Chip-and-PIN Credit Cards for Traveling in Europe

by Michael on Aug 28, 2013 · 2 comments

Photo of a Chip and PIN Credit Card

I’m heading to Europe in a couple of weeks and have thus been tying up some loose ends in advance of my departure.

One of these tasks has been to get a credit card that’s more likely to be compatible with European card processing systems.

In case you weren’t aware, Europe has largely transitioned to so-called “chip-and-PIN” credit cards that have a built-in “EMV” chip and which require PIN entry for use in hopes of reducing credit card fraud.

In the US, of course, we still use magnetic strip cards. Unfortunately, these are relatively easy to clone and they don’t have much in the way of fraud protection once somebody has physical possession of your card (or a copy).

That’s where EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa) chips come in. These chips are intended to reduce fraud by making cards harder to clone and preventing usage of stolen cards by requiring PIN entry at the point-of-sale.

Unfortunately, this also means that (in some cases, at least) your US-based magnetic strip card might not work overseas. The biggest problem seems to be at automated transaction terminals, such as you might find in a bus or train station.

The solution? Get a chip-enabled card before you go. So that’s what I set out to do. Having recently done a bit of bonus chasing, I wasn’t interested in opening an account. Instead, I wanted to get an EMV-containing version of an existing card.

I thus pulled out my wallet and started calling around to the numbers on the backs of my cards. What follows is a summary of my experiences.

Chase Freedom Visa Signature

I started by calling Chase to see if we could get an EMV-enabled version of our Chase Freedom Visa card. As it turns out, they don’t offer one. In fact, the only option to get a chip-enabled card with Chase would be to get a British Airways card.

Uninterested in getting another card, I moved on. But not before being reminded that the Chase Freedom card has a 3% foreign transaction fee.

American Express Delta Reserve

My “goto” reward credit card in recent years has been my American Express Delta SkyMiles card. This card started out as a Platinum SkyMiles card, though I upgraded it to the Reserve version late last year.

I’ll likely talk about this in a separate post, but I’m a relatively frequent Delta flyer, and I’m also 6’5″. I thus place a high value on access to exit row and Economy Comfort seats as well as free upgrades to first class. This card helps with both.

Anyways… Despite being a card specifically targeted at higher end travelers, Amex doesn’t offer a chip-enabled version of the Delta Reserve card. Oddly, they do offer a chip on their lower-tier Platinum Delta SkyMiles card.

Uninterested in downgrading to get a chip, I moved on. But not before being reminded that Amex has a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard

The next card on my list was the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, which I recently picked up for the $444 signup bonus (yes, really). Unfortunately, despite being a travel-centric card, there isn’t a chip-based version of the Arrival card.

The rep did say that they’re exploring their options and will likely be adding this feature in the future. But for now? No dice.

That being said, this card is an excellent option for foreign travel since it has no foreign transaction fee and offers an effective 2.2% cash back when you redeem your points for travel-related expenses.

I’ll thus be carrying this card and using it wherever they accept chip-less cards.

Citi Dividend World MasterCard

Finally, Citi… We’ve had a Citi Dividend World MasterCard for the past nine years, and guess what? They do offer a “global chip” version of this card for no charge.

Not only that, but they said that they’d Fedex the new card to me — it should be arriving this afternoon. The only downside of this card is that they charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, so…

For the record, I’m not sure if this will be a true chip-and-PIN card, or a chip-and-signature card. Either way, having this card in my wallet should reduce the chance of having difficulties using a credit card while overseas.

And yes, this card will still have an old-fashioned magnetic strip on it, so I’ll still be able to use it for everyday purchases (and bonus rewards) while stateside.

My strategy will be to use the Arrival card whenever possible and to fall back on the Citi Dividend when a chip-less card won’t suffice.

1 Martin August 28, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I just read about this recently and the chip is on those cards only as a back up in case the terminal cannot read the magnetic stripe. So they still use it as the main course and even the cards with a chip has the stripe on it. That’s why those Bulgarian and Romanian gangs out there are still successful with installing fake readers on ATMs and stealing billions (or maybe millions only) of Euros annually from their victims.

If you need cash out there, I would use the card in inside banks ATMs only. The magnetic stripe is still largely used in malls and stores, they do not have terminals for it, but this depends where you will be going. The US card will work fine in the entire Europe so there’s no need getting a chipped one.

2 Michael August 29, 2013 at 7:48 am

Martin: Yeah, I’m not personally concerned about fraud — honestly, that’s the issuer’s problem. I’m more concerned about acceptance, which is where the chip (potentially) comes in handy.

I’ve heard that it’s not actually that big of a problem, but that there are instances in which you use a card without a chip. Primarily small, “mom and pop” merchants and fully-automated kiosks like you might find in a bus or train station.

Of course, a chip-and-signature card doesn’t help with the latter because there’s nobody there to verify your signature if it’s an automated kiosk. Whatever. I’ll make it work. 🙂

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