system.

In the US however. I learned that they still widely use the older and far less secure swipe-and-sign system.

I also learned that there is a difference between credit cards and cards coupled with your bank account called VISA debit cards (not to confuse with the normal bank card used to withdraw money and such). When I asked my bank support the reply was (translated from German): technically your Visa card is set up as a "deferred debit", this fulfils the requirements to be a credit card.

Are European credit cards still capable of the swipe/sign system used in the US? And can I use the "deferred debit" card just like any other credit card used by Americans? e.g. Rent a car, hotel rooms etc.

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    @TomasBy I narrowed it down to 2 very precise questions: " Can I use Swipe/Signature with German credit card" and "Can I use a Deferred Debit Card like a normal Credit Card owned by an american" can you elaborate on "too vague"? – airflyer13 Jul 4 '18 at 12:05
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    How sure are you that your magnetic stripe is actually not functional? On all my cards (some of which I know positively can swipe), the magstripe is visually indistinguishable from black ink anyway. If yours has text written on top of it in light (but not magnetic) ink, I don't see how that would necessarily preclude reading the magnetic data. – Henning Makholm Jul 4 '18 at 13:11
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    Not that in recent years, chip&pin has become a lot more common in the USA. I've used it almost exclusively in my recent US vacation. You may be fine using chip&pin only. – gerrit Jul 4 '18 at 15:14
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    @mc01 Actually, the US PIN debit networks do not use the EMV protocol. They read the equivalent magnetic stripe data off the chip and process it like a magstripe transaction. This is because EMV requires you to visit a terminal, like an ATM, to change or unlock your PIN and they don't want that additional infrastructure and hassle. – user71659 Jul 5 '18 at 3:03
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    Just as user7 explains, and this is very confusing to Europeans coming to the US, fairly often you will get "chip .. and signature". (No, really. Not a typo.) However, xuqs comment is wrong: chip+pin is quite common in the US (and the usual procedure if you withdraw cash). BUT places "with no chip" are also completely commonplace. If you had a card with "no stripe" you couldn't really operate in the US, today (2018). – Fattie Jul 5 '18 at 3:12
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Can I use Swipe/Signature with German [VISA] credit card?

Yes. You should however inform your bank that you are traveling to the US, especially if you do not make a habit of international travel, and you should ask them to confirm that your card will work. The reasons for this are not protocol/hardware compatibility, it is that

  • Your network must be supported. VISA and MasterCard are OK, but sub-things like Cirrus may not be. This is more of a problem with Americans traveling to Europe (American Express and Diners Club are much less frequently accepted in Europe).
  • Your bank will probably have anti-fraud technologies in place which will alert your bank to suspicious actions, like charges made in the US when you have never traveled outside Germany before.

Can I use a Deferred Debit Card like [an American] Credit Card?

Yes. You will be asked "Debit or Credit"; do try "Credit" first. I have often noted that "Debit" will not work on my "deferred debit" cards. Credit may be a simpler operation, just relying on the VISA / MasterCard guarantee that the operation is OK, while Debit will try to contact your (German) bank.

Notes:

  • the stripe is still present and functional on all the European cards I have seen. It has happened to me several times that my stripe has become de-magnetized, and while the card in question would continue to work perfectly in chip-n-pin situations, it failed consistently in situations where you insert your card wholly in the machine, to wit: ATMs and highway toll booths.

  • to avoid your credit card details being stolen, you may wish to place a small sticker over the CCV numbers as I describe here

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Your credit card will normally operate as a normal credit card in the US. At some places, you will come across older terminals that are unable to read a chip (such as parking meters and at smaller shops). If indeed your card does not have a magnetic stripe, then it will not work there.

I doubt that it does not have a magnetic stripe, however. You may call ask your bank if that is really the case. It may simply not be visible because it is printed over.

Your card will be able to use a "swipe and sign" operation mode if and only if this is stored as a possible mode of operation on the card. Your bank should know if that is the case. The merchant also has to support signing for a transaction (which for example vending machines do not).

Terminals that are unable to read chips are becoming less common in the US nowadays, given that major banks in the US started to issue cards with a chip a few years ago.

