Please sign in to post.

ATM and PIN numbers

Before I left for the Best of Europe in 21 days tour mid September I contacted BofA and Amex. I let them know of my plans for travel and the need to obtain Euros once I landed in Amsterdam. BofA said my Visa pin should not start with a (0) zero as some machines in Europe do not recognize it and should be longer than 4 digits. Thus, I changed it from 4 digit to 7 digit code starting with 4. Amex said I had not used my card for cash withdrawl for so long they needed to issue a temporary pin which would be good for 7 days but must be use within 7 days or it would not work.

Upon landing in AMS I was able to use BofA Visa for withdrawl from ATM. Did not use Amex. Later in the trip I tried to use Amex and the ATM would not accept it. Called Amex and they said the pin time expired and they would not be able to issue another one for 90 days. This made my Amex useless. Not many merchants accept Amex anymore. Tried BofA Visa and this ATM would only let me enter 6 digits even though the ATM at Schiphol airport worked. Now I am not able to get Euros for the remainder of the trip.

Be aware, try your pin numbers for any card you plan to use BEFORE you leave for Europe. Don't start with a zero digit and make it 5 digits long. By the way, I cancelled my AMEX after 34 years of domestic business travel use. It is useless for international travel.

Posted by
6590 posts

I'm not sure why you would want to use a credit card for cash withdrawals as it is much more expensive than using your debit/ATM card. But regardless, it sounds like AMEX notified you that you had to use the code within 7 days. You did not and therefore it did not work. That seems like user error to me, unless I'm missing something here.

FWIW, I have an AMEX card that I use for international travel, but mostly for flight and rental cars, because of the protection I get. That said, it is not as frequently accepted in Europe as MC or Visa, so most people use those for regular cc transactions.

Posted by
4189 posts

Oh, wow. If you had planned to use cash and can’t access it, I bet you are feeling nervous. It won’t hurt to try a different ATM along the way, if that is really necessary. Sometimes a problem can be local, not universal.

But the good thing is that you really need very little cash these days. So just use your Visa for all purchases possible - which should be almost all of them and save your cash just for the instances when you can’t use a card. A pin is not needed for credit card purchases in person. There have been numerous recent discussions here about cash versus card and how so many countries and businesses accept (or prefer) card for purchases of any size.

I know this is covered often here but may be worth adding that using your credit card to get cash at an ATM while traveling is not financially great, unless you don’t have another choice. A debit card through a “no-fee” account will serve you much better (next time).

Posted by
943 posts

We just returned from 2 weeks in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland and used our BOA DEBIT CARD many many times with our 4 digit PIN to remove Euros and Francs from ATM machines and had NO issues at all with our 4 digit PIN. Never use a CC to remove euros - always a debit card. This is discussed on this site under the TRAVEL TIPS, money section.

American Express is American - it has never been accepted in Europe as far as I know.

Sorry you had those issues. The Rick Steves EUROPE THROUGH THE BACK DOOR book goes over many of these issues and it is a great read - we reread it every time we go over. Also, look at the Travel Tips here on this site.

Posted by
23343 posts

Not sure what is happening with your cards as some of your comments are confusing. The idea that a pin number cannot start with "zero" is an urban myth that I am surprised is till being passed around. One of my debit cards starts with a zero and works just fine. And all of my pin numbers are four digits and never had a problem. It is my "understanding" that European ATMs will accept up to six digit. (You may have confirmed that since the seven digits are being rejected.) And finally you should be using a debit card at a bank owned ATM for local currency. Using a credit card for cash advances is a very expensive way to obtain cash. It should be used as an emergency back-up after your two debit cards have failed.

PS -- I have never heard of a "debit/credit" card. It is either one or the other. Not both. I am guessing it is only a credit card.

Posted by
55 posts

Texastravelmom - I did try different ATM machines along the way. None let me enter all 7 digits on the Visa debit card from BofA. It is a no-fee card. My whole point is make sure your pin works before you leave the US and use it right away upon entering Europe.

Posted by
5687 posts

My debit card PIN numbers have always been 4 digits, never had an issue at numerous ATMs, as recently as two weeks ago in Europe. I think this information is not correct.

