Microchip credit cards confuse travelers even more

  • Article by: ELLEN CREAGER , Detroit Free Press
  • Updated: August 22, 2014 - 1:06 PM

Though the magnetic strip cards we’re used to are being replaced, the new ones are still not universally accepted.


A customer paid using a local debit card at Coin Canal, a retro furniture store in Paris.

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Your next credit card likely will have a secure microchip in it.

But it still might not work when you travel abroad.

Huh? What? I turned to Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for Creditcards.com, for an explanation.

Q: If I have an American credit card with one of those new chips in it, why won’t it work overseas everywhere, even at places like kiosks or unmanned ticket, parking or bike rental machines?

A: That is really the biggest misconception and the reason Americans run into issues. They think, oh, this card has a chip in it, it should be able to be used everywhere overseas. But the reality is, in places like gas stations or train stations or stores where there are unmanned machines and kiosks, they don’t.

Q: Why not?

A: There are two different types of chip cards. American issuers are sending out “chip and signature” cards. They have the chip but it still asks you to sign. The other type is a “chip and PIN” card. Instead of signing, you are typing in a PIN code. That is the type most commonly used around the world.

Q: Why didn’t American credit card companies go straight to chip and PIN?

A: What is being issued in the States is kind of an easier transition for consumers to make. American consumers are used to signing for their purchases. [But] chip and PIN is the type most commonly used around the world because it gives you an extra layer of security. It is easier to forge someone’s signature than to know their PIN.

Q: But this is confusing. Don’t most credit cards issue a PIN to holders in case they need to withdraw cash? Can’t they just type in that external PIN when abroad?

A: No.

Q: That’s annoying. So is a chip and signature card any better than the old magnetic stripe card abroad, or just another dud?

A: It can’t hurt. Having the chip will probably get you accepted a few more places abroad than just a straight mag [magnetic] stripe card (which is fading as a technology worldwide). But you certainly would rather have the chip and PIN because it would be more universally accepted.

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