  • My Canadian chip-and-PIN cards use chip-and-PIN in the U.S., even at merchants where my U.S. chip-and-signature cards use chip-and-signature, so it's very much about what the card supports. – Jim MacKenzie Jul 4 '18 at 17:25
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    AIUI it's about what both the card and the terminal support, but if there are multiple methods in common then the card decides which one gets priority. – Peter Green Jul 4 '18 at 18:15
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    "You may come across some old terminals that are unable to read a chip" this can only be described as wrong. HUGE NUMBERS of stores in the US >>only<< accept swipe cards, not chip and pin. As of mid-2018. – Fattie Jul 4 '18 at 18:44
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    It's quite common for cards in the UK to have fake magnetic stripes or none at all. For instance, all Barclays cards issued since 2016 have a black strip printed on them, but the strips are merely aesthetic. I imagine Germany is similar in this regard – DividedByZero Jul 4 '18 at 19:45
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    I would add that for most any situation involving a person that only uses the stripe, even if your stripe does not work, the vendor can still manually enter the credit card number. – David K Jul 5 '18 at 15:38
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Chip readers are becoming more common in the U.S., so that should not be a problem for you at most larger stores & hotels. ATMs, gas stations, many smaller retailers, and mobile payment systems still mostly require swiping a magnetic card.

You are often given the option to select "Credit or Debit" after swiping the card. Which one works can be inconsistent. Try "Credit" first and see, and if it fails try "Debit" and enter your PIN.

Businesses that don't take cards will usually have a sign saying so. Most will also post a "Visa" or "Mastercard" (Maestro) sign on the door or near the checkout indicating that they accept those cards (either debit or credit).

If your card has a "Visa" or "Mastercard" logo on it, and your bank is aware you're traveling internationally, you should be fine using it to make whatever purchases you need in the U.S.

Your bank/card might require inputting a PIN for each transaction. That's typical of debit cards in the U.S., but not credit cards. Obviously, ensure you have/know the PIN before traveling.

Do be aware of the exchange rate though, as well as any "international transaction" or currency conversion fees your bank charges, as those would be in addition to the U.S. dollar cost of your purchases.

Background for the "deferred debit" question:

In the U.S. a "debit card" transaction removes the funds directly from your bank (checking) account, usually within 24hrs if not immediately. Same as writing a paper check, or withdrawing cash from that account to buy something - it requires that you have adequate funds in the account at the time of purchase.

A U.S. "credit card" accumulates all the charges during a 1-month billing cycle, at which point you pay off all or part of the balance from some other account. These cards/accounts do not require you to have funds at the time of purchase - you just need to pay the card off eventually, usually at a substantial interest rate.

You can use either kind of card to make most payments in the U.S. Again, if you have any type of "Visa" card, you should be fine.

The German system is kind of a mix of the above - all charges accumulate over the course of the month like a credit card, but then you automatically pay off the balance when the bank deducts funds from the same connected account, like a debit card. So "deferred debit" is a pretty accurate description. (In the U.S. this is similar to a "charge card," of which "American Express" is about the only example around - it's not as popular or as accepted).

The key issue is that if you don't have adequate funds in the account to cover all the charges, you could be in trouble. Whether the card/bank would decline charges that exceed your available account balance, or if they'd charge you overdraft fees/interest is up to your specific bank.

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    Good answer. A word of warning for OP: for many US-issued credit cards, it's possible to use a credit card like a debit card, in which case it's treated as a cash advance at exhorbitant rates. The most important advice is that OP know what kind of card he has in terms that the common American cashier will understand. It's also worth mentioning that the US is a big place, and OP's experience using the card may differ the more rural you get. If a cashier is confused about the card, the vendor might refuse to accept it. The more rural you get, the better it is to have cash on hand. – K_foxer9 Jul 4 '18 at 17:44
  • Agreed - definitely depends a bit where you're going. These days increasingly even rural merchants will have card readers attached to their smartphones, but a bit of cash (in a shoe or side pocket as well as a wallet) is a good backup. – mc01 Jul 4 '18 at 18:00
  • Owning a German 'deferred debit card', simply called 'credit card' in Germany, I've had almost no problems in the USA, except for an area in L.A. where gas stations accepted only debit cards for some reason, and my card would not work. – not2savvy Jul 5 '18 at 13:05
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    Piggy-backing on this, because it is the only answer that mentions gas stations: In many cases, entering the zip code at the pump does not work and you have to go inside to pre-authorize an amount X on your card. The remainder will be refunded automatically (but it does not hurt to keep the receipt). – mrks Jul 5 '18 at 13:20
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I will give an answer based on experience with Italian credit & debit cards.

Last June I was in the US for vacation. I brought with me a MasterCard debit card, which should be equivalent to the debit card that you have, and an actual credit card.

