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American chip and pin credit cards in paris

My daughter is studying in Paris for the semester and went to France with 3 credit cards: 2 chip and pin and 1 chip and signature. She says that none of the cards will work in the Paris Metro ticket kiosks. One is a BOA debit card. Another a Travelex cashpassport and the other is AMEX. She states that all the other American students in her program are having similar difficulties. Any advice?

Posted by
956 posts

Are all the PINS 4 digits? They are required to be. I dont have any other ideas. I was in Paris summer 2017 w/ a BOA debit chip and pin card (and VISA chip and pin) and they both worked fine

edited to add: I had to change my PIN from what it was to a new 4 digit one for my travels...

Posted by
20718 posts

First off, wrong cards. Amex is not widely accepted. Travelex cashport is not a credit card or debit card. It is a gift card and who knows where it will be accepted. Can probably be used to obtain cash at an ATM. Now the BOA debit card should work for cash. Just use cash to buy tickets. And it is a dice roll if and when Am chip and signature will work. You might send her a true credit card.

PS Six digit pins will work.

Posted by
2 posts

Hi Thanks for the reply. I know that AMEX is not widely accepted so that is why we sent her with the Travelex. It is not a gift card. It is reloadable in multiple currencies and has a 4 digit pin. We have used it throughout Europe for over 5 years without difficulty. We used the Travelex in Italy in November without difficulty and had no trouble in their metro system. I was in Paris in summer of 2016 and used it then without trouble.

Posted by
4695 posts

I had no trouble last May at Paris Metro machines with my credit union chip and PIN Mastercard.

Posted by
12137 posts

The chip and signature credit card will not work on SNCF ticket machines if she wants to buy a train ticket from a machine. There is a small sign in French and English saying just that, ie only the chip and pin card. I don't have that. I don't bother with the Metro ticket kiosks anymore in Paris, I rather get the carnet of Metro tickets at the counter.

Posted by
20718 posts

What I meant is that the US banking regulation considers pre-load cash cards as gift cards -- neither credit or debit card so they do not have the usual protection that comes with credit and debit cards. They also tend to have a lot of fees both hidden and obvious associated with the cards so they are not generally recommended as good options for obtaining cash in Europe. If they work and you are satisfied with the fee structure that is OK. But there are not guaranteed to work the same way as credit cards always do. What are the two chip and pin cards she has?

Posted by
8889 posts

If she is staying for a whole semester, can she not open a bank account there and get a French card? Moving funds over to that account in one big transaction may be cheaper than many mini-transactions with foreign cards.

Posted by
5718 posts

An ordinary Visa card chip/sig works just fine in metro and other ticket kiosks e.g. the Louvre. Haven't tried it for transilien trains. Why use a piece of junk like a 'cash passport' with its fees and lack of usability and everyone knows AMEX is not widely accepted. My daughter had no trouble using the VISA we sent her with back when it was mag strip, 15 years ago and we use our VISA all the time in Paris for metro, grocery stores, restaurants etc. In the metro, it will ask for a PIN; you just ignore that and continue and for small purchases it works fine. (there is a Euro limit. We were able to charge Navigo's for a month last May but an American ex pat recently reported on line that with the weak dollar, it won't go that high now, so we will have to charge them this May at a window.

There are no sales windows in the metro anymore so you need cash or a card to buy tickets from machines. An information clerk will occasionally do a transaction like loading a ND with a credit card at their window if the machine won't take the card for a large transaction. They don't handle cash.

I would be wary of getting a local account; we did this in Italy and discovered the banking laws were very different. We were never able to close the account; every time we sent the money for fees required, they would somehow fail to close it and send notices of more fees. I doubt that a student would be able to get a French credit card. But the US chip sig cards work fine if you just have a normal card and to some gift card gimmick.

Posted by
49 posts

I would suggest she call the customer service numbers listed on each card, they would be helpful in guiding her with the issues she's having with the cards.

Posted by
288 posts

I would suggest she call the customer service numbers listed on each card, they would be helpful in guiding her with the issues she's having with the cards.

I hope this works for you, but in my experience the least informed people in the world about bank credit cards are the people answering these phone lines. They have simple scripts they are monitored to make sure they are following, their productivity (eg time per call) is monitored, so any question past the simplest ones like "where do I send my payment" go over their heads.

The question of which cards will work at unattended kiosks is more complicated than you might think. When you insert your card the booth and your card have a little electronic conversation. They chat about how the purchase can be verified, the amount, then apply some rules. Your card might support signature verification only (chip-and-signature), so the kiosk will reject the card unless the amount is small enough that it's under the limit both the machine and your card issuer will approve with no verification at all (you see this all the time in the US; I don't have to sign at my local grocery store for purchases under $35 or $20 depending on the store). They may both support PIN verification but it turns out this comes in 2 flavors, online and offline. Maybe your card issuer requires the booth check with them (online verification) for the amount of your purchase but the booth is not online. The card and machine are supposed to compare rules to see if they find a rule both support, but there are stories that a machine that only supports PIN verification will reject a card that offers signature first even if that card has PIN as an alternate.

