What's the best chip+PIN card I can get right now for a trip to Europe?
December 8, 2014 12:55 PM   Subscribe

All of the credit cards I use are magnetic stripe + signature, which is still the norm here in the US. We're planning a visit to Europe in spring of 2015 and I'd like to have an honest-to-God US-issued chip + PIN card by then. Who has the best one available at the moment?

All things considered I doubt I'll be switching away from my regular credit card: I like their service, I like the way their rewards system works, and their website is easy to use. I will be picking up the chip + PIN as a backup card only, unless somehow they manage to beat my existing card in these categories.

I do not fly frequently, I do not own my own business. I pay off my card in full every month, and my current card has no annual fees which is just how I like it. I have a high credit score so I don't anticipate any problems getting whatever card is suggested.

Most chip + PIN cards I've seen have annual fees, or the rewards are tied into airline miles, or something else that caters to the overseas business traveler demographic. I have also seen some cards that claim to be chip + signature, whatever problematic hybrid beast that is.

I just want to be able to pay for things with a card in Europe with no hassle, and avoid having to pull cash out of the ATM and deal with whatever USD -> EUR conversion rate plus fees that my bank thinks is appropriate.

What are your suggestions for cards to consider?
posted by komara to Work & Money (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've been to Europe several times over many years and have always been able to use my regular US cards. Just make sure to warn your bank before you travel.

Assuming you're taking a week or two vacation and are not moving to Europe, I wouldn't worry about this at all.

You will be able to use your US debit card to withdraw cash in local currency from (pretty much) any ATM, too.

Double check if there is something special about the specific European country you're traveling to, but as a seasoned traveler to Europe I highly doubt this is going to be an issue at all.
posted by Sara C. at 1:00 PM on December 8, 2014

I can recommend the SDFCU card, which is a true chip-and-PIN. No annual fee. You do not have to be a member or employee of any particular organization, as you can join the "American Consumers' Council" or some such. Customer service is a bit phone and paper-intensive, but competent. The only hitch was we bought two tickets that cost the same and they locked the card (despite advance notice to SDFCU) and we had to come up with the account number for the savings account (not the credit card) in order to get the fraud folks to turn the bard back on. Otherwise it worked like a charm, though surprisingly few merchants besides transit used the PIN. Most of the time it defaulted to signature, even on a PIN terminal like a restaurant. Still, it was very handy to have when it was needed. Your existing credit card company might convert your existing card into chip-and-signature for free if you ask, which is better than nothing.
posted by wnissen at 1:02 PM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

We use our local credit union and they use chip and pin cards for both debit and credit so you might check to see if yours does. Ours is a small credit union so it would surprise me if they were far ahead of any other credit union. We pay $1 every quarter in fees so it's so negligible I don't even really count it.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 1:11 PM on December 8, 2014

I've used chip and signature cards in the UK, and the only issue I've encountered is with automated machines without teller windows.

I'll refer you to the FT forums where they've made a google doc listing the different cards.
posted by palionex at 1:13 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

DO NOT get a chip and signature card. They are basically useless, and I've had stores on several occasions tell me they only take chip and pin card (been temporarily living in London for 5 months). The only time I've been consistently able to use my chip and signature card is in the tube machines to top up my Oystercard. I agree with Sara C. that it honestly shouldn't be an issue. Just make sure you have *some* of the local currency on you in case of emergencies. Most credit unions will not charge fees at ATMs (though Bank of America is a total PITA about this).

If you must get a card for peace of mind, I would recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which will supposedly switch to a chip and pin in the new year. Just remember that after the first year it will have an annual fee (but the bonus points for joining are pretty great in the first year).
posted by pianohands at 1:17 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's Rick Steves' rundown on the chip and pin situation in Europe, complete with a realistic list of countries and situations where you are at all likely to encounter this.

His opinion is that it's really not necessary to get a chip and pin card in order to take a European vacation.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

As others mentioned, so long as you have a card that doesnt have foreign transaction fees, you can get by fine w/o a chip and signature card for travelling to Europe (the only place where I got stuck was at a TGV ticket counter at a train station at Strasbourg. TGV self-checkout kiosks seemed to accept only chip and signature. I usually bought them online way in advance or from their offices in the city).