To answer your questions:

  • The strips are actual magnetic strips and they work fine
  • The cards are seen as credit cards, even though it did occur to me that swiping the debit/credit did not work while the credit/credit worked
  • There exist places, though rare (I only found 1) that only accept debit cards, so both of those will not work
  • Contactless debit cards can be tapped without problem, but in EU we generally have lower limits like 25€ instead of 100$ as american cards so it is hard to use in places like restaurants for example.

    Also: if you use a contactless card to pay for a restaurant they will often try to tap it which will result in a rejected transaction and they asking you for a different card. You should instruct them to swipe the card instead (occurred to me several times).

I almost never used cash for one whole month, so if you have two MasterCard debits/credit cards you should be good to go.

One thing: check that your card is enabled to be used in that region! Some cards need to be enabled, others are enabled by default ad might be disabled and others simply do not work outside EU. you should find this information in the papers you signed when you got the creditcard and in your online bank account somewhere.


The same is true for Canada, even though I noticed they used much more pin-and-chip than the US.

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    Canada is pretty much exclusively chip-and-PIN now, although there is the odd merchant where American Express cards use signatures and not PINs (I'm not sure why, and I even had a restaurant I often visit change from chip-and-PIN to chip-and-signature on Amex). – Jim MacKenzie Jul 4 '18 at 17:28
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    Shouldn't POS ask you for a pin after you tap an underbalanced card? Or do US POSes reject them completely unlike EU which ask for pin? – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jul 4 '18 at 17:38
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    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ It depends on the terminal. In the US the transaction was immediately rejected (even on terminals that also had the chip reader). In Italy I get to enter the PIN. – Bakuriu Jul 4 '18 at 18:09
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    The comment to check with the bank it is enabled is a pretty good one. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 5 '18 at 11:01
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In the USA,

very many

stores accept only the "stripe" method.

It is so commonplace that there are typical solutions to indicate "chip doesn't work in this reader" - there's a sort of plastic sign retailers can buy that clips in to the "chip" slot, stating, "Chip not available - use the slide!".

If you don't have a "stripe", you're screwed.


Regarding whether your card actually has a stripe or not, I have no clue.

Perhaps ask the bank (but it's extremely likely the person you ask would be uninformed and not have a clue).

It is incredibly unusual for a card to have ONLY a chip, so it is "very likely" your card, as per normal, has a stripe as well. (Basically .. "For use in the USA!")

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Too long for a comment but...

Yes probably, but bring US cash.

Money in the US can be odd. Many places will not take a check, have restrictions on cash they will take, and require "plastic". Our "recent" switch to chipped cards has not made things better.

Specifically, in the US there are five main types of card processing that happens: (names are not 100% accurate and are meant to help)

  • Card not present - you read the numbers to the pizza guy over the phone
  • Card Imprint - Yep you heard me. While less popular it still happens. They use these things Imprinter
  • Card Present - This is where you swipe the magnetic strip
  • Card Verified - This is the pin and chip method
  • Card Reader - Square and the like, where the readers don't store data but process and store transactions.

Your card may work for some, but not all of these methods. I would suspect that it does work, based on your description.

In addition to that, it's up to the merchant, but it is not uncommon for cards that can't be read one way or another to be processed as "Card Not Present". Keep in mind this has higher rates and risks for the merchant so not everyone will do it.

Furthermore, you need to speak with your bank about how funds are processed. Most US merchants only accept US $. If your bank account (or credit account) is tied to another currency you could end up paying fees for each transaction. The merchant would never know. For example, you could pay $7.50 for each transaction on top of whatever the transaction is. so a $0.25 pack of gum is now $7.75 due to banking fees.

Also of note is that some places, mostly Car rentals, and Hotels, but there are others, will only accept credit cards and not "debit" cards. You may have some extra troubles at these places.

One last odd rule, cash IS NOT ACCEPTED EVERYWHERE. There are plenty of limits on bill sizes, change provided, maximum amounts, and other things that are location (region, state, city whatever) dependant.

It's very common to see signs like "No bills larger than $20", "Exact change only", "No change over $10" etc. It's also possible that stores don't accept plastic for less than a certain amount.

Some places don't accept cash at all.

I recommend that you bring $110 in 4 $10, 2 $20, 4 $5, 10 $1, in addition to your card. And be ready to replace that money from a bank or ATM that you can access.

