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I am an American who has a chip-and-signature credit card issued by Bank of America. Last time I was in Europe (specifically, the Netherlands), I was unable to use my card at an automated ticket kiosk, because the kiosk required me to enter a PIN.

I will be returning to Europe next year, so I looked into getting a card with a PIN. It turns out Bank of America will let me add a PIN to my existing chip-and-sign card:

"Request a PIN" option from the Bank of America website

Do I need a PIN to make purchase with my credit card? What is Chip & Signature and Chip & PIN?

You have a Chip and Signature credit card, so in most instances, you should not need a PIN to make purchases with your credit card. [...] On rare occasions, you may be asked to provide a PIN. Should this occur, just enter the credit card PIN assigned to your card. [...]

You may request a PIN by calling the number on the back of your card or through Online Banking. Please allow 7-10 days for delivery of your PIN.

However, when I requested a PIN for my card, the bank representative told me that chip-and-PIN and chip-and-sign cards are fundamentally different, and the added PIN is meant only to authorize cash withdrawals from ATMs.

Since the situations that requird credit card PINs are fairly rare from a U.S. perspective (i.e., mostly automated terminals outside the U.S.), I'm not sure the representative I spoke to meant that the PIN is absolutely only useful for ATM withdrawals, or meant merely that the PIN is not generally otherwise useful in the United States (but might still be useful in Europe).

In short: will PIN-requiring automated terminals in Europe (especially the Netherlands) accept the PIN associated with my chip-and-signature card, or do they require cards formally classified as chip-and-PIN?

  • 2
    This depends entirely on your bank. If you actually have a chip and signature card, then the PIN is useless except at ATMs. You need an actual chip and PIN card, and most US banks are not issuing them. There are some which do issue them, (mostly credit unions, from what I have seen) so if you travel internationally regularly it is worth seeking these out. – Michael Hampton Aug 21 '15 at 19:06
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    As an additional warning, note that just because you have a chip-and-pin card doesn't mean you will be able to use it everywhere. For example, my French chip-and-pin card doesn't work in Dutch train ticket machines, and not in all German ones — unlike most shops (who can use swip-and-sign cards anyway), they don't use the Visa or Mastercard networks. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 21 '15 at 21:00
  • Are you sure you are using a credit card and not a debit card on the credit network? (sometimes called "cheque cards"). This makes a huge difference. – Burhan Khalid Aug 24 '15 at 6:15
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In Europe and most of the rest of the world, due to rampant skimming fraud - magstripe-only access is restricted to the point of being non-existent.

All cards (debit or credit) are CHIP+PIN. The signature does not matter (just like in the US).

A PIN is required for all Point-Of-Sale and ATM transactions (not just withdrawing cash). This means that for all practical purposes - you need a PIN.

However, banking is a complex network of many different providers and players, so there are certain exceptions to these rules:

  1. Online transactions do not require a PIN; they may require what is called either 3D Secure by MasterCard or VerifiedByVisa (by Visa) - there are similar programs by American Express and other networks. This is a secondary security control that you can enroll your card into through the bank. The process involves selecting a unique passphrase for your card. If the online merchant's acquiring bank is so enabled you will be redirected to a special page where you will have to enter this pass phrase in order to approve the transaction. However, most merchants are still not "3D Secure enabled" (for example, Amazon doesn't have this requirement) so transactions go through as normal.

  2. If the Point of Sale terminal at a merchant does not have a chip reader, then the merchant will swipe your card; now the merchant's acquiring bank has to allow this type of transaction and your bank has to allow these transactions before the transaction will go through. To prevent fraud, most banks that have CHIP+PIN do not allow magstrip transactions especially if they are from a foreign country - it helps to inform your bank that you will be traveling so they don't flag transactions as fraud and then block your card. Some banks go as far as to even block all transaction types from certain countries; again in the name of fraud prevention.

In your case, I can recommend two options:

  1. The safest option is to get a separate card for your international travels. Your bank may offer one with special rates or low fees for international transactions. On this card make sure that CHIP+PIN is enabled.

  2. You can enable the PIN on your card. It will still work as normal on ATMs in the US, and your online purchases will not be affected; the only difference is that you will have to enter a PIN at the Point-of-Sale terminals.

  3. Always inform your bank if you are traveling and will be accessing your account or using your cards. They will make sure they enable enhanced monitoring and further, will not block your card which can cause a great inconvenience if you are in an emergency situation.

  • 1
    Not all European cards are Chip and Pin. Most, but not all. You can ask for a Chip and Signature card, and will receive one if you have a valid reason. I know at least one person with a recently UK-issued Chip+Signature credit card, but it does often lead to confusion when they use it, as the till spits out a signature slip instead of asking for a pin. Your statement that "A PIN is required for all Point-Of-Sale and ATM transactions" is therefore not correct – Gagravarr Aug 24 '15 at 11:43
  • Even if you have CHIP+Sign, these are being phased out as the signature is not secure. Eventually it will all be CHIP+PIN till we move onto the next thing. – Burhan Khalid Aug 24 '15 at 12:31
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    The spiffy chaps and chapesses in Cambridge have shown several times that the pin option isn't secure either! While it does take some effort to get a Chip+Signature card, EU banks and CC firms do issue them, and places take them, so it's incorrect to make your blanket statement – Gagravarr Aug 24 '15 at 12:38
  • There is no perfect solution but by far and wide what is accepted is CHIP+PIN (until something else comes along). Signature puts the liability on the merchant (last place you want it). – Burhan Khalid Aug 24 '15 at 14:01
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There are two types of PIN verification for chip cards: offline and online. In offline verification, the pin or a cryptographic hash of it is stored in the microchip of the card. When you type your pin, the terminal sends the pin (possibly after encryption/hashing) to the card and the card replies back with a yes or no. The card's microchip is programmed to lock itself after a few incorrect attempts.

In online verification, the terminal sends the pin (after encryption) to the bank's servers for verification.

Changing the PIN is easy for cards that only support the online verification method. In theory, you should be able to just log into the bank's website and change the pin. Changing the pin is tricky for cards that support offline verification because the pin is stored in the card too. EVM supports a mechanism called "Issuer scripts", which are programs that your bank (issuer) can automatically remotely run to change the parameters (including pin) of the card, whenever you use the card at a chip terminal.

At the time of writing this, Bank of America cards only support online pin verification. However, some automated kiosks in Europe only support offline PIN verification. My Bank of America cards did not work in those kiosks.

This website lets you find out cards that support various verification mechanisms such as online pin, offline pin, signature... I just got the Jetblue card from Barclays, which seems to support offline pin verification according to the above website. Barclay's customer support confirmed to me that this card supports offline pin verification. Indeed, their website asks cardholders to use their card at a chip terminal to "activate" any change in PIN, presumably using issuer scripts.

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In the Netherlands earlier this month, I only had one restaurant where my USA chip card worked as a chip card. However, both that card, which also has a mag strip, and an unchipped card, worked as swipe cards, including at Amsterdam and Rotterdam train stations. It did not work in the metro stations, except for one tram stop in Amsterdam with a machine. (Most tram stops have no ticket machine, card or otherwise.)

  • Those seem to be the only train stations in Netherlands the USA card works at (Schiphol airpoty, Amsterdam Centraal and Rotterdam). It didn't work in Utrecht or Maastricht. – George Y. Dec 9 '16 at 3:19

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