If u want to get a card for foreign travel - I second the Chase Sapphire Preferrred card. There is no foreign transaction fee on the card, signup bonus is good (u wld need to meet the spending requirement), you get 2x points on all travel, dining and air fare expenses and reasonable travel insurance (for travel delays and cancellation). You can use points for cashback (1:1) or for transfers to airline or hotel partners (incl United and Hyatt) among other things. Make sure to cancel before the year is over - i.e. if you dont want to pay $95 annual fee (If you do a ridiculous amount of travel for work or fun, the card does pays for itself).

The other good option is the capitalone card with no foreign transaction fee. This one has no annual fee.

If I remember correctly - neither are chip and signature.
posted by justlooking at 1:31 PM on December 8, 2014

I would definitely recommend getting a chip card if you're able. It is becoming increasingly necessary. The last time I was in Europe without one (2011), not having a chip card was a VERY annoying inconvenience in certain areas, particularly non-touristy towns. Sure, it's always possible to get cash, but I'd rather spend five minutes applying for a card in the US rather than waste vacation time figuring out how to pay for stuff.

Just off the top of my head, how about the Barclay Arrival Plus? You get 40k miles ($400 statement credit for travel expenses, of which you'll have plenty) for spending $3k in the first 90 days. No annual fee for the first year and then you can cancel. No foreign transaction fees. They just sent me a chip card, and I believe they're standard now.
posted by acidic at 1:37 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Call your existing credit card company and see if they have a chip and pin version. I know my Citi card got chip and pin without my asking earlier this year. My work corporate card I requested a chip and pin version when I started traveling to France and the UK. It's BMO harris I think.

Most places do swipe cards, but pay at the pump gas and transit self-service it is really handy to have chip and pin.
posted by cmm at 1:54 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To try to knock out some quick responses:

"I've been to Europe several times over many years and have always been able to use my regular US cards. "

I was last in Europe in 2006 and had no problem but I understand things have changed somewhat since then, so I am looking for updated information.

"You will be able to use your US debit card to withdraw cash in local currency"

I do not have (nor do I want) a US debit card.

"We use our local credit union and they use chip and pin cards for both debit and credit so you might check to see if yours does"

My local bank does not, and I am not in a position to change banks.

"Here's Rick Steves' rundown on the chip and pin situation in Europe"

I appreciate the link. I am disinclined to give much weight to it only because it doesn't list a publication date and I don't know how recent that information is.

"($400 statement credit for travel expenses, of which you'll have plenty)"

Airfare and lodging have already been paid for, so I am not guaranteed to hit any large minimum required for bonuses to really kick in.

"Call your existing credit card company and see if they have a chip and pin version."

I have, and they do not, and they do not have any near-future plans either, as far as I can tell.

Thank you all for the recommendations so far. It looks like I wasn't missing much on the searching I did for myself - no major institutions seem to have an everyday no-fees chip + PIN card as an option. I'll be reading up on the SDFCU card for sure as well as browsing that FT forums Google Doc.
posted by komara at 2:08 PM on December 8, 2014

The Barclay's Arrival Plus card has a chip and pin. It has a fee, but the sign up bonus is worth 4 years of fees.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:08 PM on December 8, 2014

+1 for Barclay.
posted by primethyme at 2:10 PM on December 8, 2014

The Citi card I was talking about doesn't have an annual fee:


You may or may not like Citi of course. I only have it because I signed up with Citi for my first credit card when I started college many many moons ago and over time my original Citi card has taken many transformations before turning into the diamond preferred thing earlier this year. But it has auto pay and hooks into Mint.
posted by cmm at 2:15 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

USAA has a chip+pin card, no annual fee, and currency conversion is 1%. I don't think you need to be a USAA member to get the card, but won't swear to that. You do have to specifically request the chip+pin card (or did a year or so ago).

