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As I understand it, mainly from reading TSE, chip+signature/stripe+signature is still widely used in the US.

The issue, is that both of my EU Debit Cards issuers explicitly block C+S/S+S capabilities of those cards, with no way to get that enabled for more than a few days at a time.

Would I need to have a third card that supports C+S or would I be able to do most with my EMV (Chip+Pin) card there (for NYC and likely DC)?

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  • 3
    I’d consider getting a Revolut card for this trip. They don’t patronize their customers by only enabling certain payment modes for a few days at a time.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 20 at 7:03
  • 5
    @JonathanReez I have specific reasons not to get such neobank accounts opened and I am absolutely fine with C+S being blocked due to the fact that I don't regularly travel to places where EMV aren't already the norm. I already have a Curve (card aggregator) card, but I would need to contact them to see if they are allowing C+S transactions Jun 20 at 7:18
  • 9
    The US banks don't issue them, but in my experience traveling all over the US (including NYC and DC) in the past 6 years, C&P and contactless are accepted pretty much everywhere. Cashiers are often surprised when it asks for a PIN as it's unusual for them, but the terminals can all handle it.
    – Midavalo
    Jun 20 at 13:37
  • 5
    @jcaron Nothing much has changed - you give them your card, they run it and bring you a paper receipt. You add the tip amount and total it, sign the paper, take your copy of the receipt and walk out. They finalize the transaction after you leave. Keep your receipt if you don't trust the process, but I've never had an issue.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 20 at 16:59
  • 2
    @jcaron Being able to pay in that manner at table service restaurants is not something you can count on doing in the US. 2 days ago

8 Answers 8

12

All EMV terminals allow C+P cards, even if some can be configured to not allow C+S cards (in the US that doesn't happen often, but can happen in Europe). What you referred to as your understanding from TSE is about what is being issued in the US, but it doesn't affect the C+P cards used for payments in the US.

Why would you want a C+S card if you have a C+P card? The latter are much more secure. The US banks don't usually issue C+P cards (see below, but it is starting to change now), but they're accepted just as well. In fact, even for C+S cards, signature is now rarely actually required.

Also, contact-less payments became quite popular in the US and from my experience contact-less cards, or e-wallets like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and such, are widely accepted.

Magnetic stripes are rarely used nowadays as merchants that still prefer them over EMV will now be holding the bag for fraudulent transactions. They're only used as a backup for malfunctioning EMV transaction.


American banks preferred C+S to C+P because, per The Atlantic:

The reason banks say they don’t want to issue PINs is that they’re worried it will add too much friction to transactions and make life difficult for their customers

This article is a bit old, published in 2016 during the EMV push in the US. As I mentioned, the things have changed slightly since. Some smaller banks or those that cater to high earner travelers issued C+P cards from the start, but larger banks are now starting doing it too (e.g.: Discover, Chase, Amex, and others will issue a PIN for you per request).

1
8

I'm an American living in the US Midwest and I'd say that the vast majority of my card purchases in the last year or two have been chip+PIN or touch+PIN*.

There are still places that require a signature, but they seem to be getting fewer and further between. There are also places that don't accept the chip at all and require a mag-stripe read, but these places have chip readers with the chip reader slot covered over. (I have no idea why they don't go to chip since it's there, but it is what it is.)

I just returned from a trip to Texas and Colorado, part flying and part driving. There was one place that didn't accept a chip card and a couple of museum gift shops that required a signature. Everywhere else was chip+PIN or tap+PIN.

I cannot speak explicitly about NYC or DC, but I believe you'd find the same to be true there. I don't think you'll have any trouble at all with a chip+PIN only card. To be on the safe side, ask as you walk into the store/restaurant. That way you can walk back out before it's an issue.

*After having not used the touch+PIN for quite a while, I tried it a couple of times and have become a fan. For whatever reason, the card/reader responds to the touch in 2-3 seconds, while it takes 5-10 seconds when using the chip reader. I'm not sure why/how this seems to be, but it's quicker.

