Will Your Credit Card Work in Europe? What’s a “Chip” Card, and Do You Need a PIN Number?

Reader S. asks,

I was in Norway 2 weeks ago – tried buying a train ticket, but the machine only accepted chip cards…same thing for the automated parking garages where you have to pay with a credit card only.

Everyone I saw was entering PIN numbers with their chip card – for US cards with the chip – do we have to get a PIN number? I have the Hyatt Card with a chip in it (my sapphire does not – can I request cards with chips now? How does that work?).

If we get a PIN number – is it still a credit transaction or does it become a cash transaction (never used a PIN for my credit card before – only my ATM cards).

Most US cards have only a magnetic strip on the back. That’s where card information can be found and read.

In much of the rest of the world, cards have an ‘EMV chip’ with encrypted information. It’s much more difficult to steal data from. (And a magnetic strip is easier to reproduce, too.)

In addition, cards have PIN numbers that consumers enter to validate a transaction instead of signing their name.

Increasingly many US cards are being issued with this chip in addition to magnetic stripe. This allows cards to be used where chip reader card machines are prevalent, especially in Europe but elsewhere in the world like Canada as well (these cards can also be swiped, but not everyone is used to or familiar with the process, or may get grumpy having to do it).

In the US, though, most cards are issued as ‘chip and signature’ rather than ‘chip and PIN’ meaning that the chip can be read, and then you sign the slip instead of entering a PIN number.

That’s fine, though less secure, but as a consumer advocate I prefer it. In the US if there are fraudulent charges on your credit card you rarely have any liability for those charges. A simple phone call (technically a written submission is better to protect your rights but rarely necessary) removes charges from your bill, you have no obligation to pay the charges while the fraud investigation takes place.

In E.U. countries chip and PIN cards can create a bias against the consumer in the event of fraudulent charges. If there’s fraudulent charges on the card, there can be a presumption that the consumer must not have protected their PIN. And if they’ve not been careful with their PIN, they’re at fault and liable for the charges.

When chip and PIN becomes commonplace in the U.S., one would clearly expect the banks to lobby for similar changes.

Still, PINs are useful for automated kiosks such as at European train stations or getting gas in rural areas on a Sunday.

US cards without PIN verification can be tricky to use in these cases. Although either a cash advance PIN, if you have one set, or ‘0000’ may work even if your card is merely ‘chip and signature’.

There are economic and historical reasons why chip cards haven’t taken hold in the U.S. as quickly as they have elsewhere, but we’re slowly moving in the direction of chip (though not yet PIN) offerings.

We’ll be seeing more and more chip cards in the U.S. But it will be a gradual process. There’s often talk of hard deadlines in the next few years but that’s a misunderstanding of what will happen. Take MasterCard, for instance, in October 2015 there will be a ‘liability shift’. But that doesn’t mean all cards will have to have chips, or that cards without chips will stop working. Instead,

[I]f a merchant is still using the old system, they can still run a transaction with a swipe and a signature. But they will be liable for any fraudulent transactions if the customer has a chip card. And the same goes the other way – if the merchant has a new terminal, but the bank hasn’t issued a chip and PIN card to the customer, the bank would be liable.

That just tries to incentivize banks to issue chip cards and merchants to acquire the equipment to use them. In other words, it’s the beginning of the transition, not the end.

For reader S., if you have an old Hyatt or Sapphire Preferred card without a chip in it, you can call Chase to request a new card with a chip.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Great article. I am curious, if the US does move to chip, would the banks be able to successfully lobby for a change in the liability for consumers? Right now its capped at $50 under law (and almost all banks offer zero liability for unauthorized purchased). My understanding is the US has much better protections for consumers in this regard than Europe did before chip cards existed, thus there were less protections to “roll back” when banks went lobbying for changes to the liability requirements (fraud was always higher in other countries to begin with so they had more incentive there.)


  2. “but as a consumer advocate I prefer it.”

    You consider yourself a consumer advocate?

    Many hats you wear! 🙂

  3. “In E.U. countries chip and PIN cards can create a bias against the consumer in the event of fraudulent charges. If there’s fraudulent charges on the card, there can be a presumption that the consumer must not have protected their PIN. And if they’ve not been careful with their PIN, they’re at fault and liable for the charges.”

    That is untrue. If your card get stolen, and the thief manage to see the PIN, you won’t liable for the fraudulent charges.
    My card (from a French bank) got stolen from my pocket, after I made an ATM withdrawal (in France). The thieves had my PIN, and the made purchases and withdrawals during the following hours until they maxed out the daily limit of the card. But when I blocked my card online, I got refunded of all the charges, including my own withdrawal. 😉

    So much for being liable.

  4. I find that my US non-chip Amex works better at kiosks for European train tickets than the non-chip US Citi cards and the US (sig+)chip Chase cards. YMMV, and it varies a lot.

