Bank of America warns that customers travelling internationally shouldn't have a PIN beginning with 0. I've seen reports that people with PIN numbers beginning in 0 have had no trouble when using their card in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Turkey, Finland and Egypt. Why would this be a problem, and in what countries? I'm assuming it's a technical limitation, and I'm curious as to why it is.

  • Based on a quick online search, most everything I turn up is anecdotal evidence that it isn't a problem. Considering that over 20% of PIN numbers start with 0 (source), I wonder if this is just an urban myth? – John Bensin Jun 19 '13 at 21:57
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    Odd image. If 20% are zero, then 100% are '1' ? – JoeTaxpayer Jun 20 '13 at 1:25
  • @JoeTaxpayer It's the relative frequency, with the digit 1 set to the frequency value 1.0. No, I don't know why the author didn't use the absolute frequency. The digit 1 comes up to an absolute frequency of about 40%, and 0 to a little over 10%. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jul 15 '13 at 21:21
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    I'm not aware of any restrictions on the leading digit. On the other hand, a lot of places only support 4-digit PINs, so you may have trouble with ATMs (and shops, if your card has a chip) if your PIN is a different length. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jul 15 '13 at 21:22
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    Not sure where exactly it would fit but it is most likely have to do with internal representation of your numeric PIN within ATM or Bank's Software. PINs beginning with 0 do not match if they are internally converted to a number instead of used as a string. – Karlson Jul 15 '13 at 22:28

Yeah, it's not a problem. It's on the Bank of America automated voice when you call, but it has been for years, and for some reason in Fodor's Italy also claims it, but as in the linked forum on the book, as well as forums on Fodor's own site and elsewhere, dozens of travellers with zeros in their BoA card have had no problem.

Possible reasons suggested for the myth:

  • some US pins are 6 digits, European ones are 4, meaning you may then run into trouble not being able to type in the whole pin (I can't verify what happens in this case, might make another good question)
  • some keypads don't have a 0 (no idea where this myth comes from, seems bizarre and is wrong)
  • people being worried that letters on the keypads don't exist for the '0' - but that doesn't mean you can't press the button
  • 0 being converted incorrectly as a digit to a string in code (but then their own customers would be picking this up pretty darn fast, as well as any testers they have).

All in all, it'll work. Even when Fodor's Italy said it was Italy with the problem, a person on their forums checked with a bank worker in Italy and confirmed that it was fine.

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    If any of those things applied (and I agree they don't) they would apply even if 0 was in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th position. What is special about the leading zero? (I know, nothing.) – Kate Gregory Jul 29 '13 at 0:59
  • @KateGregory yes, I almost considered putting a copy of the question on Skeptics.SE, just so people would have a reference to squash it with :) – Mark Mayo Jul 29 '13 at 1:35
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    @KateGregory Conceivably the leading zero could be special because "0123" could be cast to an integer like 123, while "1023" would be cast correctly as 1023. – John Bensin Jul 31 '13 at 3:02
  • @MarkMayo I never had trouble typing in a six-digit pin in Italy when I lived there, even when I used ATMs outside major banks in the main cities. – John Bensin Jul 31 '13 at 3:04

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