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    Are you sure it wasn't a debit card? I've never seen a C+P transaction with any of my US-issued credit cards happening anywhere in the US.
    – littleadv
    Jun 20 at 17:47
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Willeke
    yesterday
  • To address this highly up voted comment that remains after the rest were moved to chat (since the original comment addressing this was moved to chat, I believe it's valuable to make this more easily and quickly visible): I hold both credit and debit cards of varying (US) bank issue and all of them will work with a PIN when requested by the payment terminal. Whether the PIN was issued/created by default or by request, they can and do work this way in the US.
    – FreeMan
    yesterday
7

Based on my recent trip to the US, there are two things you may notice are different from europe, and one of them might cause a problem:

  • The payment amount is usually set after authorisation, rather than before. This isn't really a problem, but it can seem a bit odd to those who aren't used to it when you insert/swipe/tap your card and then you add your tip. They might also take your card with them for a few minutes, which might also be disconcerting to europeans used to keeping their card on their person at all times.
  • In specific circumstances, you may be asked for your zip code, such as at a fuel station for pay at pump. Obviously this isn't going to work if you have an overseas card, even if you have a post or zip code it's not going to be valid (though apparently there is a trick for alphanumeric canadian zip codes, but it doesn't work for anyone else). In some cases you may get away with putting all zeroes or any valid zip code (such as the famous 90210). But sometimes it'll just see there's no valid zip code tied to the card and reject it, in which case you'll either have to pay cash, find an alternative way to pay, or go somewhere else if you can.

You might also find some places just don't seem to like overseas cards. I had this problem in, of all places, the National Aquarium in Baltimore (which you'd think would be used to at least some overseas tourists). Thankfully I had enough cash to cover the $40 entry fee.

5
  • I think the ZIP code check tries to match against your billing ZIP code, because I seem to recall entering the wrong one and getting rejected once.
    – shoover
    Jun 21 at 19:23
  • 1
    Some places will indeed reject overseas cards. Some payment processing networks charge hefty fees for them, and merchants may simply reject them instead of paying out the nose. It's definitely a good idea to ask in advance if they take overseas cards. As for gas pumps that ask for a zip code, it's normally easier to pay inside where there's almost always a normal PIN pad.
    – bta
    Jun 21 at 19:35
  • @bta In that regard I found it rather confusing that a big aquarium would reject my card when every independent diner and restaurant was happy to take it. yesterday
  • @Crazymoomin it's probably a rare enough instance for them than the assorted small business owners never bothered to do anything, while the aquarium has a full time accountant and has seen large groups go through where every person paying resulted in them getting hit with international fees. yesterday
  • We have family in Deltona, FL. When we visit (from the UK) we hire a car, and I can't fill up at the local Shell gas station as it doesn't like the ZIP code. We have to get Shell gift cards from in-store, and then use these to pay for fuel. It's very backwards. yesterday
4

I live in Canada and I have in the past lived in the U.S. All my cards are chip & PIN, both U.S. and Canadian. Here's what you can expect:

  • Most merchants in the U.S. that sell nonperishable goods and services (as well as grocery stores) have customer-facing terminals, so chip & PIN isn't a problem. This is especially the case for most large chains. Some stores still have the terminal behind the counter, but that usually still works without you having to reach over and enter a PIN.
  • Restaurants usually do not bring a machine to the table. (It does happen, but it's rare.) Typically, your card is taken away, where it may be processed by chip or swipe, and then you add gratuity and sign on the slip. In my experience, this isn't a problem even for chip & PIN cards, since most issuers know this is standard in the United States.
  • Some quick-service and cafeteria-style restaurants do have customer-facing terminals, where chip & PIN works just fine. Again, chains are more likely to have them.
  • You will practically be unable to use automated fuel dispensers, because in the U.S. those almost always require a five-digit zip code (postal code). Some of the new ones with chip readers may gracefully handle foreign chip & PIN cards, but you should expect it not to work and that you'll have to go in the store and prepay for your fuel. Don't be stuck late at night needing to fill up.

