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Still confused by chip & pin vs. chip & signature!

I've been reading lots of posts regarding which credit cards to take to Europe, but I'm still not sure! In 2013 we took my Capitol 1 card and our debit cards and had no issues. This time however we will be renting a car on 2 separate occasions in France. We most likely will be looking to fill up at gas stations and driving on toll hiways, so it seems most are advising chip &pin cards. But then I read a post saying that our American chip & pin cards probably won't work anyway?! So......ugh!!
I called Cap1 today and was told they won't have a chip& pin card for me until maybe December, and that's too late for me, so I'll begin my search for a good chip & pin. If you've had experience with a card that works in automated kiosks I want to know:) thanks!

Posted by
15578 posts

Andrews Federal Credit Union Visa works, but it has been reported that these aren't working at toll booths in southern France, as (perhaps) the credit clearing networks are not connected. As has been suggested, keep a supply of euro small notes and coins handy.
The AFCU Visa is a true chip & PIN, but it defaults to signature if there is a human involved as the payee, such as at a store or restaurant, but if it is a kiosk, you enter a PIN. Even then, small transactions like buying a Metro ticket, often won't require a PIN. It depends on the limit set by the vendor.

Posted by
973 posts

Our Andrews card only worked once at a toll booth. We ended up using coins at the rest and demoninations less than 20 euros. The card did not work at all in any of the automated parking lots and we actually got trapped in one parking garage when the woman using the cash machine before us jammed the machine so that we couldn't use it (the machine wouldn't accept her cc, she didn't have cash and the machine wouldn't spit out her ticket). After a brief panicky moment, we chose the "annulation" (cancel) button on the machine and the machine then spit out the previous user's parking ticket and we were able to use the machine. Again we used cash. This was in southern France so I cannot speak for what will work for the rest of the country. Frustrating. Our regular credit cards work fine in hotels and restaurants.

Posted by
506 posts

I would just be prepared with cash for the gas stations and toll booths. The Rick Steve's books usually have great up to date information on this subject per country. In London the only place we could not use our chip and signature was the automated Kiosk at the underground. Had to go to a maned booth instead.

Posted by
300 posts

I've had an Andrews FCU card since 2012, and the info with the latest renewal has me confused. A few days before I got the renewal card I got the PIN letter, and its wording suggested that it was only for cash withdrawals at ATMs. The information with the card was a little more encouraging in that it implied an embedded PIN (which is used for offline transactions like parking meters but not online transactions like ATMs). For the time being most US-issued chip cards are going to be Chip & Signature, with only limited use as a Chip&PIN card if any.

My only experience in using the old card was in stores and restaurants where the card's signature priority kicked in so I still haven't strictly needed to use itas a Chip&PIN card.

Posted by
1005 posts

What Sam said about the Andrews Federal Credit Union card is true for my experiences as well. It will default to a receipt and signature if it is a live transaction, but works with a PIN in a ticket machine or gas pump. You can drive in France without a chip and PIN card and get gas, but you need to be proactive. On the autoroute the gas stations will have attendants. On the regular highways, keep your eyes open for stations with attendants and fill up during the day. If you're not traveling on the autoroute, don't expect to get gas on Sundays or at night without a chip and PIN card (such as offered by Andrews or the US State Dept. credit union). Chip and signature cards offered by most US banks usually won't work in the French gas pumps.

Posted by
36 posts

For what its worth, I called Capital One a couple months back and asked for a chip card. It arrived in a few days. Like pretty much all US cards, it's chip and signature priority, not chip and pin.

This whole thing is a moving target. The card providers are pushing their non-US merchants to support what's called the "Cardholder Verification Method" of "No CVM", which means that for a EMV chip card the vendor is supposed to take it, PIN or not, unattended machine or not.

BTW, if you have an iPhone 6, I've seen reports of it working in Europe as a plain old NFC contactless card even if the vendor hasn't lit up Apple Pay. That may be worth trying if you've got a recent iPhone/iPad. Apple Pay is going live in the UK in the next month, so that will open up more opportunities to use US credit cards abroad.

