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Using Canadian debit card for point-of-sale purchases

Hi, I've searched the forums on this but most of the similar topics are 5+ years old. We'll be traveling in London and Paris, and at home in Canada I use my debit card for the vast majority of my purchases. My bank has confirmed that I will not be charged additional fees for using my debit card for point-of-sale purchases, and I'd rather do that than carry vast sums of cash. (We're a family of five, so I'd need to be carrying a couple hundred in spending money regularly.) I don't see much discussion of people doing this, though, and was wondering if point-of-sale purchases for small items (restaurants, stores, etc) are less common in France and the UK? Or if there are other reasons I should pay in cash over debit card? I do have a chip in my card and use it the NFC "tap" regularly.

Posted by
8293 posts

Dani, don’t rely on what the “bank”told you. Bank employees seldom know anything useful or accurate about using debit or credit cards in Europe. Why not use your debit card at an ATM to obtain cash for the incidental purchases you mention, Personally, I never use my TD debit card for purchases when in Europe.

Posted by
68 posts

Thanks Norma. I have to admit, I was concerned about how long I was on hold as they looked up answers to my fairly straightforward questions! But to me, it's simply a matter of convenience - if all things are indeed equal, I'd rather have the convenience of paying with my card. If not, I'll just have to get used to carrying cash again!

Posted by
329 posts

We were able to tap our BMO Mastercard quite often on our recent trip to France. We have never had issues with our Canadian cards overseas as our banks embraced chip technology long ago.

Posted by
8293 posts

Marika, are you talking about a credit card or debit card?

Posted by
1095 posts

Simplest answer is to get a no fee credit card. Use your debit card at ATMs for cash and the credit card for purchases.

Posted by
4691 posts

Since your card has "tap", it might be worth checking carefully to see if it can substitute for an Oyster Card on London Transit. My Apple Phone is too old to use this way, so I have no personal experience. It would be wise to go directly to the London Transit site, since not all posters here have Canadian cards. Others have posted that personal non-contact devices have all the advantages of an Oyster Card, including a daily maximum cost for multiple uses.

Posted by
3322 posts

Not being Canadian, anything I say is from the experiences I have had as a US card holder using my cards in Europe and I realize that Canadian banking rules are sometimes majorly different than US rules.

Small purchases like snacks and inexpensive souvenirs and such (under €10 or £10) are easier and faster to pay for with cash. Use your Debit card at an ATM to get cash as needed. Hopefully the no fees extends to cash withdrawals. Some stores and snack shops actually have signs stating purchase must be over a certain amount before they will accept a card. Sometimes cards just don't work even if they have been working flawlessly up to that point. So it is always good to have cash to cover whatever you are purchasing, just in case. No need to carry huge amounts of cash, and in Europe €200 in cash doesn't seem to be anything to most people, so make sure you have enough when you are having dinner for example, unless you want to make a run to the nearest ATM if your card doesn't work at the restaurant. Taxis are another place where it is difficult to use your card even though most are supposed to take cards. Some will even tell you their card machine is "broke".

I did not see many places allowing for cards to "tap" to pay (other than the Tube in London) last time I was in Europe. Most places have a small hand held card machine that reads the chip when the card is inserted into it and requests your PIN.

I never ever use a debit card to make purchases. I have fee free credit cards and use those. I use the Debit card only to get cash at ATMs as needed. The fraud protection on Debit cards is significantly less than on Credit cards (which might be different in Canada). This means if your debit card is compromised your account can be wiped out leaving you with no money. Yes, eventually your money will be returned, but can take up to a week. If it is a credit card it's the bank's money and they seem to put more effort in fixing the issue quickly.

Posted by
3322 posts

On the Oyster Card.

Yes, most "tap" cards work exactly like an Oyster on the Tube in London including all the discounts. BUT, each passenger must have their own card. You can't tap in 5 times for the same trip for 5 different people on the same card. For a family of 5, that means 5 different cards! In this case getting the Oyster cards for each family member is the better option if you will be traveling by Tube.

Posted by
2467 posts

I NEVER use my bank card for anything other than cash withdrawals at a bank owned ATM, whether in Canada or abroad. The risk of fraud is just too great, when the entire account could be drained. Bad enough if you're at home. A nightmare if you're abroad and your ATM/chequing account is your only source of funds. There are a couple of other possible downsides - hotels may place a hold on your card, which may take quite a few days to be removed after you have left, reducing the amount of money you can access for that period. You may find places that don't accept the card, or don't accept it below a certain amount spent.

The fact of life is that you will have to carry some cash, at the very least for small purchases. And you will incur a withdrawal fee for each ATM transaction. There are no no-fee bank cards in Canada that I am aware of. To minimize those fees, make fewer withdrawals, up to your limit rather than frequent small withdrawals. Keep cash not needed for that day either in your room safe or in your money belt/neck wallet.

You don't mention having a credit card. I strongly recommend that you bring one to use, instead of a bank card for purchases. They're safer (fraud protection), and are accepted just about everywhere (except for small purchases as previously mentioned). There are only 1 or 2 credit cards in Canada that have no foreign exchange fees. Just another fact of life that needs to be budgeted for.

Posted by
11154 posts

"I did not see many places allowing for cards to "tap" to pay (other than the Tube in London) last time I was in Europe"

This has changed. Tap to pay (or what the British call "contactless") is ubiquitous, and you'll see locals using it ALL THE TIME for smaller purchases. I was in London and Paris in May 2018, and it was particularly true in London, but also quite common in Paris.

Whether you should use a Canadian debit card in this way while in Europe is something I'm not qualified to address.