  5. To answer his question clearly though, for chip cards you can call the issuer to also get a PIN (you can still use a signature if needed), and the transaction will still be via credit.

  6. I know you’re not a big fan of proof-reading, but you should at least double check your titles.

    I saw my first chip-card reader just last week at Subway (the food place). Didn’t get a chance to use it, though.

  7. USAA offers a Chip + PIN card. I called and requested one as they don’t actively promote them on their website.

  8. The $50 limit is federal law and I don’t see that changing – can you imagine a legislator standing up in a town hall meeting and explaining why Granny lost $25k to identity fraud? The new provisions will cause fraud to plummet, making it even more absurd to roll-back protections. Debit cards are PIN-protected also, and banks are not even obligated to cover fraud – but they do anyway.

    I expect to see EMV readers in every publicly traded retail store in 2015 if not sooner. And the card companies stand to gain so much the cost of issuing new cards will be fully offset by their gains.

  9. I have a Chase checking account as well as the BA Visa, and when I was in Japan I found that my ATM card PIN worked in train ticket machines for the ostensibly chip-and-signature BA card.

  10. The introduction of Chip and PIN cards in Europe did nothing to reduce overall fraud. All it did was move fraud from in-store to CNP transactions (“card not present”) – internet purchases, telephone sales etc. I believe this is the reason it has not been implemented in the US before now, there’s really no point. Incidentally Chip and PIN would not have prevented ANY of the fraudulent charges I have had in the past year (one every couple of months) as they were all online retailers.

  11. According to the Chase customer service rep I spoke with recently, the new Chase Visa credit cards are “Chip and Signature” only. Apparently the “Chip and PIN” capability is only available on Chase debit cards.

  12. This is about to become a huge issue for travelers to London. Purchase of an Oyster card, day card, or trip card from a London Underground machine requires a card with a chip. In the past, travelers without chip cards have been able queue at one of the ticket office windows to have a staffer swipe a magnetic strip card, but the London Underground is eliminating those manned ticket offices. London Underground staff are currently on strike to protest the elimination of those manned ticket windows and the associated reduction in staff.

  13. Gary, of course the banks are going to lobby for those changes, but there’s no chance in hell that they’ll get them.

  14. I wouldn’t be quite so sure they won’t get them. The banking industry is pretty powerful (see how the overhaul of the bankruptcy laws turned out.)

    At the end of the day, it’s going to be pretty hard to increase customer liability in the face of all these credit card hacks though.

  15. Yeah…using my card in UK was a pain. Had to constantly search for the ticket office.
    Thankfully, my girlfriend lives there, so we used her card, when I couldn’t use mine…

    Once/If this gets implemented in the U.S, think the cards will count as “new”…thereby enabling us to get the bonus again? 😉

  16. “Although either a cash advance PIN, if you have one set, or ’0000′ may work even if your card is merely ‘chip and signature’.”

    If you use a cash advance pin on a cc, is there a risk the charge become a cash advance instead of a charge?

    As for the “may work” part, any idea of the likelihood of either of those actually working?

    Because this can be a real problem already. A couple of years ago, we were in the Monaco train station intending to return to Nice. There was not a single person working there, not even a private vendor, and the ticket machine took only chip and pin, or Euro coins. We had Euro bills, but not enough coins for two tickets.

    Not wanting to walk back into town to look for a place to get change, we were forced to board the train w/out tickets and risk being fined. Luckily, the train was packed like sardines, walking down the aisle was impossible, and so the conductor didn’t ask anyone to show their tickets. The amount we saved on the fare was not enough to justify the stress though. 🙁

  17. You didn’t say how you “use” a chip card. If you don’t swipe it what do you do? Hold it nearby? Place it on the unit?

    Also, how do chip & pin cards work for internet transactions?

    The move to chip & pin is certainly going to accelerate as a result of the recent retail breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels and others. Which haven’t seen enough mention on travel hacking sites in my opinion. The specific hack employed “RAM scraping” which would still work with a chip card, but with a PIN it would be useless.

  18. @Jack:

    You significantly misstate the impact on LU staff from the proposed changes as well as the impact on tourists without EMV cards (mostly Americans). First, there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the closure of the ticket offices. Staff will be reassigned to work at the barriers and on the platforms, an area where more staff are definitely needed. Will the LU workforce shrink as people retire? Probably, but no one will be laid off because of the ticket office closures.

    In terms of payment, the stations most heavily visited by tourists will still have staffed ticket offices. There are also places other than LU stations where you can top up an Oyster card.

  19. @Glenn:

    There’s a reader into which you insert the end of the card with the chip. It then shows you the amount and asks you to enter your PIN. In restaurants, they bring a portable machine to the table, so your card never leaves your sight (or even your hand).

