I'll be visiting the UK in a few weeks, and I understand that the UK credit/debit card system works on a "chip-and-pin" system. As far as I can ascertain via Google, US cards don't have this system on them. I've also read on some websites that certain readers will not process cards without the chip-and-pin, but I'm not sure how widespread such readers are.

With that in mind, is it likely that my US-issued card will be generally usable in the UK and other countries with the chip-and-pin system, or should I be ready to exchange cash? In addition, does credit/debit make a difference in this regard?

  • 2
    You can get a Travelex chip-and-pin card from any Travelex office in the US, they offer one in GBP and one in EUR. You deposit your USD (based on their current rates), and its pretty convenient and reasonably priced (I managed not to pay any fees, had several trips to the UK with one of those).
    – littleadv
    Jun 24, 2012 at 7:58
  • another option is get an american chip and pin card (not chip and signature but rather a real chip and pin card). they're not offered by many banks, but pentagon federal credit union (penfed.org) does offer one, a visa. no foreign transaction fees, too.
    – user428517
    May 21, 2015 at 17:47
  • October 2016 update. I have US chip-and-signature cards. I've used them in shops, including supermarkets, and the staff have automatically known what to do. However this was in central London (lots of tourists). Machines do not seem to differentiate between debit (ATM card) and credit so I've even had to sign for ATM purchases where I would have just given the pin in the US.
    – mkennedy
    Oct 14, 2016 at 19:43

4 Answers 4


is it likely that my US-issued card will be generally usable in the UK and other countries with the chip-and-pin system, or should I be ready to exchange cash?

You should be able to use your card at most places, in the UK and other countries too. At least ATMs and most shops accept it, while some vending machines may require a chip-and-pin (i.e. EMV) card.

Wikipedia has this to say (regarding UK & Ireland):

While most terminals will still accept a magnetic strip card, and the major credit card brands require vendors to accept them, poorly trained staff may refuse to take the card under the mistaken belief that they will be held liable for any fraud if the card cannot verify a PIN. Non-chip-and-PIN cards may also not work in some unattended vending machines at, for example, transport stations.

If you're still worried, there are options like this:

In 2010 a number of companies began issuing pre-paid debit cards that incorporate the Chip & PIN which allows Americans to load up cash as Euros or British Pounds.

In Finland, ATMs have two slots: blue for chip cards and yellow for legacy cards with only magnetic stripe. (In most counties using EMV there's just one slot for both kinds of cards though, AFAIK.)

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Photo credit: Etelä-Suomen Sanomat

  • As for the side question, my guesstimate is that credit will generally work for you while debit doesn't. (Not sure if this could be the case even if American banks issued EMV cards though.)
    – Jonik
    Jun 24, 2012 at 22:08
  • Anyway, keep us posted after your trip to clear things up :)
    – Jonik
    Jun 24, 2012 at 22:12
  • it is April 2014 now. Any news on this? Is the situation "worst" now? Do this agencies charge outrageous amounts for the prepaid cards (like they do for money exchange)? can the prepaid cards be paid with no-chip cards?
    – alfC
    Apr 6, 2014 at 21:18
  • As of summer 2014, some banks in Finland were as above but some still had the one slot. My American card worked in all machines I used. Jun 3, 2015 at 15:18
  • All the "standard" Otto ATMs have blue and yellow card slots. Some newer competitors like Nosto (by Eurocash) may have only one. (I never use those, as it costs to withdraw money with Finnish cards. Not sure what the cost difference is when using foreign cards here. Personally I'd stick with Otto even then.)
    – Jonik
    Jun 3, 2015 at 17:51

In France, which was one of the first country to generalize credit/debit card with chips (in the early 1990s), credit cards without a chip are still accepted in all stores (or at least should be, I believe this is part of the merchant agreement with Visa or Mastercard). You'll have to sign the receipt as usual, whereas most other customers (who have a card with a chip) will type their PIN on the merchant's terminal instead. I expect the situation to be the same in other countries that have switched to chip cards.

As far as I know, there are no ATMs that require a chip card.

There are automatic vending machines that may require a card with a chip. For example, in France, if you purchase a tran ticket on the web, you can print it out on a vending machine only if your card has a chip (you can still get your ticket from a ticket office window). This kind of restriction is common in transport-related vending machines throughout Europe (some even require a national banking card), for some reason. I don't know what the specifics are in the UK.

  • AFAIK the Netherlands were earlier than France, but their system was different from the French system which eventually became the EU wide standard (and has since been retrofitted into Dutch machines and cards).
    – jwenting
    Oct 9, 2014 at 8:28
  • @jwenting Apparently not, see pin.nl and cartes-bancaires.com
    – Relaxed
    Oct 9, 2014 at 9:11
  • @Relaxed that doesn't tell the entire story. The Dutch system started as a sort of prepaid system where you'd deposit money on the card using the chip, which could then be used to pay at places where there was no connection to use the card proper (think early portable terminals). This system entered testing in 1995-6 and was introduced nationwide around 1997-8. It was later integrated with the EU wide chip based system and will be phased out by the end of 2014.
    – jwenting
    Oct 9, 2014 at 9:37
  • @jwenting The systems mentioned in both links are (sometimes much) older so that's moot.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 9, 2014 at 9:42
  • 1
    @jwenting The general rollout of chips on payment cards in France started in 1992. This was before EMV. Oct 9, 2014 at 10:29

As explained in other answers, many European countries have used debit cards with chip-and-PIN for many years but some credit cards still had no chip and point-of-sale terminals often supported both. However, it seems there is an effort to move even further away from magnetic strip cards, generalizing chips to all cards without exception and penalizing retailers who choose to support magnetic strip cards, at least in some countries.

Thus, I noticed recently that terminals without magnetic strip readers were becoming more and more common. Some new terminals only have a chip reader and I believe that banks apply different conditions to transactions with credit cards without chip compared to chip-based transactions. Chip-and-signature cards should however still work in those places. ATMs might also still work with magnetic strip cards.

Credit/debit also makes a difference as in some chip-and-PIN countries (e.g. the Netherlands), many stores do not accept credit cards at all, whether chip-based or not. Finally, vending machines (e.g. for public transit or train tickets) have required a chip-and-PIN card (credit or debit) for some time now.

All this means that looking at other solutions (at least a chip-and-signature card from your bank or possibly a third-party chip-and-PIN card like the one mentioned by @littleadv) is increasingly important.


Whether or not your card will be accepted may differ from store to store and bank to bank, depending on the (updated) equipment they use. It is rare, but there are still instances where you can pay with your credit card being swiped over a piece of carbon papers.

As important it is to consider your interbank network. The biggest on the market are Cirrus and Visa Plus. Most cards have their logo printed on them:

Cirrus VPlus

So, even if you have a chip-and-pin system, but are with the "wrong" interbank network you might end up being stuck.

I guess the best advice I can give is to contact your bank for advice. There are so many factors to consider that there might not be a generic answer.

  • I have two chip-and-pin cards, from two different countries, and neither have any inter-bank logo. One is visa, the other is MC, and that's the only logos they have. Didn't have any issues with either (used both in the UK, France and Belgium).
    – littleadv
    Jun 24, 2012 at 7:56
  • 3
    @littleadv Cirrus is Mastercard's interbanking network and PLUS is Visa's interbanking network. Jun 24, 2012 at 8:23

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