Do I Need a Chip-and-PIN Credit Card in Europe?
Chip-and-PIN credit cards are far more common in Europe than the U.S. But do you really need one while traveling abroad?
Credit card information used to be stored on magnetic strips, but this wasn’t very secure. In many countries, credit card issuers began using credit cards where data was stored on microchips instead. In particular, card data was put onto EMV chips, with EMV standing for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa, as these three companies developed standardized chips that could be read across the globe.
The U.S. was slower than most countries to adopt EMV chips because there were so many credit card terminals across the country that could only process cards with magnetic strips. Starting in 2015, however, major card issuers began shifting more liability to merchants who didn’t accept credit cards with chips in them. Now, chip cards have become the norm in the U.S. too.
However, if you live in the U.S., chances are good that you have a chip-and-signature credit card. This means your card carries its information on a microchip, but you still need to sign a paper authorizing the transaction when you make an in-store purchase. In Europe, however, chip-and-signature cards aren’t really the norm as they are here — instead, most cards are chip-and-PIN cards.
If you are headed to Europe, you may want to look into whether you can take a chip-and-PIN card with you. If you don’t have one, you can probably get by — but are likely to face some inconveniences.
Chip-and-PIN credit cards vs. chip-and-signature credit cards
Chip-and-PIN credit cards change the way that card transactions take place. Instead of inserting your credit card into the card processing machine and then signing your name on the sales receipt, chip-and-PIN cards require you to insert your card and enter a PIN number. The transaction takes place in a similar way to when you use a debit card to make a purchase — it won’t process unless or until you’ve entered a personal identification number.
Chip-and-PIN cards are generally more secure because you can’t complete a purchase without knowing the PIN — and chances are good that even if someone stole your credit card or stole your card number, they wouldn’t know your PIN number.
Chip-and-signature cards, on the other hand, require the merchant to check the signature on the back of your card with the signature on the receipt in order to confirm the transaction is valid. Not all merchants even bother to check the signature and, when they do, they aren’t always very good at determining if the handwriting is actually a match or not.