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is a pin a necessity for using a credit card?

Our credit cards have a chip but we do not have a pin. Will we be able to use them in Europe?

Thanks

Posted by
2854 posts

Pretty much everywhere except probably for unattended machines, like gas stations, train stations, and unmanned toll booths.

Posted by
2365 posts

Yes. I have never had trouble at any establishment that accepts credit cards and has a person at the register. They print out a receipt and you sign it. The issue is with automated machines - ticket booths and gas pumps. These do not work in my experience. Use cash.

I have heard that in places with very few tourists the cashiers may be unfamiliar with the print and sign version, but I have never seen this. I do tend to use cash in small, inexpensive stores and restaurants, though.

Posted by
20794 posts

Just back from a month in France, never a problem with the chip and signature card with an attendant. Just sign as you do in the US. Now Europe is a big place - just where are you going? There are differences.

Posted by
1005 posts

As I understand it, every credit card has a PIN so that you can make a cash withdrawal at an ATM. Call your bank and ask them to send you your PIN (they won't tell you over the phone for security reasons). When you are in Europe at a ticket machine or gas pump, enter this PIN when you want to make a purchase. Your bank may tell you that they'll charge it as a "cash advance" and you'll pay interest on the transaction from the date of the purchase--but I've never had that happen. I don't think most American customer service reps understand how chip-and-PIN works in Europe.

Posted by
11782 posts

As I understand it, every credit card has a PIN so that you can make a cash withdrawal at an ATM.

Right, that's how I understand it too. Not that we would ever want to make a cash withdrawal with ours unless it was a dire emergency, such as our debit cards being lost or stolen, but the pin makes it possible.

Posted by
1700 posts

T: doesn't work that way
As I understand an American card with a chip and pin will always default to signature first at the European machines (Not talking about ATM's but the gas stations, toll booths, etc...) therefore the card doesn't work even if you have a pin for it.
Been there, done that

The good news is these are rare cases, if the toll booth is manned the cards work fine and same with the gas stations.
Biggest problem we had was lunch hour in Italy all of the gas stations close for a couple of hours so are all unmanned.
Paying cash you likely overpay and then cannot get change for cash overpayment if the gas station is currently closed.

Every ticket type machine we came across the US credit cards work fine, those must be updated to work.
Some train stations may not but most now do.
And any where an actual person is present is never a problem.

Posted by
1142 posts

From experience, a chip and signature card WILL work in a PIN only machine. I was in Canada and was able to use my chip and signature card at unmanned gas stations using the PIN given to me for cash withdrawals.

Posted by
1445 posts

I used the credit card without a pin at German train stations last month. Good thing since the machine wouldn't take cash on three days.

Posted by
590 posts

Bob from PA writes: From experience, a chip and signature card WILL work in a PIN only machine. I was in Canada and was able to use my chip and signature card at unmanned gas stations using the PIN given to me for cash withdrawals.

Such a blanket statement is not true.

The card and machine go thru a little electronic negotiation over what is termed the Cardholder Verification Method. See http://tsys.com/Assets/TSYS/downloads/br_faq-on-pins-and-signature-in-the-context-of-chip.pdf As this points out

There are multiple CVMs that chip cards can support. Examples are online PIN, offline enciphered PIN, offline plaintext PIN, signature and no CVM. An issuer will define a CVM list for a card. This CVM list will contain multiple CVMs, each identified for use under a particular condition.
The terminal then will select the highest applicable CVM that both the terminal and the card support.

A chip card has the PIN on the actual card, a signature one does not. So what happened to Bob is the machines he used were willing to use an online PIN. They prompted him for the PIN, then electronically checked it against his bank.

However many machines are not online, so the online PIN is of no use since it can't be checked. Sometimes the transaction goes thru anyway, if the card and machine have both been programmed to allow "no CVM" for the amount in question. But often, in Europe, not...

Posted by
12139 posts

My experience this past June is the same as Stephen's. Using my chip and signature credit card worked in the DB machines as well as cash. I used both options, sometimes cash, other times the US chip and signature credit card...no problems at all with either. Transaction always went through.