I think chip+pin is definitely worth it for Europe. In my experience, restaurants do take non-chip cards, but more than a few I've been do have to go hunt for a pen. And I've experienced machines in various train and underground stations that only take chip+pin. There's really no drawback to carrying one, and using it when you want or need to.

BOA claims to have a chip+pin card, but it's really chip+signature, which is no better than no chip.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:43 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was last in Europe in 2006 and had no problem but I understand things have changed somewhat since then, so I am looking for updated information.

Just FYI, I've never come across a chip+PIN reader that doesn't also have a swipe mechanism. Sometimes the machines fail to read the chip (if it's scratched, say) so they all have the magnetic swipe strip as a backup.
posted by billiebee at 2:57 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi, United States of America citizen currently posting from vacation in Sweden. I've had zero issue with my three different signature only) cards in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. The most "issue"i had was having to show an ID but that was very rare.

For reference, those cards are a Bank of America debit card, a capitol one credit card and a small credit union debit card.

I've used i them at hotels, ATMs, food places, you name it. Even in towns with population under 100 people in Iceland.

Basically all merchants that I've come across have been equipped to handle the non chip and pin cards
posted by Twain Device at 3:38 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was in London a couple of weeks ago and had no problems with my non-chip & pin card.
posted by mogget at 6:49 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

In France and Germany, at least, there are many places where you need a chip. Basically any transaction that does not involve a person: buying a train ticket, pumping gas, paying toll on the roads. There's generally some alternative payment flow with a stripe and signature, but it may involve (say) waiting in line 20 minutes to buy a train ticket from a person at a window. If there is a person. Good luck buying gas on a Sunday.

I've managed to get by with chip-and-signature in most places but not in Berlin recently, couldn't buy U-bahn tickets. A chip-and-PIN is better. The spreadsheet linked above is by far the best resource right now for finding ones. The term of art, btw, is EMV.

Be aware US banks are starting to move to chip based cards. However they are not moving to chip-and-PIN, so it's still a mess.
posted by Nelson at 6:51 PM on December 8, 2014

Having a Chip-And-PIN card for traveling in Europe is not essential. I would know, I went to Europe twice this year. I never had any issue paying for anything anywhere, or using any ATM. You're going to get the best exchange rates when you pull out money from the ATM anyway. And a few servers did note the lack of Chip, but I had a PIN so it was OK.

That said, it is something the USA is behind on. From talking to my bank recently, they won't even begin issuing Chip-And-PIN debit cards until Fall 2015. And I look forward to that day, but please don't be of the mindset that you'll have a difficult time in Europe without one.
posted by signondiego at 1:33 AM on December 9, 2014

Since you're looking for updated info: I was in London in December of last year (2013) and was able to use my US-based swipe cards (credit and debit) with no problems. I did confuse someone at a Tesco Express, but that's just because they had never seen one before.
posted by okayokayigive at 5:58 AM on December 9, 2014

USian writing from the UK (where I've lived for several years). Chip & Pin are nice but not strictly necessary. As mentioned just above, you might get curiosity from some cashiers, but if you kind of walk them through the signature process they're typically game.

All of my banking is done through US banks. Seconding the assessment that "chip and no pin is useless," as this is what BofA does in their typical shitty half-assed way.

From the little research I've done, I don't see this coming to US banking in a big way any time soon because US banks don't really give a shit about security because it costs too much to implement for the goodwill it would gain them are ill-disposed to be on the hook for exposing every merchant in the states to the cost of the infrastructure upgrades it would entail (new machines, for starters).
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all again. I really appreciate your input, and have fewer concerns now about getting exactly the right card. I'll keep checking with my provider in case they change their mind in the meantime but I'm not feeling as much pressure to ensure that I have a chip + PIN card with me when I go.
posted by komara at 6:38 AM on December 10, 2014

Nelson beat me to it, but I was in Europe two weeks ago (Belgium, Switzerland, and France) and only ran into issues with automated pay stations. Namely, the ticket machine at a Belgium train station and the toll road between Lyon and Paris. They had a live operator selling train tickets but the line was long. For the toll road, fortunately I had a 50 euro bill, otherwise I'm not sure what would have happened.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:00 PM on December 10, 2014

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