You may find it convenient to use contactless whenever possible. In my experience, there is no limit for contactless in the United States, and I have bought $400 of computer equipment with my phone. (Your bank may feel differently, however.) That will save you a lot of hassle, and in many cases, it's very possible to do.

Ultimately, whether your card can be used without a PIN is hard-coded into the card. Your card contains a list of rules (called CVM, cardholder verification method, rules) that says in what circumstances you may sign for a purchase or make a purchase without a PIN or signature. As a practical matter, most issuers allow this for unattended terminals plus the United States. Your issuer may also decline charges that pass the CVM rules anyway, but typically they don't, since that causes transactions to fail needlessly.

Also, note that some debit cards issued in the E.U. and elsewhere are Maestro or Visa Electron. Those typically do not work in North America, and you will need a MasterCard or Visa (credit or debit) to be assured of effectively making purchases. Almost nobody asks anymore in the U.S., but if you are asked "credit or debit", it's credit: debit means a U.S. debit network which you won't have. You will still be able to make withdrawals at an ATM without issue, and almost all of the major banks have chip & PIN ATMs.

It is of course that you may end up with a different experience, since I expect Canadian banks are a little more familiar with trips to the U.S. than those in the E.U. In case of doubt, call your bank and ask. I also always recommend carrying about $100 in cash (in twenties or smaller) in case of problems.

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2
  • Out of the 3 fuel stations I used, Sunoco, BP and Royal Farms, only BP, the foreign supplier, asked for a zip code. yesterday
  • I will add that in the Boston area I have actually seen some local restaurants have started bringing a portable card reader to the table. That's probably still just a thing in larger cities, but it is no longer unheard of in the US. Also, many chain restaurants now have the stupid Ziosk things, if you can figure out how to use them and they don't error out on you.
    – Andrew Ray
    yesterday
3

Living in the US, I just checked my accounting for the last year, and there is only a single place where you cannot pay with card touch / apple pay / google pay: Walmart. They do allow inserted chip cards though. I haven't swiped for years, and nearly never use cash.
I think you can generally assume that you will have little issues with card touch / apple pay / google pay. Carry enough cash to cover your dinner in an emergency, and you are 99.99% good.

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  • 1
    I can confirm that Walmart allows chip & PIN - wife and I bought from there last week
    – Midavalo
    Jun 21 at 3:04
  • HomeDepot doesn't accept touch payments as well. 2 days ago
3

American here.

As others have pointed out, the terminals that work with chipped cards can handle chip-and-PIN transactions even though most Americans have chip-and-signature cards with magstripes for fallback. So the question boils down to how far along is the U.S. in rolling out chip-enabled.

  • All major retailers and fast-foot restaurants have modern terminals that will do (at least) chip and signature. In many cases, the signature will be electronic, but others will have you sign a paper receipt. Most major retailers also support tap-to-pay cards. Tap to pay is much faster and doesn't require a pin nor a signature.

  • Full service restaurants do not have portable machines. The waiter will take your card to a fixed terminal, authorize the transaction, and bring you back your card with two copies of a receipt. You can write in a tip amount and sign one copy and take the other copy. The waiter will adjust the transaction amount to include the tip. I've never had a problem with that.

  • Pay at the pump gas stations are still switching to chip card readers. (They were granted multiple extensions.) Ones with new pumps will do chip and zip code. [Zip codes are U.S. postal codes.] Old pumps still use magstripe and zip (which is generally much faster). In these cases, I'm not sure what happens if you use a card with a non-U.S. billing address. Some of the new pumps also claim to have tap-to-pay, but I've never gotten that to work.

  • Small family-owned retailers might have a modern terminal, but some use services like Square, which means that they might have only a magstripe reader.

  • I don't use a smart phone, so I haven't kept up on Apple Pay nor Google's similar service (whatever they're calling it this month).

Cash Still Works

Thankfully, nearly every place will still accept cash, though some high-volume low-margin places (especially fast food joints) may refuse $100-bills. A few places don't like $50 bills either, but those are becoming less common and prices rise and many ATM machines now dispense $50 bills along with $20s.