So this plethora of methods explains why a brand that works for one person may not work for another user. Maybe the 1st person had a smaller purchase or was at a kiosk that was online.

The most general card would be one that has PIN priority and supports offline verification for any amount. That puppy will work anywhere. Good luck finding a rep at a credit card company that knows what these terms mean, let alone what their card does.

There does not seem to be any list online of PIN priority with offline verification, but you can find cards that claim to have PIN support or (better) PIN priority. A PIN priority boosts your chances of it working since so many kiosks are online these days.

My advice is to get your daughter a PIN priority card.

Posted by
12137 posts

"...no sales windows in the Metro...." Totally depends where. I get my Metro tickets, a carnet, at Gare du Nord or Gare de l'Est (nicer ticket office there), (my hotel is in the area), always a staff person to help you, even tickets for the regional TER trains.

Posted by
5718 posts

RER and train stations always have sales windows; metro stations do not. They have gradually closed them over the past 5 or so years.

Posted by
11743 posts

My personal experience at the automated machines for RER and metro have been interesting.

Virtually every time I try the RER machine it doesn't work the first time. When I try a second time, it again says the transaction is denied or invalid pin (something along that line) then prints my ticket. Bizarre but I end up with my ticket.

In metro, my card works as often as not. In some cases, the system is down and none of the machines are working for anyone. In other cases, a single machine is down so I have to try another. Maybe half the time, it works without a problem. If a machine doesn't work, I try another. If that doesn't work, usually someone around me is saying the system is down. It's the same with the gates. Sometimes I put in my ticket and it doesn't work. Move to another, it's probably the gate that isn't working (either that or you're using a previously used ticket). I rarely see any ticket machine or gate labeled as out of order but I regularly see ones that aren't.

My first trip to Paris, I had credit cards with a PIN that were Chip and signature. My last two trips were with a card that is supposed to be true Chip and PIN. It hasn't really seemed to make any difference. I have a theory that the transaction times out before the machine can clear the transaction internationally. Often trying a second time works with either type of card.

Posted by
3436 posts

If the 3 "credit" cards your daughter has are the ones listed, the only one that is actually a credit card is the AMEX. The BOA and Travelex are DEBIT cards. Even though they are mostly used interchangeable in the US and most merchants here don't care which you use, a CREDIT card is majorly different from a DEBIT card. The rules that apply to each type are not the same. Also unfortunately, places like the Metro are not set up to accept AmEx in any form.

All credit (and even some debit) cards have a fee charged to the merchant called interchange which varies depending on the type of card it is (rewards, mileage, and so on). With recent rules in Europe limiting interchange, many merchants no longer accept many of the US cards that pay the cardholder cash back or miles since the interchange on those cards is a lot higher than on cards that don't pay anything to the cardholder. These high interchange cards do not follow the European interchange rules which is why the merchants there don't like them. And unfortunately for the US card holder, those are the exact type of cards most of us have. That is why these exact cards may have worked in 2016 but no longer do so. If it is important to have a credit card to use in the Metro, get a credit card that has no cash back or other rewards for her to use. Otherwise, use cash.

Posted by
17098 posts

I've been waiting for the situation Mark describes to hit me, since I travel with two mileage cards and one points card. Although I've occasionally had credit card issues, none seem related to the type of card I'm using, and I've used cards hundreds of times in Europe in the last 3 years. I buy my rail tickets while in Europe, using vending machines wherever possible. Perhaps I've been successful because most of my tickets are for short trips and therefore cheap.

Posted by
12137 posts

Buying a train ticket from a SNCF machine in France cannot be done. The sign in small print on the machine says it only accepts only chip credit card.

That's different in Germany. Those times I buy a ticket from a DB machine, instead of standing in line for a ticket counter, I use cash or my chip and signature credit card. With a credit card transaction the DB machine asks for the PIN number (PIN eingeben).

Admittedly, I was a bit surprised seeing that the first time. So, I put in my 4 digit PIN for that credit card, with that the transaction went through (Vorgang bearbeitet). I got my ticket and the receipt. Still, I did not expect to indicate the PIN in the transaction.

Posted by
2847 posts

As has the prior commenter, I've used my Andrews card in France for many years. I know that its first priority is signature, but it has a PIN, and the only machine it has ever failed me at are toll booths. But those are a separate issue. It's worked at tram ticket machines, RER, unattended gas stations, and SNCF.

As to cards available in the US and their verification priorities, I have referred to this site for several years: http://www.spotterswiki.com/emv/index.php

Posted by
4450 posts

My advice is to find the nearest station that has a manned window that sells tickets. Buy enough tickets to get through February.

At the beginning of the month, buy a Navigo month pass; she will only have to go to the counter once a month after that.
https://www.ratp.fr/en/titres-et-tarifs/navigo-monthly-and-weekly-travel-passes

Here is also a list of RATP agents where she can buy the Navigo:
https://www.ratp.fr/en/tickets-and-fares/points-sales