Posted by
55 posts

Chinalake67 - again, the Visa card from BofA is a no fee debit card. My pin was 7 digits NOT 4 since they told me to make it longer than 4 and not start with a 0. Most machines in Europe will only take up to a 6 digit pin I subsequently found out. I have read the Back Door book. I also read the tips on this site. I just wanted to add my experience in making sure my pin worked upon arrival. I should have used it before I left for both Amex and BofA Visa debit/credit card.

Yes, I should have used Amex within 7 days. What they did not tell me is that if I did not, they could not issue another pin for 90 days. Had I known that I would have tried to use Amex when I landed at Schiphol.

Amex markets their card as being used world wide. It's not.

Posted by
55 posts

AndrewH - Yes, I should have kept it at 4 digit just not starting with a 0. In hindsight I now know this. I was unable to change it to a 4 digit code in Europe because I could not access the ATM with my 7 digit code !

Posted by
55 posts

Frank - I only went by what the bank told me about not starting with a 0. It may be an urban legend, but that is what they told me.

I now know European ATM's accept up to 6 digits which is why my 7 digit pin would not work.

I was using a debit card at bank owned ATM's. My card is a Visa debit/credit card from BofA. It works as both. In the States I have the option to select credit or debit when making a purchase. It's a no fee card from BofA due to the account I have which contains a balance over a certain level.

Posted by
1834 posts

I have had pins that started with 0 and have never had a problem. They worked in the US and in Europe. I've also had many cards that were only 4 digits, some of those pins were given to me by the card company.

Posted by
4189 posts

I think this may be the issue. The machines are reading your card as a credit card and not as an ATM card. I know in the States we can make the choice in how the business runs it, but the ATM machine there may not have that same option. Were you asked on the machine if it was an ATM card or a credit card?

So no pointing fingers here at all! But a true credit (only) card will not require a pin to use it in most instances. And, as you say, an ATM card will require one. Maybe the lesson for new travelers from your experience is related to having separate cards - not having one card for both, since that doesn’t seem to work (while it does at home). I have 4 travel credit (only) cards, none of which have a PIN number, and I use all of them from time to time. I have 2 ATM cards, both of which have a 4 digit pin. I have had one rejected a couple of times on a recent trip, but that seemed to be an issue of where I was because it worked just fine at a different location.

Hopefully you can still use your Visa as a credit card for purchases on your trip!

Posted by
2505 posts

I have used 4-digit PINs for forever and a day.

The single time I had any problem at an ATM was 1st use on a trip many years ago. It used to be that you needed a Chequing account listed as the 1st account on your profile, any other account type like a Savings account and your card was booted from the machine. Somehow in a software update my Savings account went on the 1st line followed by my Chequing account. For the rest of my trip I had to use my CC to remove cash at an ATM - tha bank reimbursed/corrected all charges when I returned.

Posted by
23343 posts

I can access all of my credit and debit cards via the internet and can make changes to passwords as needed. Have you tried that approach?

I am still troubled by this concept of both a debit and credit card. I just spent about 30 minutes on the BofA web site and cannot find any reference to a joint card. It is either credit cards or a debit card against an account at Bof A. The fact that you can use a credit card at an ATM for cash advances does not make it a debit card.

Posted by
14058 posts

I'm sorry you've had difficulty.

My recent experience with Amex is that it was accepted a number of places in CDG and in Italy. I've got it as the default CC for my ApplePay and there were only a few times I had to change to my VISA which is secondary on my ApplePay.

"American Express is American - it has never been accepted in Europe as far as I know."

Oh yes. Back in the day American Express had big offices in at least Paris, London and Brussels as well as other places. I so remember going to the one in London near Haymarket to cash in Travelers Cheques, lol!! Also was able to use AMEX then, especially for hotels and restaurants.

Editing to add: My "debit" card from my Credit Union is a VISA card. I never use it for a CC but it can be used that way. If I use a PIN it goes thru as debit, if I don't use a PIN it's on a CC. I asked one time what the difference was and I think it might have been something to do with a limit for charges or something.

