This past month I’ve spent about three weeks in Europe: two weeks in Italy and then nearly a week in London. Just as I do at home, when visiting Europe I tend to pay for everything by credit card. Of course I make sure to use a card with no foreign transaction fee.
Today, almost all US credit cards have chips, but fewer have PINs. Even those with PINs usually default to chip & signature. Even the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card, which used to proudly advertise its chip & PIN capability, defaults to chip and signature. This means that when you pay with a credit card you still have to sign for the purchase unless you’re using a system that doesn’t have signature capability (such as an unattended train ticket kiosk).
The whole chip & signature thing isn’t really much of a problem. Yes, it slows down the process by a few seconds (or more if the vendor has trouble finding a pen). But when everyone else in Europe happily makes purchases with a PIN, or by simply waving their credit card over the terminal (Did you know that they have contactless payment capability?!), you may feel like an idiot abroad when the vendor sighs as the terminal spits out a signature slip. I know I do.
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, but there’s an absurdly simply solution if you have a modern smartphone. Simply use Apple Pay or Android Pay. When you do so, the phone uses its fingerprint reader (or facial recognition reader in the case of the new iPhone X) to verify your identity. There’s no need for a signature or a PIN.
After realizing this simple solution while in Italy, I used Apple Pay for all purchases without a single issue. At restaurants I used my Sapphire Reserve card which earns 3X for dining and travel (and actually earns 4X via mobile payments through November 4th). Unlike in the US, restaurants do not abscond with your credit card when you pay. Instead, they bring the credit card reader to the table, and it usually has contactless payment capability. I used my US Bank Altitude Reserve card for all other purchases since that card earns 3X for all mobile payments, and travel payments too.
In London, I continued using Apple Pay everywhere. Only a single store had a card reader without mobile payment capability. It was awesome.
Before traveling abroad, make sure you’ve learned how to use mobile payments on your smartphone. It’s super easy, but not necessarily intuitive. Also, I highly recommend setting up a card with no foreign transaction fees as your default card for mobile payments. Here’s a post showing how to setup the Altitude Reserve as your default Apple Pay card. Obviously you can follow the same instructions to setup any card of your choice. I expect that Android Pay works similarly.
Obviously I can’t promise that mobile wallet payments will work everywhere you go. I may have been lucky with getting very close to 100% acceptance on my recent trips. But, hey, it can’t hurt to try it.
[…] capability that comes in handy abroad for things like train kiosks (though Greg has written that Apple Pay / Google Pay can obviate the need for Chip & PIN in many instances). If you like to stay at AirBnB’s now and then or want to use points to […]
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[…] A simple Chip & PIN solution for US tourists […]
The lack of true chip + PIN is one of those things which drives me nuts. So many of these banks market ‘travel cards’, but they don’t have chip + PIN! How the hell am I supposed to use it whilst traveling if it doesn’t support what 98% of the countries use? I always put this in bank surveys, hoping for a change.
I’ve learned to always carry a pen when traveling, since most cashiers abroad don’t have pens at their registers. Even when there is a physical cashier, I’ve run into issues because the POS didn’t understand Chip+Signature or other minor glitch.
For that matter, I don’t understand why the US went to chip + signature. Signing for things is a major hassle compared to Chip+PIN, many consumers already have PINs for debit cards & such so it’s not unfamiliar to them, and most importantly, not all readers use it. My mother’s card got skimmed at a Sam’s Club gas pump last month, which shows the magstripes are still in use, and still as easily copied as ever. The pump had contactless & chip readers installed…but they’re not turned on. Synchrony Bank took an $8k hit on that one since they never caught it before the car max’d out. Good thing it was a low limit card.
Isn’t the Apple Pay only good for up to $30? We do find the lack of a PIN a bit of a pain, but I just keep a pen handy and it doesn’t take more than a second longer. However, they tend to really freak out over the signatures so I also have my Driver’s License in my hand if I need it. Loved it when we were in Australia and everything was pretty much contactless… wave and go. Nice!
I’ve used apple pay for much more than $30. Perhaps 10 times that amount, buying dinner for half a dozen people in Sweden. Whoever told you there was a $30 limit was misinformed.