If the restaurant tipping process makes you queasy, write 0 in the tip amount and copy the total before signing the receipt. You can then leave the tip on the table in cash.

Failures are Common

In places were the terminals are used a lot, like grocery stores, the chip readers will sometimes fail. After three consecutive failures, you can use the magstripe instead.

None of my chip cards have lasted very long: the contacts wear out long before the expiration date on the card. When I find myself doing the 3-failures-then-magstripe dance everywhere, I call the bank and ask them to replace the card. If it weren't for having to go through the three failures first, magstripe transactions would be much faster than chip ones.

I've also had the chip fall out of a card. It appeared it had been held in place only with friction, no adhesive. I called the bank to order a replacement card, and they wanted to immediately cancel the broken card. But I was away from home, so that would have been quite inconvenient. Fortunately, I still had the chip--it just wasn't integrated into the card. Given that the chip wasn't lost, the bank agreed to keep the card active. I assumed I'd be able to do the 3-failures-then-magstrip routine, but the that didn't actually work in most places. Apparently the terminals can distinguish between a missing chip and a non-functioning chip.

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7
  • 3
    How does this answer the question about using cards with a PIN?
    – Midavalo
    Jun 21 at 15:42
  • @Midavalo: I've added a paragraph at the top that I hope addresses the shortcoming of my original answer. Jun 21 at 17:32
  • 1
    The blanket statement "Full service restaurants do not have portable machines." needs to be qualified with "Some" or "Many" or "Most" or something. I have personal experience with some full service restaurants in the US that do have portable machines. They're iPads running POS software.
    – shoover
    Jun 21 at 19:20
  • 1
    Also, Square offers a reader that does contactless (tap to pay) and chip, so just because a merchant uses Square doesn't mean that they require mag stripe.
    – shoover
    Jun 21 at 19:21
  • 1
    It seems like American chip cards are awful quality or you have really bad luck. Never had a problem with the chip in any of my cards or heard anything such like from friends (and given that virtually everyone over here has at least one card with chip, that's a pretty large sample size).
    – Voo
    2 days ago
1

I live in NYC, and lived in DC recently

I’m an NYC native that lived in/near DC for five years, and moved back a year and a half ago. Looking around, I don’t see any answers coming with quite so precisely the experience you want. I also see some statements I don’t agree with.

The large majority of places that accept cards have a slot for a chip. They don’t always ask for the PIN; I don’t know if this is due to their configuration or my card, but I could see a problem if it is their configuration, and they don’t ask for a PIN while your card demands one. I suspect this is controlled by the card though, not the terminal; problems like I describe above are too likely to leave up to the terminal’s configuration.

However, I want to point out that I do (did) regularly see places that only have a swipe in both cities. These are small, older stores; perhaps not the places you’d go to as a tourist. And since these are smaller stores, anything you buy there might be more easily paid in cash anyway. It is wise to travel with some cash on hand, as there are also cash-only places (though far fewer than before the pandemic).

-3

Don't run it as debit

There are high fees if you do, as it is treated as a cash advance.

The problem is you are trying to process the card as "credit". You're not wrong that most US credit cards process without PIN, however, virtually all US debit transactions use PIN.

  • In the US, most ATM cards are affiliated with a major credit chain (read: Visa or Mastercard). The cards can be used in either fashion: as debit, or as credit.
  • In the US system, there's a different clearinghouse infrastructure for "credit" vs "debit". You or the vendor must manually choose at the time of running the card. The merchant pays significantly less merchant transaction fee when you run debit.
  • Actual credit cards cannot be run debit. (The merchant fee would be too low for the risk of lending).
  • since asking is awkward, a cashier might just select "credit" everytime, since it works anytime there's a Visa or Mastercard logo on the card of unknown nature.
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    Absolutely not. No. Don't run credit cards as debit, it will count as cash advance. Don't do this.
    – littleadv
    Jun 21 at 1:56
  • 1
    @littleadv is right. Although it works, it's risky and a bad idea. Only as a very last resort.
    – Aganju
    Jun 21 at 1:57
  • @littleadv good save. Jun 21 at 3:27

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