Do You Need A Chip + PIN Card When Traveling

by joeheg

I’m sure you have a credit card with a chip, or EMV chip to be specific, in your possession.

In the United States, we like the think we lead the world in just about everything, but when it comes to credit card security we are decades behind the curve. EMV ( Europay, Mastercard and Visa) chip technology was introduced back in the 1990s and rolled out throughout Europe in the early 2000s. The chip in the card is used to confirm the information instead of reading the information off the magnetic strip on the back. This technology is harder to counterfeit and, supposedly, cuts down on fraud. The banks in Europe rolled out this technology because credit card fraud was, at the time, much more common there. When chip cards were introduced and helped prevent fraud, criminals went to the least protected market, the USA, so they could continue with the scamming. Lucky us.

The reason US banks finally issued chip cards was financial. On October 1, 2015 the financial responsibility for fraudulent charges changed based on chip availability. After that date:

  • If the bank didn’t issue you a chip card and someone made a fake charge to your account that went through, the bank was responsible for the money.
  • If the bank gave you a chip card and the merchant (seller) didn’t have the technology to read a chip card, the merchant was on the hook for the charge.

The final part of the chip technology rollout in the U.S. was for gas pumps where the liability shift described above happened on October 1, 2020.

So what is a chip + PIN card and don’t we have them in the U.S.?

If you have a debit card with a chip, you’re already familiar with the process of a chip + PIN card. You insert your chip and the reader asks for your PIN to complete the transaction. Pretty simple, right? This is the system most of Europe has run on for their credit cards for over a decade; chip + PIN, rather than chip + signature. It seems the banks in the U.S. thought it would be TOO COMPLICATED for people to remember a PIN for their credit cards so they chose to go with the chip + signature method for cards issued in the U.S.  Here is a quote from a Krebs on Security interview with Julie Conroy, a fraud analyst with The Aite Group, about chip + PIN vs. chip + signature cards:

“…we are the most competitive market in the world, and so as you look at the business case for chip-and-signature versus chip-and-PIN, no issuer wants to have the card in the wallet that is the most difficult card to use.”

In fact, banks have done away with the signature part of the transaction.

Why should you care?

I was reminded of why you should care when I was reading a travel group on Facebook, and someone was writing about how they were just in Europe and tried to buy a train ticket with their Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and the automated ticket kiosk denied it. Their bank ATM card was the only card they could get to work to buy a ticket.

I knew what happened immediately. This kiosk would only work with a chip + PIN card, and the only card they had that used chip + PIN was the debit card from their bank. I’ve read in many posts that non-U.S. train/subway ticket kiosks and gas stations often will ONLY take chip + PIN cards. It seems strange to me that even when banks promote their “best” travel cards, like the American Express Platinum and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, they choose to make these cards work by chip + signature. One of the first banks in the US to offer cards with true chip + PIN cards was Barclays, a UK-based bank.

When we visited Iceland, I pulled up to the gas pump and put my card in the reader. It immediately asked for my PIN. There were other American tourists at the pump who couldn’t get their cards to work. I advised them that they needed to go inside because their cards wouldn’t work at the pump.

a yellow gas pump with nozzles

By reading this article, you probably know more about what a chip + PIN card is than most of your bank’s representatives. So don’t be fooled if your bank says that your card has a PIN when you know you haven’t been set up for chip + PIN. That PIN might only be able to get you money from an ATM, which your bank will treat as a cash advance, but it will not help you get gas for your car rental in Iceland.

What should you do?

When I travel overseas, I always make sure I have at least one card that will work with a chip + PIN reader. That’s one reason why I keep my Arrival+ from Barclays.


I make sure to carry it with me whenever I travel outside the U.S. because it has true chip + PIN functionality and charges no foreign transaction fees to use it outside the U.S.

I wish there were an up-to-date list of which cards offer Chip + Pin, but every one I found had inaccurate information or was just a page to harvest signup links. The two banks that offer Chip + Pin cards are Barclays and Bank of America. I’ve heard claims that Citi will let you add a PIN to your cards, like the Citi Premier or the American Airlines co-brand offerings, but I haven’t been able to confirm that information.

