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I am currently living & working in the USA and as such, I have credit cards with "chip & signature" security.
When I use one of these cards, I either insert it into the chip-reader in the merchant's card terminal, or if they haven't yet begun accepting chip cards I swipe my card through the old magnetic strip reader.
I then may, or may not, be asked to provide a signature using the "pen" on the terminal's touch-screen.

But I will soon be traveling internationally to countries where "chip & pin" is the standard form of credit card security - and many merchants in those countries have credit card terminals which have neither magnetic strip readers nor "pens" to sign on the screen.

Do I need a pin code associated with my credit cards in order to be able to use them in these countries?
Will my transactions just be authorized with no pin or signature?

  • 4
    You can ask your bank to replace your card with a chip and pin capable card, but most US banks do not issue them at all. – Michael Hampton Dec 7 '16 at 17:01
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    Generally, you will be asked to sign a paper receipt with an ink pen; most readers do actually have a magnetic stripe reader for backup, which is how Americans have been using their stripe-only cards in Europe for the last decade or two. – phoog Dec 7 '16 at 23:22
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    @Walt Its probably detecting that your card is a check card / debit card, so you're using the debit functionality. If you press the "green" button without entering a pin (or sometimes cancel) it should then process like a credit card. – Andy Dec 8 '16 at 0:06
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    @Walt Yes, same card but can be used as either one. I suspect with the push for chip & sign, retailers took the opportunity to try and guide you to the debit option, since it saves them having to pay the credit card interchange fees, which are higher than fees retailers pay for using the debit network. – Andy Dec 8 '16 at 0:15
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    Most merchant terminals in Europe still have swipe functionality. Some don't, but the "standard" terminal you are presented with in most places still does. – CMaster Dec 8 '16 at 8:32

11 Answers 11

29

Yes they will work just fine.

I have the chip and signature cards and I have used them abroad successfully. The merchants will just give you the receipt to sign instead of having you enter your pin.

One thing I would suggest is carry a pen since for most places it will seem unusual and may take a little bit of time to get the pen that is needed to sign a receipt for your card.

The transactions will be authorized but you will have sign a receipt for every single one. Unlike the US where most major retailers don't require a signature for $25 or lower purchases (I think it's $25 but it may vary).

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    @Freiheit I've never seen a touch screen for signatures in a store outside of the US; it'll definitely be having getting real paper to sign! – gsnedders Dec 7 '16 at 21:29
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    Be aware though that self checkouts in the UK usually cannot handle chip & sign. – Marianne013 Dec 8 '16 at 10:21
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    @Marianne013 they usually will work with with chip&sign, but they'll alert the staff to handle the signature process, and they have to manually approve your signature. Also be prepared to be asked for an ID card / passport as well – SztupY Dec 8 '16 at 14:53
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    @Karlson: I witnessed a few times the case (latest one was last week-end) as I leave near Versailles. This time it was an ice-cream shop and some American tourists who wanted to pay by credit card. The terminal had a swipe row (a place at the top to swipe the card) but the transaction was then rejected because it wanted a PIN (and not a signature). They ended up paying cash and I could proceed to buy an ice-cream for myself and my kids :) There are possibly many variants of scenarios but one cannot rule this one (ice cream!) – WoJ Dec 8 '16 at 14:58
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    Are you sure that in every single country where chip+PIN is the norm, a chip+signature will work? That is a lot of countries... see @chx's answer below. – Mindwin Dec 8 '16 at 15:58
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If you can get a PIN issued, it might save you some time at the checkout and prevent younger checkout operators staring at you with bewilderment while they wait for a supervisor. It will let you use self-checkout lanes in supermarkets more easily too.

If you have a compatible contactless card, you won't need a PIN for small purchases.

  • Your mention of a contactless card has given me an idea - although I don't think I have any of those - I could use my smartphone's similar payment system if I load some of my card details into it. – brhans Dec 7 '16 at 17:14
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    I have a pin on my card but the system still asked for a signature. – Karlson Dec 7 '16 at 17:34
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    @Karlson In my experience, that will happen reasonably often if the card is coded for chip+signature, as US cards generally are, even if you have a pin assigned. I usually ask the bank to setup a pin for me so I have the best chance of it working as many places as possible, even if I often wind up having to sign anyway. – Zach Lipton Dec 7 '16 at 18:52
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    As for the contactless card - you will need a PIN after three transactions. At lest this is the case in most of the European countries I visited (I am located in France) but it may be a bank requirement (all banks have the same rule, so it may also be be national, or EU wide - but still bank-based). – WoJ Dec 8 '16 at 14:30
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    There's a BIG caveat with saying "get a PIN issued" - many credit cards in the US do offer PINs, but those are for cash advances at ATMs only. Generally speaking, this pin will not work for chip-and-pin style machines. If you do go this route, make sure that the PIN you're getting issued will work for chip-and-pin machines. (e.g. My credit card does ATM PINs, but does not offer a chip-and-pin PIN). – R.M. Dec 8 '16 at 15:59
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You will find machines all over Europe which only accept Chip + Pin. If memory serves, Denmark and France was particularly bad as many public transit stations are not manned and so you need a pin capable card to get tickets.

