Are Chip-and-PIN Credit Cards Really Necessary?

by Michael on Sep 17, 2013 · 4 comments

Photo of Credit Card EMV Chip

Greetings. I’ve just returned home from a week abroad, and I wanted to share a few thoughts about credit card usage in Europe.

As I noted in a previous post, you’ll often see recommendations from travel experts to get a chip-and-PIN (EMV) credit card before heading overseas. But is this really necessary?

I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to find out the hard way, so I went ahead and requested a “global” version of my Citi Dividend World MasterCard just to be on the safe side. There’s no harm in being over-prepared, right?

Well, guess what? I was able to use my Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard everywhere I went. I was especially pleased about this because this card (unlike my others) doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee for overseas purchases.

Note: Many credit card issuers charge such fees — typically in the 2.7%-3.0% range — for any transactions that aren’t denominated in US dollars.

And yes, I even used this card at unmanned terminals in train stations, on tollways, and in a gas station. These are (reportedly) the places where you’re most likely to have trouble with a chip-less card, but mine worked fine.

The only instance in which I saw an old school card get denied was when a traveling companion’s card wouldn’t read due to a worn stripe. He switched to a chipped card and all was well, but… I used my Arrival card (sans chip) without any problems.

So no, you probably don’t need a credit card with an EMV chip to get by while traveling in Europe. Having one in my wallet provided peace of mind, so I don’t regret jumping through the hoops to get it, but I never actually used it.

1 Little House September 18, 2013 at 9:45 am

I guess that’s another reason to look into the Barclay card. Not that I’m traveling over seas any time soon, but it’s always good to be prepared.

2 Evan September 18, 2013 at 9:40 pm

When I ordered a new AMEX they offered me one with a chip…ended up not taking it b/c my numbers would have to change. Why does European machines require the chip? Is it security?

3 Michael September 19, 2013 at 7:40 am

Evan: Yes, it’s a fraud prevention thing.

Cards with a chip are much harder to forge, and the requirement of entering a PIN makes it very difficult for someone to use a stolen card.

Interesting that American Express would require a new number for chipped card. Citi issued one to me with no account number change. Amex actually didn’t offer them for the card that I have (Delta Reserve).

4 Greg September 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I frequently travel to Europe and there are definitly some situations where chip and pin are necessary or at the very least convenient. Self service gas stations in France require chip and pin. Buying train tickets at the airport in Paris requires it also. The alternative is to stand in the long line. Baggage check in some train stations in the Netherlands also expect chip and pin.

Having said that we have got by without the card but it’s getting harder and harder in certain situations (especially the gas stations). We’ve had no problems anywhere a live person takes the payment.

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