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I have a friend in the United States who traveled here from Serbia and has a debit card from a Serbian bank.

He has tried using the card in various places. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It worked in Walmart. It didn't work at a WinCo grocery store (the WinCo store only accepts debit cards--but it is a debit card). It's very frustrating to not know until you get to the checkout counter whether your card will work or not.

Is there any way to predict this? Is there any explanation for why a Visa card would work at some terminals and not at others?

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    Did the WinCo store say that it accepts Visa debit cards? Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 15:57
  • @TannerSwett They just say that they only take debit cards. I think the WinCo exception is explained by Jonathan here: travel.stackexchange.com/a/180916/98535
    – msouth
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 0:18

3 Answers 3

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While the card is a debit card, foreign banks tend to see it as a credit card, although the payment will work as a debit card on your end.

This is not just the Serbian card but all foreign cards and not just in the US but pretty much spread around the world. Not everywhere but it is common.

So if a place says Debit card only the chances of it being accepted are small.

My method was to have enough cash for all my needs for a few days and if a card payment did not work pay cash.

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    That said, as a regular US traveller, I've found the places not accepting credit cards to be very small. And even if you have no cash, you should be able to withdraw cash on a debit card at an ATM (provided it's on one of the main networks of course) - though you will be charged a fee.
    – abligh
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 15:04
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    It can be annoying to find out you have to get cash at the moment of payment, especially if there are no ATMs near or all charge a big fee. Better to have $100 on you most of the time.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 15:52
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He has tried using the card in various places. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It worked in Walmart. It didn't work at a WinCo grocery store (the WinCo store only accepts debit cards--but it is a debit card). It's very frustrating to not know until you get to the checkout counter whether your card will work or not.

Your friend has encountered the a very rare exception - WinCo didn't work for him because foreign debit cards are processed as credit cards in the US for various reasons that are too long to expand on here. Otherwise their card should work everywhere, conditional on their bank not denying the transaction. So the answer is: the card will work everywhere with the sole exception of stores that don't take credit cards.

Source: many years of living in the US and numerous prior trips to the US using a European debit card.

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In the United States, virtually all U.S.-issued debit cards contain a Mastercard or Visa (or, rarely, Discover or American Express) logo and can be used on those networks (this is not true, for example, in Canada). However, in a store, paying debit means that the purchase is routed over one of about a dozen national debit networks that are effectively U.S.-only. Which one depends on what the merchant and issuer support and the fees involved and the network is not user-visible.

Fortunately, most businesses do accept credit cards, and almost all businesses that accept credit cards take both Mastercard and Visa. In my experience, any business that takes Visa will accept all Visa cards, credit, debit, or otherwise. However, Visa Electron and V Pay, which are used in some European countries, may still have poor acceptance.

That being said, assuming it is a regular Visa debit card, it should work at any place that takes Visa credit cards. Note that some businesses in the U.S. still have swipe or have non-user-accessible terminals, so your friend's bank will need to gracefully handle the fact that it may be processed as swipe or chip and signature (very especially at restaurants), which most (but not all) banks will do. The number of places using chip is on the increase, and in many cases chip and PIN is getting better support in the U.S., but there are still exceptions.

My recommendation, however, is that everyone traveling to the U.S. carry about $100 cash in small bills (nothing larger than a $20). There are some cash-only businesses, and for small purchases, such as you might make at a convenience store, some places won't accept a credit card (or foreign debit card) under $10. Fortunately, a foreign Visa debit card will almost certainly work at virtually any ATM, so that can be a way to get easy cash if necessary, although there is usually a small (about $3) fee.

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