Please sign in to post.

US Credit cards in Iceland

I've heard that Iceland merchants use a chip and pin system for credit card purchases. And almost all purchases are made with credit cards. I've been calling my US-based credit card holders today to ask about pin numbers. They have all told that they don't use pin numbers for transactions other than cash from ATMs.

What do I need, or need to do, for my US-based credit cards to work in Iceland?

Yes, I have multiple cards, and yes, I'm also checking on foreign transaction fees. I don't like unhappy surprises.

Thanks, FV

Posted by
2160 posts

We have Amex and Visa and have used both in Iceland. We do have pins for our Visa's and did need the pins on a few occasions at remote gas stations. Most of the time we used our watch and just used Apple Pay.

Just make sure that you let your cardholder know the dates of your travel as some card issuers will not allow a transaction to go through if they don't know you are traveling.

Posted by
6850 posts

I never needed a PIN for any of my credit card purchases in Iceland, and I used credit cards to pay for everything. However, I did not rent a car, and I have heard that some gas stations require it.

Posted by
201 posts

We got around the chip and pin problem at remote gas stations by buying a gas card from one of the chains that have stores around the island.

Posted by
6850 posts

I should add that I was able to get PINs for several of my credit cards by going to my online account and doing so. For example, Capital One lets you add/change a PIN online, and so does American Express.

Posted by
1514 posts

You can get PIN numbers for your US based credit cards. The purpose of the PIN is so that you can get cash advances through an ATM machine. Of course, the charges and interest make this a bad idea. Some people have been able to use that PIN number in an unattended card reader. (train station, gas station etc) I have not been able to get this to work.

To be sure that you are able to get gas you have 2 options.
1. Get gas during the day when you can go inside if needed. You don't need a PIN if the attendant is there.
2. Use a US based DEBIT card. These will work at an unattended card reader.

To be clear, you do NOT need a PIN to use your US based credit card in Iceland at regular stores if an attendant is present.

Posted by
8545 posts

I did not rent a car/buy gas, but my card worked just fine for everything else without a pin.

Posted by
8597 posts

r1haskins, this is true in most if not all Europe. They've been using PINs for CCs for years. Most of the bank folks dont understand the issue with foreign travel because they don't travel abroad. Their experience is that the only reason to use a PIN in the US is for cash advance so thats what their standard response is.

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks, everyone. I understood that much of the rest of the world uses chip-and-pin. Since mine are US cards, I ran into the problem Stan mentioned. The wrote response from Customer Service reps at the credit card call centers. Though I've cheeked with my card holders about foreign exchange fees, and told the ones I plan to use our travel dates, I won't be surprised at hiccups.
Warmly, FV

Posted by
5 posts

You only need a pin for transactions at certain automats in Europe - apparently including some unattended gas stations in Iceland. Although things might have changed, a few years ago some of the automats were very picky and would not accept a chip-and-signature card even if you had added a PIN in order to use it at an ATM. It had to be a chip-and-PIN. So I got a chip-and-pin MasterCard from a US-based financial institution, First Tech credit union. No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and a very useful addition to my wallet for trips to Europe.

Posted by
5 posts

Very few US banks and financial institutions issue "true" chip-and-pin cards. As I understand it, the major banks (Chase, BofA, etc) and most smaller banks issue chip-and-signature cards to which you can add a PIN. The primary verification method is signature, and a PIN is required for the transaction to go through only if the payment terminal the card is used in demands it. This means that theoretically any US credit card that has a PIN should be useable in any terminal that requires a PIN. Realistically, some automats in Europe require that the credit card chip be programmed so that the primary verification method is PIN, so most US-based credit cards get rejected. This was true as of a few years ago; I haven't travelled to Europe during Covid so I don't know if it remains true. I also don't know whether it is true of unattended gas stations in Iceland.

After some frustrating experiences having to wait in long lines to buy tickets from an agent at train stations in Europe (while Europeans got their tickets in seconds at the automats), a few years ago I decided I wanted a "true" chip-and-pin card that features PIN as the primary verification method. There may be other institutions than FirstTech that issue such cards, but FirstTech doesn't require you to be local and it's easy to apply for a card from them online.

More information can be found in this extremely lengthy discussion - read the Wiki and the last few pages of posts before the thread got closed. https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/credit-card-programs/1815689-usa-emv-cards-availability-q-chip-pin-signature-2017-a.html

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks again, snic. Seems like the US could join the world. I'll check out the website you suggested.

Regards, FV

Posted by
6 posts

I read the following under using credit cards in Europe on this website :"Some card readers will accept your card as is, but others may prompt you to enter your PIN — so it's important to know the code for each of your cards, including your credit card." I was going nuts calling my credit card companies for pins. Bottom line - it'd take several weeks to mail me one.
I then asked friends who'd been to Iceland in November and they told me as long as my card had a chip, I was fine. I traveled in mid-March (2022) and never had a problem. I was there for 12 days and it was seamless! ** I am advising the website to update their advice on this issue.**

Posted by
1514 posts

My experience has been that a DEBIT card with PIN works at automated readers like at gas stations and train stations. I won't use a debit card generally due to increased risk of fraud.

Again, I have used a DEBIT card with PIN in multiple unmanned card readers such as gas stations in Iceland and train stations in Italy and Denmark. This was after trying my US credit card that failed.

YMMV

Posted by
442 posts

Same as @vandrabrud - the only time I needed a PIN was at a gas station. I only ever used a manned gas station, but in order to pay at the pump, I needed a PIN. I just used my bank debit card with no issues. It's the only place I used my debit card, because my bank charges foreign transaction fees, but it didn't amount to much. I rented a TicTac box of a car, so I only filled up twice.

Posted by
273 posts

I had the same experience as almost everyone else when I last visited. Used my card for everything but the small purchase (I always like to have a little local cash on hand), and only needed the pin for gas purchase. Most of the time when I used my card, all I had to do was tap it, not swipe.

Posted by
2471 posts

In 2019 I used a contactless chipped debit card in Iceland - and 99% of my transactions (big and small) were contactless. Only once did it spit out something to sign (and I think it was a problem on their end, not mine). I would caution you to read the very fine print on any credit card you get a PIN for - as using the PIN typically makes your transaction a cash advance subject to much higher APR (personal experience). As has been mentioned, a regular debit card with a Visa/Mastercard logo, chip, and PIN will work fine. FWIW, I have a Capital One contactless debit card and regular visa - no transaction fees on either and easy to set up online.