    For transactions where the card is not present (online shopping), there is no difference between how American swipe cards and chip cards are used. (Although I did find a higher prevalence of things like Verified by Visa for online transactions when I lived in the UK.)

  20. @Jay K – it wasn’t intentionally, I’m just not going through comments that the system flagged as possible spam during the day (due to 13h time zone difference I’ve been asleep, sorry!)

  21. In Europe all credit cards are supplied with a chip, and newer ones also come with contactless payment abilities for small cost payments that are £25/€30 euros or less. You simply hold your card over the payment console and you are done, far too handy!

    Any supplied card comes with its own individual PIN number for use when paying, either at automated machines or hand held consoles in restaurants or on trains etc. You can change this pin at any standard ATM machine.

    This sort of thing has been going on in Europe for 15-20 years. Yet in the US the other week I was asked to pay for a hotel reservation by cheque(check)!! I’ve not used one of those for about five years here in the uk!

    Above all, i think the difference between the US and UK in terms of fraud is that in the UK they assume innocence before accusation, whereby reading above and other comments it appears that things seem to be the other way in the US.

  22. Hmmm…Okay..
    Not going to type the whole thing again.
    But the gist was:

    A. If they eliminate the manned stations in UK underground tube, It’s going to be a PITA. Because those machines refuse to work with our cards.

    B. If they do get around to implementing the chip & pin system in the U.S, will the cards then count as a “new” version and therefore be eligible for the sign-up bonus again.

  23. Have had a chip in my Chase BA Visa for years and before a trip to Europe in October 2013 got chipped (+signature) cards from Amex (SPG Personal and MB Platinum). Also, as mentioned above, Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) should now come with a chip automatically (starting about Nov/Dec 2013) and a replacement can be requested for free if your old one doesn’t have a chip.

    Anyway, I didn’t have to get tickets too often but in Zurich I had no problems using Chase BA Visa in an automated kiosk – it didn’t ask me for a PIN. At any rate, depending on your situation it may be cheaper to get an unlimited daily or a multi-day all-in “city card” or something like that and those can usually be purchased from a hotel.

  24. Question…My Chase SP has a chip. It also has a magnetic stripe. What prevents my card from getting cloned and then used in a machine that doesn’t recognize the chip? Also, do Chip ‘n Pin cards issued in EU have a magnetic stripe on them? If not, how do they use them in the US where the chip-reading infrastructure isn’t there?

  25. @Mike P

    The cards also have a magnetic strip. This will likely disappear when the US gets into the 21st century.

  26. So, Chip ‘n Pin are only secure when used in Chip ‘n Pin machines. If they need to be swiped they can be cloned and then used wherever? Sound secure to me.

    Which will happen first? Mag Stripes go away or Gary starts proofreading his posts? 😉

  27. I repeat:

    “If you use a cash advance pin on a cc, is there a risk the charge become a cash advance instead of a charge?

    As for the “may work” part, any idea of the likelihood of either of those actually working?”

    I don’t know is an acceptable answer; no response at all: 🙁

  28. @Mike P:

    If a card with a chip is swiped in a terminal that has chip support, it won’t process the transaction and will insist on processing using the chip. My understanding of cloning is that there’s a literal copy of the magstripe made, so whatever is encoded there to force the chip to be used will be copied onto the clone. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s actually part of the card authorization process where the issuer would report to the terminal that the card has a chip. Presumably a chip card could be cloned and used around the US while swipe terminals predominate, but as they are retired, that should be a vanishing issue.

  29. I was shopping at a local small business tonight and after swiping my chip and sig AAdvantage Exectutive card, the machine said to insert card and wouldn’t process the transaction without doing so. This is the first I’ve come across here in the US.

  30. I used my sapphire preferred with a chip in Australia in December and it worked well – the machines know to ask for PIN or signature.

    One thing to watch out for is the machines often offer to do currency exchange for you, and clerks usually say YES. I had to re-do several transactions because of that.

    I just this moment phoned Chase and asked about a PIN for the card and they confirmed that the only PIN you can get is for cash advances. But that “they are working on it” for regular transactions..

  31. To those worrying about using non-chip cards in the UK for Oyster top-ups etc, these machines have always and still continue to work with a non-chip card. You simply insert into the reader as you would a chip card, then it sees there’s no chip and tells you to remove the card – and the transaction goes through.

    That’s not the case with all Euro train ticket machines – France and Sweden come to mind as places where no chip means no dice at auto ticket machines. But in the UK it’s never been a problem.

  32. Cash advance charge:

    I received my Citi Executive AA card this week in preparation for a Europe trip. I called Citi and they said that if I use my card and enter a PIN in Europe, it will be considered a cash advance.

    Others have commented above on this. Anyone actually use their PIN in Europe with a Chip and Signature card from the US?

  33. Just used my Delta AmEx chip and signature card to buy an Oyster card from the machine on the London Underground and it worked fine.

Comments are closed.