In Sweden they mostly think the signature thing is idiotic, and half the time don’t even ask you to sign. As one guy pointed out, “I can afford it if someone occasionally uses a stolen card to buy lunch. It’s not worth my time to check a signature.” He also pointed out that it’s never happened. So few tourists with signature cards compared to the vast majority that have chip+pin.
In England we have our signatures checked at nearly every transaction. In Italy and France it happens occasionally. Oddly, in Croatia, Bulgaria and Serbia almost never.
On the Apple pay – we’ve tried to use it and had it fail here in the UK, and in Italy – and were told that it only worked for up to $30 by the person at the till.
I’ve had my signature checked in New Zealand – I didn’t even understand what she wanted when she asked to see the card. It’s literally been decades in the USA since anybody looked at the signature. I was surprised to discover that I’d even signed the card – of course it was just smeared ink that bore no resemblance to my signature on the paper. And then they just shrug and say “OK”. They have to check, but the signatures don’t actually have to match. 🙂
It’s not impossible that the place in the UK where Apple Pay failed has explicitly set their till up that way. If that happened to me I’d almost certainly complain to Apple. I am sure the agreement with the merchant precludes that sort of behavior. People expect to just work.
I always use Apple Pay when ever possible. Apple Pay transactions cannot be hacked or stolen. I use specific cards for Apple Pay and different cards if I need to insert for swipe. I was able to use Apple Pay in Canada tied to USA cards even though Apple Pay says it needs to be linked to a Canadian card.
FM. I think this post gets lost in the actual message via your title. NFC is NOT a “A simple Chip & PIN solution for US tourists”. Its a “potential alternative” if NFC is readily accepted. Maybe thats just semantics. My bad, but I was actually looking for a REAL solution. Meaning, a CC with PIN PRIORITY is desired. NFC is not a solution if the vendor doesnt even accept NFC.
Furthermore, your statement of “Simply use Apple Pay or Android Pay” is incomplete. This is especially true for Apple. Apple Pay and NFC enabled Apple Pay are two completely different things that nobody understands.
Your post may confuse people who dont understand NFC and the differences between Apple and Android. Not all terminals will allow NFC and Samsung Pay is a form of Android Pay.
Fair enough. But the title got both of us reading the post. 🙂
I don’t have an Android phone, but Android pay seems like an Android variant of Apple pay, although not as extensive for non-phone transactions.
Apple Pay is much more than paying at a terminal with your phone. But most people experience Apple Pay that way. The other features (sending money to other Apple users, paying on the web) are less well known. I’ve been using my iPhone to pay for years and only just dug into other features of Apple Pay.
NFC payments are accepted a lot of places you’d not expect, but it’s still a bit of a jungle. At the Perth airport the parking machine accepted Apple Pay, but then rejected the transaction. My friend’s NFC-enabled card worked. Parking meters in Fremantle, if I remember correctly, worked with Apple Pay. Most bars and restaurants worked with it, except one where the owner went into a rant that basically said “I’m a Luddite” and I needed to use my card. And then he ranted about stupid American banks and needing to find a pen.
Here at home in Colorado I can successfully use Apple Pay at Whole Foods and Natural Grocers, but not at Safeway. T-Mobile accepts Android Pay but not Apple Pay.
I recently surveyed my credit cards, and unlike in Canada none of them are NFC -enabled. “Tap” payment (their terminology for NFC payments) is common, as is Chip & PIN.
But things will sort themselves out soon enough. Apple Pay is both convenient – everyone always has their phone with them – and more secure than using an actual card, be it signature or chip & PIN.
And finally, for a solution to the problem you were looking to solve – there are a couple of chip+PIN priority cards that are PIN priority.
Target Red *credit* cards appear to be PIN-priority, with no foreign transaction fees. No real rewards. But they are a way to pay when you travel.
And for a 2% back rewards credit card that is chip+pin, First Tech Federal credit union has a few:
Now, if only Chase would get with the program. 🙂
In Moscow tried to use Citi Exec at a supermarket, didn’t work, the kiosk asked for pin which the card doesn’t have. Luckily had my bank debit card with pin, but lost the miles.
To read this just highlights just how backwater the U.S. is. Can’t believe people there wouldn’t already be using contactless payments!
It’s not so much being a backwater as that it’s complicated to get thousands of small banks to change overnight.