Posted by
20 posts

A "chip-n-pin" card is a VERY specific type of credit card that is relatively rare in the USA - if you have one, you know it, as there aren't many banks that offer them (e.g., the UN credit union, first tech credit union, et al) and you had to specifically seek the card out.

"Chip and sign" cards - most cards in the USA - will work just about anywhere in Europe that has a person available, i.e. most places you'd call major. As others have mentioned you might have trouble at at gas stations, train stations, auto parking, etc ... or you might not. It's hit and miss.

If you stay at 3+ star hotels, shop in large shopping districts, eat in larger cities you probably wouldn't even be aware there could be a problem. Stray into small rural pension ... cash only.

Posted by
12139 posts

The US chip and signature credit card as respects to train station ticket machines works but that depends where. It'll work in Germany and Austria, but not in France, the SNCF machines say so, only chip and pin credit cards, or Holland. I don't know about Czechia or Poland. When I bought the ticket r/t Brno to Slavkov, I did that at the ticket counter, paid in cash, didn't look for a machine first.

Posted by
20 posts

@MrsEB - sounds like a fun trip!

Just to point out for clarity: an assigned PIN code on a Chip-n-signature card does not make it a chip-n-PIN card. A chip-n-pin card is a very specific type of card that's relatively hard to get in the US, but very common in Europe and elsewhere. Here is a user created list from FlyerTalk of banks that will issue you a Chip-n-PIN card - as you can see, if you have such a card you know it, you know why it's different, and you've actively had to work to specifically acquire one.

Major European retailers, hotels, and restaurants know Americans don't have Chip-n-pin cards and so simply ask you for your signature just as you would be asked in America. It can be confusing because Chip-n-sig cards can also have a pin, but that doesn't change anything because your core card is still a chip-n-sig card and will treated as such. With a chip-n-pin card the retailer gives you a device where you insert your card and always type in your pin, then take back your card. You never give your card to anyone in that scenario, but with chip-n-sig the retailer or restaurant will be prompted to print a receipt that you'll have to sign.

In short, if you use the commonly available US chip-n-sig card you will never be asked for a PIN because it is not a chip-n-pin card, which REQUIRES you use a pin code.

Posted by
20 posts

@MrsEB, yes as long as you have the right chip, here's the BofA card list with chip-n-pin available:

Bank of America Credit Norwegian Cruise Line MC $0 3% BofA WorldPoints "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit BankAmericard VISA $0 3% None "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit BankAmericard Travel Rewards VISA $0 0% BankAmericard Travel Rewards "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit Royal Caribbean VISA $0 3% Royal Caribbean Royal Plus "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit AAA Member Rewards VISA Signature $0 2% AAA Member Rewards "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit Alaska Airlines VISA Signature $35-75 3% Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit BankAmericard Cash Rewards VISA Signature $0 3% BankAmericard Cash Rewards "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit BankAmericard Power Rewards VISA Signature $0 3% BankAmericard Power Rewards "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit BankAmericard Privileges with Cash Rewards VISA Signature $75 3% BankAmericard Cash Rewards "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit BankAmericard Privileges with Travel Rewards VISA Signature $75 0% BankAmericard Travel Rewards "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Credit Hawaiian Airlines VISA Signature $50-79 3% Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles "CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"
Bank of America Debit BofA Debit VISA or MC $0 (varies) 3% "When used as debit:
CVM1: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM2: No CVM

When used as credit:
CVM1: Chip-and-Signature
CVM2: Chip-and-PIN (online)
CVM3: No CVM"

Posted by
12139 posts

My experience in the last couple of years at restaurants with the chip and signature credit card in Paris, Austria, and Germany is the following: ask the waiter/waitress you want to pay, s/he comes with the bill, you hand over the chip/signature credit card, the waitress has the hand apparatus to effect the transaction in front of you, card is inserted, we wait, I say "ça va marcher, Madame." or "Es dauert ein bißchen." if it "seems" to take longer. The receipt rolls out, I sign. (after including the tip). No pin # is asked for, mentioned, or needed. I do likewise when I hand over the magnetic stripe credit card since I still use that too. True, the credit card never leaves my sight. In the past it did in Germany.