Posted by
37 posts

OP, thanks for sharing has been at least a confusing, maybe nerve-wracking experience for you. It reminds me of an error I once made, when I took the wrong debit card with me. I ended up working with Chase from Venice to set up a CC pin remotely so that I could access €s. This was a few years back, when card payments were not yet widely available. And yes, it's an expensive option, unless paying off the CC quickly.

In any case, your situation serves as a reminder to think through how to access funds while traveling, especially given the recent move to card payments in much of Europe. And clearly, bank employees aren't the experts either if they aren't experienced travelers themselves.

Hope you were able to enjoy the trip even though you ran into this challenge!

Posted by
14580 posts

I use the BofA Visa in Europe other than Germany and Austria. Both my credit card PIN have only 4 digits, one of which I use in Europe, if needed, eg, at the DB ticket machine. Keeping the PIN at 4 digits makes it much easier.

The Am Ex. office in Vienna is still there, where I first went to it in 1971. Am Ex were prevalent in (west)Germany...Frankfurt, Munich, Bremen, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Cologne. Berlin, etc. maybe Kiel and Hannover too. .... I went there from 1971 to the start of the 21 st century. On Kurfürstendamm were restaurants then which accepted the Am Ex card.

Posted by
319 posts

Amex is used in Europe and the UK, but apparently many retailers don’t accept it because of the much higher transaction fees Amex charges the retailer.

Posted by
10245 posts

I live in Europe and use my American Express card all the time. Once in a while I use a Visa or MasterCard depending on need. I don't use it for a cash advance but for purchases. In fact, I rarely use cash.

One thing I noticed with my local bank personnel when I lived in the US is that they don't know diddly-squat about banks, transactions, and dealings overseas. Obviously, you were given incorrect info. Stick with this Forum for good info. I hope you were able to make purchases. I use my cards, tapping, for everything, even a baguette. In fact, most of the waiters in cafés prefer to have us use a card and tap because it's easier for them.

Posted by
6342 posts

According to my local bank, when you use your debit card, you are often given the choice of "debit" or "credit." If you choose "credit," you do not have to enter a PIN. The amount is debited from your bank account regardless of which choice you make. And that is indeed the way ours works. YMMV, of course. We use a locally owned, small town bank, and the card does say "Visa."

And for the record, I have used my debit card with the 4 digit pin beginning with a 0 for years, mostly in Europe. It has never been declined because of the PIN, although it has occasionally been declined for other reasons, all of which were cleared up by a call to our bank.

Posted by
14580 posts

I think the Am Ex office in London is still at the same location as it has always been. Haymarket? I saw it a some years back.

True, about the high fees imposed by Am Ex. My Pension in Berlin used to accept it but owing to its high fee, the proprietor cancelled the option of payment by Am Ex. and every other credit card, such as MC and Visa. It's only a " cash only " establishment , I've only known it as such since 2009...my first stay in this nice typical old style Berlin Pension.

Posted by
2505 posts

Here's what my bank has to say about Visa Debit Cards

The Advantage Debit Card is accepted at stores and service providers in the U.S. (using the Visa and Interlink networks) and around the world where Visa cards are accepted.

Follow these simple steps when shopping with your Advantage Debit Card in person at stores outside Canada (U.S. and around the world):

Tell the cashier that you are paying by Visa. This means that the cashier will process the transaction through the global Visa network. Even though this may seem like a credit card transaction, rest assured, it is still a debit transaction and money will be withdrawn directly from your account.

Insert or Swipe: Where the merchant’s terminal is chip-enabled, your debit card will be inserted into the terminal, chip end first, and left there for the duration of the transaction. Until chip technology is widespread, not all retailers and service providers will have chip-enabled terminals. Those that are not equipped with these terminals will require you to swipe your card.

Sign or enter your PIN to authorize the transaction.

Posted by
4898 posts

One thing I noticed with my local bank personnel when I lived in the US is that they don't know diddly-squat about banks, transactions, and dealings overseas.