But it’s coming – I rarely use anything other than apple pay in my day-to-day life. Occasionally chip+signature – but that was an explicit decision on the part of Visa and Mastercard when we moved from swiping cards.
Soon enough even chip+pin will go away and everything will be contactless.
Australia has had NFC (Contactless payments) in all Debit and Credit cards since 2009, and banned signatures in around 2014 or 2015. Could never believe the US was so far behind, in 2016 35% of all transactions and 65% of all card purchases in Australia were made with Contactless, and that was before Android/Apply pay was introduced, that number is only higher now.
Been doing this for a couple of years. Lots of vendors don’t even know their system supports it. It’s vastly amusing when they hand you the machine to insert your card and you hover your phone for a moment and the machine starts printing the receipt…
[…] A simple Chip & PIN solution for US tourists by Frequent Miler. Mobile payments do make things so much easier, even better when card issuers are offering some sort of bonus for using them. […]
Awesome solution, but my travel backup is always going to be my First Tech Federal Credit Union Choice MasterCard (the Platinum is equivalently good). No annual fee, no foreign exchange fee, true primary chip+PIN — even here. It’s the only US-based card I’ve found like it.
The Target Mastercard is true chip+PIN without any annual fee too. It works flawlessly in Europe.
Ooh, good tip! Is there a foreign exchange fee?
Nope – no foreign fees.
My United Nations FCU card is true chip+PIN and works flawlessly in Europe. It also has Verify by Visa capability which is important for pre-trip.online purchases of such things as European train tickets and timed admissions to museums. Chase, to my annoyance, does not have Verify by Visa. They make you call a customer service rep.
One more good reason to set up Apple Pay…. We were in London on vacation a few months ago. We also did one night in Paris. Coming back on the Eurostar I was notified of a charge going onto my Sapphire Reserve that we did not make. We called and Chase disabled our matching cards and expedited new ones to us. Still took a few days because it was over a weekend. But I noticed the day after I called it in that my Sapphire card in Apple Pay showed a different last four numbers, so I was able to use the new card two days before it arrived UPS at our London hotel!
I have friends who have a Barclay Arrival+ who complained that it did not work in unmanned kiosks (train) or French toll booths. I have the Barclay AAviator Red MC and have successfully used it with pin to reload my Oyster card in London, my OV Chipkaart in Amsterdam, and I’ve also used it in French tollbooths (if I recall, I didn’t need to use the Pin with those). Yes, it’s chip and sign elsewhere, but I don’t find that a big deal.
Just got back from Ireland and had the same experience with the Barclay AAviator Red MC – wokred like Chip + Pin at a gas pump, but read as chip + sig everywhere else I used it.
Even stranger is that my Arrival+ worked at some French toll booths (A7), but not others.(A8 booth 10 miles from the A7).
Good tip! I wish I would have tried this last August. Always had to sign despite using my Barclay Arrival, which didn’t even work at a Paris metro kiosk. I don’t know how they get away with even advertising it as a chip & PIN card.
That is very odd- used my Arrival+ at Paris Metro kiosks multiple time in 2015 without issue.
I’ve successfully used my Barclaycard Arrival+ in unmanned gas stations and other situations where chip+pin is required. No problem.
A scenario in which I’ve had a Barclay JetBlue card not work is when the system recognizes that it’s supposed to be chip+signature, but then the signature mechanism doesn’t work correctly. This happened to me at a coffee shop in Finland where they were using a tablet POS system.
It’s a bit moot for me; I just spent a week in Paris, and I never had to use anything other than my Sapphire Reserve, including at Metro stops and train kiosks. (And, if that failed, I’ve got my First Tech card, which is true primary chip+PIN. But I didn’t have to use it.)
Both Apple pay and android pay need NFC. Some manufacturers intentionally left out this feature for phones shipped for US market because mobile payment is not widely adopted in US. eg motorola G5 plus for international market has NFC but the US version one does not.
I’m an American living in London. ApplePay and Android Pay is widely accepted if you see CONTACTLESS. I suggest to all of my friends visiting set-up this feature on the phone. However, there is a limitation. Most merchants limit the amount to £30 or less.