For way more information on EMV cards than anyone is likely to care about, take a look at a
thread on Flyertalk.
Flyertalk EMV card thread

Posted by
4500 posts

No matter which card you have, expect to pay cash for tolls in France. It has more to do with the card verification network than the card type itself. ALWAYS get in the cash lane to pay tolls. Different toll routes have different networks - so it may work sometimes and not others.

A chip and signature card may work in automated machines - depending on the card and the machine's network. You can never really tell until you try a particular machine so be prepared to pay cash or work with an attendant.

Any US credit card will work with an attendant. If using a chip card (which in the US will all default as chip & signature - some have PINs as a secondary verification), you may have to tell the person "no PIN" so they know to push the button on the machine for a signature receipt.

Posted by
1628 posts

We've been following these threads with interest as we will be driving French toll roads this summer. Personally, we've given up trying to figure it out and will plan on paying cash or perhaps use the Liber T plan. Yesterday we received new Capitol One cards BOA which included the following (the last sentence is the one I like):

" Accepted internationally---chip cards are accepted in over 130 countries. Keep in mind when traveling outside of the U.S., some self service or unattended terminals ( bus and train station kiosks) are not able to accept chip and signature cards. In this case, simply see an attendant. You may also plan to use an alternative payment method such as local currency." So much for Yen, Shekels, or shiny beads. We will revamp Plan B accordingly.

Posted by
60 posts

Thanks so much for all the great advice! I think I'm going to give up on the chip & pin card for now and plan to have plenty of good old cash on hand for toll booths and gas stations.

Posted by
1095 posts

No, you are getting "chip and pin" cards confused with "Chip and Signature" cards. US banks are being cheap and issuing chip and signature cards. If you have a true chip and pin card it will work in stand alone machines in Europe (except maybe for the French toll roads). I have a true chip and pin card issued by USAA Federal Savings Bank and used it for 30 days in Italy with no problems.

Posted by
4500 posts

US banks are being cheap and issuing chip and signature cards.

It has nothing to do with being "cheap." There are valid reasons for the US to use chip & signature cards for the time being, and there are security pros and cons to each validation method. The US chip cards will work much better and far more places than the old magnetic strip cards. For charges under $50, they will often work in automated machines. The reason they won't often work on French toll roads has to do with their transaction networks, not the cards.

Posted by
277 posts

A card that 'often' works is simply not good enough since the traveler has no way of knowing if and when the automated machine will work. If it does not, the traveler will have a problem. (I wonder if American bankers would like buying gasoline that 'often' works in their cars, but sometimes the car runs poorly on the gas and the banker can't be sure when that will happen?)

Posted by
2814 posts

I've used the Andrews FCU card for 3 years in France, and have never had it refused at an unmanned gas station or train station machine; it asks for a PIN and then finishes the transaction after I type it in. Different story with toll booths.

Posted by
1095 posts

There are valid reasons for the US to use chip & signature cards for the time being,
Oh yes, there are valid reasons. The bankers wallet. The chip and pin cards works exceedingly well in Europe for millions of people. The almighty $$$ is the ONLY reason we are not getting them. Of course this is shot term thinking by the banks and retailers. As stated the "chip and signature cards are for the time being". This just means they will have to go through the expensive transition sometime soon (I hope). The long term cost will be much more because of the two transitions but stock holders want their money NOW and have no concern about the future.

Posted by
36 posts

We'll see if this pans out, but Target store credit cards have the potential of being a really valuable option for travel. They are claiming that they will be implementing full Chip and Pin on their branded credit cards, and they have no foreign transaction fees. It's not clear when their going to be sending out the new cards, but it would make sense for them to have them out before the October 1st liability shift for counterfeit cards.

It sounds like a $250M hit to your bottom line will encourage a company to take security more seriously.