Who knew that my Chase Sapphire Reserve won’t work to get me a train ticket but the Frontier Airlines MasterCard will???


The Frontier Airlines Mastercard from Barclays Bank has Chip + PIN capabilities.

The bottom line is that you need to be prepared when traveling overseas, and carrying a credit card that has “true” chip + PIN functionality is one of those preparations. I make sure to add my chip + PIN card to my wallet before a trip and alert my bank that I’ll be traveling.

While it’s not required, I was asked for my PIN when paying for gas in the US when I used a Chip + PIN card.

Final Thoughts

There’s no easy way to know if your card will work in a chip + PIN reader and this is not something you want to find out by trial and error. Asking your bank may not be enough because many of the bank representatives don’t even know what chip + PIN means. While big banks like Chase and American Express have decided not to issue them, many others such as Barclays, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and US Bank, along with many credit unions, issue chip + PIN cards. It’s quite possible that you currently have a card with chip + PIN functionality and don’t know it – but it’s better to find out BEFORE you leave the country.

Most people in Europe and around the world now use contactless payments, so having a chip + PIN card may no longer be necessary. and you most likely already have a card (or device) with that capability. However, for larger purchases or ones at unmanned terminals, you still might be asked to use a card with a PIN.


Don Dzejak July 24, 2018 - 6:20 pm

Went to Ireland recently for 2 weeks. All the restaurants and shops used these. Only once were we asked for a pin, and that was at the kiosk for train tickets.

Kevin December 8, 2019 - 9:24 am

We have had these cards in Canada for well over a decade. I have not signed a credit card transaction anywhere in the world except the US since George W Bush was President.

Recently in Vietnam the restaurant asked if we had cash because the American credit cards are too old to work on any payment system. We explained we were Canadian and they apologized but said they no longer have wireless payment terminals which take old fashioned credit cards and no ATMs nearby do so it’s hard on Americans and they like to warn them.

Of course you’re just getting globally-recognized credit cards about the same rime that the world is moving to fully contactless payment with WeChat Pay, Line Pay, AlliPay and Interac, ApplePay and GooglePay are way behind globally but worthwhile getting as that shiny new credit card won’t be the only game in town in Poughkeepsie for long.

Jason December 4, 2022 - 12:43 pm

I don’t have a a Chip+PIN card. When I went to Singapore, Jakarta, and Bali June 2022, I had no problem whatsoever and never once was asked for the PIN.
I just came back from 3 weeks in Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, France, England) and not once did I have a problem – even at train stations! I was expecting to have problems with getting train tickets, but every single train ticket kiosk used contactless payment and never once asked for a PIN (Used Chase Sapphire Reserve). I paid for everything with credit card, even a small $4 purchase. The only time I paid cash was when a taxi driver asked if I could pay him in cash – all other taxi drivers accepted credit cards – even the bus in a small town in France did too!
I think all of this was due to the pandemic where the countries I visited wanted to prevent millions of people from typing in their PIN every single day on the same keypads because they couldn’t realistically have the manpower to post someone at each ticket kiosk to wipe down the key pad after a person typed in their PIN.

Brutus December 4, 2022 - 1:05 pm

USAA cards have had a Chip+PIN capability for years. Back in the day you just had to call to get one.

CHRIS December 4, 2022 - 3:14 pm

DB (Germany) ticket machines accepted 0000 as a pin when prompted.

NB December 4, 2022 - 8:05 pm

Try getting gas in the US if you are from elsewhere: you are asked for your zip code which, of course, you don’t have.

Adam L February 24, 2024 - 2:37 pm

Oftentimes you’re able to select “skip” or enter 0000. I’ve noticed that adoption of contactless/mobile payments has a high adoption rate and those transactions never get asked for a pin.

HADLEY V. BAXENDALE February 24, 2024 - 6:00 pm

Purchasing a ticket/pass on your mobile phone for those systems that permit this does not require a PIN with your American credit card. Used Chase Sapphire Reserve repeatedly for Berlin transit and Vienna transit.


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