  • +1 for the fees. Note that there ATM fees too; maybe OP's bank can indicate some correspondent bank with reduced fees. – Law29 Jul 5 '18 at 9:43
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Your bank has the final answer to will my card work in USA? question. Ask directly and get answer specific for your case.

Even if the magnetic stripe seems like a coat of inked plastic, it should still show magnetic feature (my own card looks the same but is silver, and swipes like a charm). That is just related to how modern cards are factored.

It is likely that if you have any form of stripe, it will swipe, otherwise it will look exactly like any EU driver's license. Your statement on the mandatoriness of chip transaction in EU is true, but banks do still issue magnetic stripes to allow cards to work abroad, because people like to travel a lot. Let me explain...

First, make sure the circuit your card belongs to is supported in your visiting country (see my first phrase). For example, Maestro cards displayed in the same fashion as Mastercard are not Mastercards, and same for V-Pay.

Maestro Cirrus

V-Pay

I had spoken confirmation by my bank that I can't use a V-Pay card in certain countries outside of EU and must use a Visa/Mastercard/AMEX for those. V-Pay may work in USA according to my bank.

Now about the swipe&sign. In order to enforce chip transaction in EU, all merchant banks are required to reject swipe transactions even if the POS machine has a magnetic hardware. I am not sure how, and I need to ask on Security SE, but I think that a card factored without a chip and issued on a non-EU country can be identified by the POS machine so the swipe is allowed.

No single bank in EU issues non-chip cards to their customers. All have been replaced.

A number of EU Customer banks enforce geocontrolling on their cards, so that transactions are blocked by the time they are issued in order to prevent a common fraud: your card is swiped in EU territory and its magnetic payload sent via internet to subjects outside EU who will encode the magnetic stripe to a dummy card and swipe it. I know a victim.

You may have to call your bank and ask them to allow payments in USA by the time of your visit.

  • Forgot to mention that the credit/debit status makes no difference on POS purchases, but debit cards can obviously be refused for subcriptions – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jul 4 '18 at 16:56
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    Actually some places refuse credit cards, and, for example, during a flight you can only use credit cards. So your comment is not true, at least as written. – Bakuriu Jul 4 '18 at 17:18
  • In the US, VISA and MasterCard used to require that a merchant must accept both types interchangeably. After a huge lawsuit, this provision was struck down, but no merchant that I've ever seen implements this. In the US, debit cards can overdraw your account, allowing the merchant to get paid either way. – user71659 Jul 4 '18 at 21:54
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A few tips:

Your German "Maestro" debit card may well work too in ATMs, but you must first unlock it for use outside Europe for the duration of your trip, and bring it.

The magnetic stripes on my cards are gold and blue, I have no doubt that they will work. Life in the USA without a functioning credit card is hard.

You can raise the limit of your credit card simply by transfering money into its account. As long as the balance is positive you'll get a discount on the fees for cash withdrawals from the ATM.

You may need a high limit for reservations made against the card: hotel, car rental, hospital bills, bail. This is an essential feature ! These reservations, if not used, will be cancelled within 2 weeks or so, but meanwhile they do eat into your credit limit. Once you reach zero, you'll go hungry until the end of the month.

Be prepared for a phone call or (e-mail) message from Visa if it is really you spending the big bucks, or has your card just been stolen ? Not responding might mean that they'll block your card just to be on the safe side. Be reachable.

Not all CC are accepted equally well. Maybe not so much in the USA, but in other countries you may find Amex less accepted. Sleep under a bridge or present another card...

Always bring at least 2 cards, preferably different brands. If one gets stolen or blocked or depleted or refused then at least you can continue living.

You may be offered the option to pay in Euro or Dollars. Paying in local currency is usually cheaper for you, but then the final amount in Euro will be a surprise.

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Regular US Visitor here...

Credit cards should be no issue. They usually work world wide.

Your bank card could cause issues though. Make sure it is working with a VALID network. My Bank (Comdirect) changed their bank card a few years ago and removed the international support for the US (they removed maestro and replaced it with "V-Pay" which works mostly in europe - but failed in the US). The Visa card from them are fine though.

As others mentioned, security deposits can stretch your limit on the card. Hotels charging weeks worth of "complete mini bar raids" or car companies requesting securities for your rental can add up very quickly.

You might inform your bank about your new travel if you never went aboard. The system might catch it as an unusal transaction and cause your card to be blocked, which can be a PITA.

I would consider bringing at least 2 cards. If you don't have 2, get a free one and cancel it once you are back. The S

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