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    I'd would say "particularly good" instead, as security is much better with Chip + Pin... but yes, you might get in trouble in France :) – Shautieh Dec 8 '16 at 12:07
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    As only a human can verify handwritten signature, automatic vending machines are off limits for such transactions, that's common sense. – Agent_L Dec 8 '16 at 12:36
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    @Agent_L - you're assuming the human makes the slightest effort to verify said signature. At the average American card-accepting establishment, that almost never happens. – FreeMan Dec 8 '16 at 13:18
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    @FreeMan Neither they did in Europe when signature was used. The role of a human clerk is not to verify the signature, but to take the blame for eventual fraud. – Agent_L Dec 8 '16 at 14:19
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    @Agent_L very valid point... – FreeMan Dec 8 '16 at 14:21
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I would not go to Europe without being able to use Chip & PIN and at least 1 debit card. We in The Netherlands quite often don't even accept Master Card (and Credit Cards in general), and when we do, it's pretty much PIN + Chip (or in some cases with older terminals PIN+Mag). Some big international chains like gas stations may accept non-standard options like signature (but always on paper!) and sometimes even cheque-based payments.

In almost all cases you can pay using a debit card that is a Maestro-type using a PIN code, and it doesn't matter if you are buying something for 50 cents, or something for more than a thousand euros. In many cases, businesses here see more pin+chip payments than cash payments. Many terminals have EMV3 NFC payment support where anything up to 25 euros can be paid with the contactless method without using a PIN.

Long story short: if you have any Maestro card (not Master Card!) with a PIN you're good to go. Otherwise, cash is your next best option. All ATM's support getting cash via credit cards with a PIN.

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    Every vendor that accepts cards should accept signatures because, even on a chip and pin card, the magstripe and signature are the backup in case the chip is broken. Also, you state that Maestro is the only option and don't mention Visa at all. I have only a Visa debit card and a Visa credit card and I've never had any problems using either of those in France, Germany, Italy or Spain. My only recent experience of the Netherlands has been at Schiphol airport, where you might expect shops to accept more payment options than normal but, again, zero problems. – David Richerby Dec 8 '16 at 8:30
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    I've been to places in Europe where cards are only accepted if they have a PIN. French train stations are possibly the best example (since the machines require a pin, the manned ticket shops are often not open, and you don't want to be stuck in a train station with no way to buy a ticket). I've also had signature cards declined at retailers however; the machine rejected the card and the manager specifically informed me that it was because their machines cannot handle signatures. So this post is good advice: if you want to be 100% sure you can buy things, carry cash or a PIN card. – SamM Dec 8 '16 at 9:48
  • @DavidRicherby most smaller retailers use simple payment services provided by their ISP and/or Bank. They don't support credit cards and most non-Maestro by default. Enabling and using them costs money, and nobody here uses it. That's why in most places you won't be able to use it. In many places locals don't even know about alternative payment options. – John Keates Dec 8 '16 at 11:20
  • @JohnKeates: in your comment to David which countries are you talking about? Certainly not about France or Poland at least. – WoJ Dec 8 '16 at 14:45
  • In the Netherlands Visa is as much accepted as Meastro/Mastercard. I have not had to sign anything in Europe for a long time, it is always the chip and pin, but I do have a working chip, I do not know what happens when your chip is broken. – Willeke Dec 8 '16 at 21:11
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I'll try to give some perspective from what I know of some European countries, esp. Austria where I live, and Germany where it seems to work essentially the same: (Similarities do exist in Britain, Italy, Spain, etc., where I did use cards, but only during holidays so experience is limited.)