When it comes to most (maybe not all) banks in the U.S., Bets is spot on. It's what we call the "left hand right hand syndrome". Neither knows what the other is doing. So sad.

Posted by
32929 posts

I'm sorry that you had a hard time.

It seems that the root of the problem is whoever it was who gave you incorrect information at BofA and not acting on the statement that the Amex had to be used with the temporary pin within the 7 days. So a little each way.

As said above tellers and even officers of financial institutions (my California Credit Union is as bad) is woeful about overseas..

Both things that the BofA person told you are wrong, completely wrong.

I have a card where the PIN starts with a zero. I works perfectly here in the UK and has always worked throughout western and central Europe.

I have a fair number of various cards. Every single one of them has a (different) 4-digit PIN. They have never failed in an ATM or purchase machine because of the 4-digit PIN.

If they had told you accurate facts (and if you had used the Amex within the 7 days) none of this would have happened. When you ask a question at a bank you respect the institution and believe the answers - like anybody would.

Finally - I use my Amex as both my default card in my pocket, and my default card in my Apple Pay which is my usual way of paying for anything. I haven't been to an ATM in 3 years. I don't use cash - at all. That's in UK, France, Germany. Italy, Austria, Belgium, Monaco, Luxembourg, Switzerland. Yes, even Germany.

The Amex is accepted - in my personal experience - virtually everywhere, even my local farm shop. In the rare case where it isn't, like my car dealer, I use a backup Mastercard or Visa. But, really, nearly everywhere.

Posted by
7581 posts

One thing I noticed with my local bank personnel when I lived in the US is that they don't know diddly-squat about banks, transactions, and dealings overseas.

I think that is the takeaway here. People who work the counter, or answer phones simply have no clue as to how things work. They go off what they have heard or been told, or in the case of a call center, work off an FAQ and read from a script. I think the old adage of "Trust, but Verify" is valid here. Lots of good and bad info in this thread, but bottom line, a 4 digit PIN is fine.

Posted by
3877 posts

thommi01–

Thanks for sharing your experience. I‘m sorry you got bad info at your financial institution. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in sharing this story to try to make sure others don’t end up with the same experience as you. I imagine you have called BOA to see if there is anything they can do on their end to help out. Did they have anything to offer?

I‘ll add my voice to the chorus that says 4-digit pins work fine in Europe 🙂. Once again, sorry you had this experience!

Posted by
4009 posts

I would never use AMEX at a cash machine because the cost of it is exorbitant. Thus I don’t understand why you chose to cancel your American Express card. I have had mine for over 32 years as it’s the points I accrue that I use for airfare and the fraud protection is second to none. I also never use my AMEX overseas as a charge card because AMEX fees are expensive.

I have always had a 4 digit pin for my BOA debit card that I use for cash machines both domestically and internationally. I have a four digit pin number for my BOA Visa Travel Rewards credit card but never use it at a cash machine unless something happens to my debit card. I’m surprised in this day & age that your BOA instructed you to use a 7 digit pin. 4 digits are universally accepted.

Even on BOA‘s website, what instructs those who have never used a card with a chip, it talks about the PIN being 4 digits as a default in most cases. https://business.bofa.com/content/dam/flagship/global-transaction-services/commercial-card-resource-center/us_chip_pin_guide.pdf

I just returned from Germany and I never went to a cash machine once because every vendor from newsstand to restaurant accepted ApplePay including the small town where I stayed visiting a friend at the end of my trip. This was the first trip I’ve ever taken in which I can say that.

Posted by
2749 posts

Your problem is not your ATM number it’s Bank of America. I have been using the same ATM 4 digit number in Europe for several years if not decades and it starts with a zero

I also have a true chip and pin card that I can use to get cash in an emergency and it’s a four digit pin. wonder why that works according to Bank of America.

After a couple of exciting customer service experiences that proved to me that the people at Bank of America are clueless and apparently still are I found a solution to the Bank of America problem. I moved all my money to a better bank. You might want to try it if you’re dealing with a bank that’s giving out completely useless advice. Luckily for you in this day and age you need very little cash in Europe so as long as you can use the card as a credit card you’ll be fine