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Crossborder Debit Dilemma
July 3, 2011 7:37 AM   Subscribe

I was recently in Canada (from US) and tried to use my debit card to buy some groceries. Two different cards were rejected, for different reason codes. I would have experimented more, but I was standing between a rapidly angering Canadian woman and her beer. I see by Googling that Canadian debit cards use a different network, Interac. Are there any banks/credit unions that issue debit cards usable in both Canada and USA. I know I could've used ATMs and cash, but this would make for a less hassling cross-border experience.
posted by ackptui to Work & Money (14 answers total)
I had no problems with credit cards in Canada. The cashier should be able to run, say, a Visa debit card through the Visa credit card network. It still debits your card and looks exactly the same to you except you sign instead of putting in your PIN. (Merchant fees on their end may be different and cashback-type rewards may change.)
posted by Skwirl at 7:44 AM on July 3, 2011

Many Canadian banks also use PLUS and Cirrus on their ATM cards. You need to find an American bank that issues ATM cards on one of those networks.

I was recently in L.A. and had no problems using my Canadian card in the American banks I tried which means they're on one of those systems. I didn't even check before trying--they're that universal. Pretty sure I used at lease CitiBank while there so they must offer it.
posted by dobbs at 7:48 AM on July 3, 2011

I've had the same experience as dobbs, but US to Canada. My VISA debit card is part of the PLUS and Cirrus network and I used it without any trouble in Montreal. Maybe it was just the store you were in wasn't part of the system?
posted by garnetgirl at 7:54 AM on July 3, 2011

As long as your debit card has a Visa or MasterCard symbol on it, you can run it as a credit card transaction in Canada with no problem.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 7:55 AM on July 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Does your debit card have a Visa or MasterCard logo on it? If so, then you can have them run it through as a credit card.

Generally speaking, you will not be able to make a PIN-based transaction with a U.S. debit card at a point of sale in Canada.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:56 AM on July 3, 2011

I had no problems using Visa/MC credit cards at all, at places where it was clear that it was a credit transaction. What I want to do is use a debit card at places that do not accept credit cards, in the same mode as a native Canadian would. PS - one of the debit cards I tried had a Plus logo on the back, no go.
posted by ackptui at 7:56 AM on July 3, 2011

It won't matter if you have plus or cirrus (this will let you use atms) to use a debit card in Canada (using it with a pin) you need an Interac branded card because its a different system.

I'm not sure any US banks offer that because Interac is a Canadian system - although I think if you have a Canadian bank card you can use it with a pin in the US.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:24 AM on July 3, 2011

I've had no problems using debit cards issued by US or European banks in Canada. One card has a chip that requires a PIN - at most places I could use the card with a PIN, and at a few places only swipe and sign worked (with that card and the others).
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 8:26 AM on July 3, 2011

There are several differences here:

1. Credit MC/Visa in an ATM---these are probably the easiest to use internationally. Anywhere there's a Visa or MC symbol, you can use one of the cards. As far as I know this is credit only (we don't have debit cards branded with either)

2. A debit card in an ATM---Debit cards are often marked with the Plus and Cirrus in their backs. Most ATMs in Canada will work with at least one of those networks. This will be marked somewhere on the ATM.

3. A CC, MC/Visa at a point-of-sale terminal---These often may not work in Canada with a chipped credit card, though the merchant can usually run them through for you normally (i.e. with a signature).

4. A debit card at a point-of-sale terminal---More often than not, you're SOL. Canada uses the native-bank-only Interac network for debit cards. Almost every US/foreign-issued card won't work on a point-of-sale terminal. You better have cash or a CC to pay.

The upshot is that I use a credit card when I travel---Canadians have similar issues in reverse with payment in the US. If you must use a debit card, you can (mostly) rely on bank or independent ATMs, but carry cash for most purchases.
posted by bonehead at 10:06 AM on July 3, 2011

Does the TD Bank NA operate in your neck of the woods? They're a Canadian bank (TD Canada Trust up north). They might be able to offer you some options. They certainly have US options (bank cards, etc...) for Canadians.
posted by bonehead at 10:13 AM on July 3, 2011

The PIN business really tripped me up last time I was back in Canada, since I don't use a PIN here in the US. I had the same problem in the UK too. PS Thank you for not getting between a Canadian lady and her beer!:)
posted by bquarters at 1:00 PM on July 3, 2011

For point of sale, you're screwed, yeah. They're pretty much all Interac-only.

However, most real ATMs (that is, bank-owned ones, not those little ones at the convenience store with the $2 usage fee) will often accept just about anything you throw at them. I would suggest hitting up one of those and getting cash.

Credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, are good wherever. American Express is usually okay too. Discover... well... it's still Discover.

Beer at the grocery store?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:21 PM on July 3, 2011

It was a very small store on the north shore of Lake Superior. Two stores in one, really, with only one entrance for both. The problem was that there was only one clerk for both sides, and I was taking too much of her time.
posted by ackptui at 4:28 PM on July 3, 2011

this tidbit is years old, but I remember a time where using a PIN number with a 0 as the first number would not work outside the US. this probably isn't the reason, but thought I'd throw that out there in case it might be the solution!
posted by kuppajava at 7:41 AM on July 4, 2011

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