  • Credit Card (as in: Visa, Master Card, etc.) is not the standard card payment method at all here -- debit card (see below) is extremely common and totally accepted for even small amounts.
  • All Credit Card transactions I did in Europe have been chip + signature on paper trail.
  • Many shops do accept Credit Cards (petrol stations basically always), but many others do not. Paying small amounts with Credit Card (as opposed to debit card) would seem weird, you probably would be asked to pay cash. (Though I guess they would be quite accommodating towards an American tourist ;-)
  • "Standard" Card payment option here is Maestro (used to be called "EC-Karte" in Germany) which is a chip/magnet + PIN debit card. Every shop that accepts cards will accept these nowadays, but be aware that quite some smaller shops wont accept any cards at all.
  • The Maestro card is also normally the card locals would use to get money from an ATM.
  • Chip+PIN for Credit Cards (Master Card mine) I solely know to get money from an ATM.
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    This doesn't resemble the UK very much at all. In the UK, paying with credit or debit cards is extremely common, especially for transactions above, say, £10 and it would be very unusual for a shop where people often spend above £10 to not accept card payments. Visa debit seems much more common than Maestro in the UK but that makes little real difference. – David Richerby Dec 8 '16 at 1:00
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    You're almost right. Except that magnetic stripe cards are now completely gone from many EU countries, having been discontinued because they're too sensitive to fraud. Netherlands for example no longer accepts them at all (neither credit card nor bank card), PIN+chip now being the ONLY acceptable method (though some places might make an exception for non-EU people who don't have such a card). Haven't had to sign anything when using my CC in the Netherlands in years, and never use it to get money from an ATM because of the transaction fees. – jwenting Dec 8 '16 at 8:08
  • Germany is quite specific with their reluctance to use credit cards. I rad somewhere that it was cultural and there was a reson for that but I forgot what. In France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, UK, Poland, Switzerland, Belgium credit cards are common. You may gave limitations on the fare in small shops or bakeries (20€ usually) but in supermarkets there is none anymore. – WoJ Dec 8 '16 at 14:34
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    @WoJ - long time since I've been to France, but I feel there may be a confusion here. What do you mean by "draw-only cards"? In Austria, basically all bank accounts get a card with Maestro function (chip+pin) that you can use to draw money at ATMs, at the machines of your bank and also to pay in shops where the accept Maestro (most of them). What you pay will be deducted from your bank account on the same day == debit card. Credit cards like Visa and Mastercard will only go to your bank account once a month. I have a hard time imagining that Maestro won't be accepted in France? – Martin Ba Dec 9 '16 at 10:00
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    My Dutch Meastro is accepted in France, in shops, and in ATMs. – Willeke Dec 9 '16 at 18:08
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This also depends on "merchant". For example, the machines selling train tickets - at least in Netherlands and Taiwan - do NOT accept US-issued "chip and pin" credit cards as purchase transactions - if you provide the PIN, it will run as "cash advance" transaction (in Taiwan they even warn you about this, but in Netherlands they do not). They however do accept US-issued "chip and pin" debet cards with VISA logo.

3

Being in the UK, I can say they will work fine. My bank issued me a chip and signature card a few years ago by mistake, and it worked as you would expect.

You may cause some confusion in some places, but generally it will be ok. Most places will have either a pen, or possibly even a digital signature pad for the cashier to confirm ahead of payment being taken.

I found that for some things (such as "chip and pin" petrol pumps) it never asked for a pin or any form of validation, it simply debited the amount. Be aware of that, as it might be the case for your cards in those situations.

3

Here in the US, if you are a AAA member, you can get reloadable VISA cards that are meant for worldwide use. It's what I did when my daughter traveled to Costa Rico last year. They have them for all different regions of the world, and you can add money from your normal bank account as long as you have an Internet connection.

You can find more here: AAA Mid-Atlantic (Use zip 20005 if asked)

2

Although I am not sure what is meant by "to countries where "chip & pin" is the standard form of credit card security" I can at least provide some experience from Europe:

Credit Cards are accepted widely for larger payments. For smaller ones that depends on the country: no problem in Sweden, mostly impossible in Germany. In such cases cash from an ATM is needed (only available with a PIN).

Credit card payment requires often a PIN, sometimes a signature (right, mostly old terminals using the magnetic stripe). Contactless payment is not common. Also pay by phone (like ApplePay) is rare.

As an alternative you can use a Maestro card with PIN/chip which in some countries has a better acceptance than credit cards.

EDIT: as @Karlson mentioned, chip & signature is normally not available in Europe.

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    In Europe I haven't seen chip & signature or just signature cards in use aside from those used by US issued cards. That's what OP was referring to. – Karlson Dec 7 '16 at 19:35
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In Australia, chip and sometimes PIN, is the standard.

Most stores and petrol stations will look at you incredulously if you attempt to sign anything. For almost all purchases under $100 you'll be expected to just 'tap' your card against the reader. No PIN required. I don't think there are many retailers left who support swipe and signature. Banks have been trying to eliminate using signature with cards to reduce fraud.

I recommend that you get a PIN for your card. Or, for more security and lower transactions fees, a specific travellers card with a pre-loaded value.

Pay by phone is not widely used.

You'll need a credit card here in Australia as 'card only' stores are becoming more common. Especially for fast food.

  • Replacing "present the card and sign" with just "present the card", even for relatively large transactions, doesn't seem consistent with trying to reduce fraud. – David Richerby Dec 8 '16 at 1:03
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    @DavidRicherby they are trying to prevent vendor fraud, where mag stripe data is skimmed and used later for unauthorised transactions. This is harder with chip cards (as the crypto processor is on the card). People who have their cards stolen or lose them tend to report them quickly as they know about the possibility of fraud. Cards are skimmed silently so the owner's don't know until they check their balance or get their statement. – Sam Dec 8 '16 at 1:57
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You will get in trouble in Spain and France as both offer small or no support at all for Signature cards. Most speedway tolls / Ticket Machines / Vending Machines / Public Transport machines, for example, don't accept cards without pin in Spain and France. And most (big & small) merchants & stores i know have retired their old renting signature machines for newer, cheaper contactless / pin readers only.

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