Apparently that limit is quickly dissolving. I didn’t run into it at all. Here’s an article from May on the topic: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/05/21/tipping-point-apple-pay-majority-uk-tills-accept-limitless-payments/
I’ve been declined many times if the limit was over £30. The problem is that contactless payments are not automatically deducted from your card at least British cards. I rarely use my American cards here.
Do you still earn points when using mobile payments? How about category bonus points??
Yes and yes. Plus, card companies frequently offer extra bonus points for using mobile payments.
For non-IOS users, Android pay might be an alternative option to pay with phone
I tried Android Pay earlier this year in Italy but in some shops didn’t work out even if the RFID logo was present. Maybe YMMV.
The last time I tried to use Apple Pay on the Tube it wouldn’t work. I understood at the time it was an issue with using a US-based credit card. Sounds like that isn’t an issue any longer?
I recently had my AMEX SPG cards reissued with the contactless capability to use in Europe. They don’t come like this by default but you can ask them to send new cards.
Thanks for this! I didn’t know that contactless capability was an option for US-based cards. I’m still happy w/ using my phone though so I’ll stick with that.
I don’t know why Apple Pay didn’t work for you before. Might be an issue with the Tube. When I topped off my Oyster card on this trip I didn’t see a contactless payment option so I just inserted my credit card as usual.
I believe the Costco Visa cards come with contactless capability by default, however carry a foreign transaction fee. The SPG doesn’t have that fee so should be good option for overseas use.
I wasn’t using Apple Pay to top off my Oystercard, rather was using it on my watch in the reader at the gate. In theory, you should be able to just double click the side button on an Apple Watch as you get near the reader, then tap on the reader where you would also normally tap your Oystercard. When I tapped my watch I got an error. Tried using Apple Pay via my iPhone and got the same error. (Yes, I did try these outside of peak times. Can’t imagine the looks I’d get from busy commuters while I clog up the entry point)
I researched a bit at the time and saw reports of incompatibility with US-based payment methods. If indeed that was the issue, based on another comment here, perhaps no longer a problem.
No issue with my CSR on my Applewatch in June – Sep this year on TFL tapping at the turnstile / or tap points.
I’ve never had an issue with ApplePay on TFL.
I used to have a Freedom card that was contactless that I used ad McDonald’s all the time. But after everyone got paranoid about their info getting stolen they sent out regular cards.
No, Chase just decided to shop issuing contactless cards. You can still get an Amex with contactless upon request.
Should have mentioned that I requested the regular card.
For Amex cards you can request a contactless version. Even for a Platinum charge!
But calling this a “chip and PIN” solution is really not quite true. Good luck waving your phone around in India or Japan. In India I had no problem with Chip and Sig. In Japan, Apple Pay is for Suica and Edy cards, not MasterCard and Visa as we know it.
Different Ryan but I have another (maybe dumb!) question – how can you tell if the register/sales terminal supports this method? Guess I’m a little behind the times, but I don’t want to look equally dumb waiving my phone when it isn’t even an option!
Look for the radio wave icon on the card reader, like this:
I don’t mind having to sign. My mobile phone is not something I carry around with me in Europe. So I just use the credit card and sign. Not a big deal to sign and I don’t sweat it holding up the line. Now, people who write checks, those people hold up the line!
Great idea in general terms…but does Samsung Pay work in Europe? It was not the case for me this summer…
I don’t know about Samsung Pay in Europe. I’d guess that it would work for NFC payments, but I’ve never tried it. Anyone else have experience?
I’ve not tried it, but agree. Samsung is nice since you have the choice of NFC or loop pay. I bet loop pay would have worked for your one vendor who could not do Apple pay.
This might be a stupid question, but do you need wifi/cell service to use apple pay? I assume you do, but just curious since I don’t always use my cell service abroad. Obviously most places have wifi nowadays, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem either way.
Actually, that’s a great question. Yes, it works without data or phone services on your phone. I’ve used it while still in airplane mode for example.
I too have been using my apple wallet where possible. Love not having to be the only one having to sign for a purchase. I found most all the card readers in Spain and Italy will accept apple wallet payments. However none of the card readers in Greece that I was presented with would accept an electronic payment.
This is a life changer in Europe for me. Spend my summer in The UK and used Apple Pay on my Apple Watch everywhere, including the London Tube. So much easier than having to sing everywhere (plus, the clerks hate that).