Posted by
20 posts

@MrsEB ha, yes, big list - you can check them all out and all their features at the link 5 posts above as it's probably easier to see in a spreadsheet. My recommendation for a travel card (if you travel often and pay for most things on your card) is the chase sapphire reserve which is ridiculously generous. It has a $450 fee but it's a no-brainer since you get $300 back in travel credits immediately and if you buy pre-check of global entry you get that back too. After you hit the spending threshold you get 100,000 points which, on their site, is worth a minimum of $1500 but if you combine with partners like Hyatt it can be worth much more. Both my wife and I got one - it's quite the awesome deal ... almost unbelievable, but I can report that they turn around the travel credits immediately and the points are all real : ) You get all of the other features of it too including airport clubs (i.e Priority Pass), executive level status on various partner programs (e.g., national car rental), etc etc

Posted by
590 posts

@grussgott writes: In short, if you use the commonly available US chip-n-sig card you will never be asked for a PIN because it is not a chip-n-pin card, which REQUIRES you use a pin code.

This is not how CVM works.

The issuer dictates how the card should behave through the parameters personalized on the card. One of the parameters is the CVM list. The CVM list contains the different CVM’s that the card supports and when each should be used. The terminal then will select the highest applicable CVM that both the terminal and the card support.
http://tsys.com/Assets/TSYS/downloads/br_faq-on-pins-and-signature-in-the-context-of-chip.pdf

A machine reading a chip-n-pin card that has signature higher in the list than PIN will ask for a signature. And a US chip-n-sig can ask for a pin, as Bob posted earlier.

@grussgott writes: here's the BofA card list with chip-n-pin available:

None of the BoA cards you listed are chip-and-PIN cards. Look again at the list you posted. They all say "Chip-and-PIN (online)" which means they don't have the PIN encoded on the card. So none of them can work in an offline machine the way a chip-and-PIN card is supposed to. Which is going to be an unpleasant discovery if you first find out at a toll booth or train station thinking you are carrying a chip-n-pin card.

This was explained in the FAQ I gave a link to in an earlier post (link repeated in this post)

What is the primary difference between a chip and PIN and a chip and signature?
A chip and PIN card is a chip card that has a PIN stored on the chip.

Posted by
20 posts

good points @John - maybe you could do another summary write-up? Lots of confusion on chip-n-sig vs chip-n-pin, what happens when you assign a pin, what cards work in online vs offline machines, etc.

Feels like we need one nice cheat sheet rather than corrections

Posted by
590 posts

@grussgott, RS has a writeup at https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money/chip-pin-cards that covers credit cards in Europe, including workarounds if your card is not accepted.

As it turns out, most people just want a yes/no answer to the question the OP asked, "will my card with a chip work in Europe?" and the answer is "it depends. " Odds get a lot better if they have a true chip-and-pin card with an offline PIN as mentioned in that link.

Posted by
20 posts

@MrsEB; yeah, if you don't travel and won't use the 100,000 points then it's not worth it. We're going to use them to take a fancy Europe trip which we would never pay for ourselves so it's hard to say what the value is, but it's definitely worth $150. If we didn't want the Europe trip then it wouldn't be worth it.

Posted by
823 posts

mreynolds wrote "T: doesn't work that way
As I understand an American card with a chip and pin will always default to signature first at the European machines (Not talking about ATM's but the gas stations, toll booths, etc...) therefore the card doesn't work even if you have a pin for it."

FYI. My USA issued Chip & Signature card worked just fine in every Trenitalia, vaporetti, and city bus ticket machine I inserted it into from Venice to Rome (via Vicenza, Padua, Florence).

So, 6-8 weeks BEFORE your trip, contact your card issuer and ask for a PIN. It won't be given to you over the phone so expect to wait 1 week or more to get it in the mail. (More sophisticated issuers allow you to create or change a PIN online...)

Posted by
2854 posts

A chip card has the PIN on the actual card, a signature one does not. So what happened to Bob is the machines he used were willing to use an online PIN. They prompted him for the PIN, then electronically checked it against his bank.

Or the amount of the charge was below a set limit and would have been verified w/o a PIN.