Those who travel outside the country semi-often are well aware of chipped credit cards. Frankly, getting your magstripe card accepted outside of the most touristy areas has been a challenge for years. Finally, EMV Chip and Signature (and a few Chip and PIN) cards are coming to the USA. The vaunted “liability shift” that was meant to encourage merchants to upgrade their equipment to accept chip cards came and went on October 1 without much of a change. Retailing giant Wal-Mart made the switch to EMV well in advance of the deadline, and Target was ready prior to October 1 as well.

If you were expecting mass acceptance effective October 1, you’ll likely be disappointed. While the liability shift date has been known for years, the number of merchants that have made the switch is relatively small, but will climb over time. It’s an expensive undertaking. Ironically, my dry cleaner and our local neighborhood market were ready and now accept chip cards. All I need is a few restaurants to make the move, and I’ll be living in an EMV world right here in Atlanta! Frankly, I like the idea of paying at the table and never having my card leave my sight.

chip and pin, chip and signature, emv cards

Image credit: Shutterstock

Most cards in the USA are “chip and signature” cards meaning they come with an EMV chip, but you verify the transaction much like you always have – by signing a receipt. In contrast, Europe, Canada, and a lot of the world are primarily “chip and PIN” which uses a 4 digit PIN code for your “signature” much like debit cards you might be more familiar with. Many have already received replacement cards, and if you haven’t, you likely will over the next year. As of this writing, all but one of my credit cards has an EMV chip, with my Fidelity Amex being the only one left with just a mag stripe. Armed with a wallet full of chip and signature (and one PIN capable) cards, MrsMJ and I recently traveled to Paris and Barcelona. How’d it go?

Chip and Signature in Europe

I have never recovered from a chipless trip to Europe a few years ago. It was actually fine until I needed to purchase train tickets to the airport late at night. No chip, no ticket. Fortunately, cash still works. 🙂 For our visits to Paris and Barcelona, we focused spending on two cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red card. The Sapphire Preferred (Chip and Signature) because it is my preferred card for travel spend, and the Aviator Red card, because Barclays actually saw fit to include Chip and PIN capability even though the card is signature preferring.

How did my “American” Chip and Signature cards work during the trip? Just fine, even in places where I might not have expected them to including a very rural winery and the Paris Metro. There were almost no funny looks when the signature slip printed, though I did have to hunt for a pen to sign the slip a few times. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card worked without any verification requirement in the Paris Metro, though I did have to enter a PIN when I used the Aviator Red card there. I did note that the PIN based transaction appeared to process more quickly, but we are talking a few seconds, not minutes.

The Verdict

Chip and Signature worked well for us during our vacation, but it was nice knowing I had a card that could handle a PIN based transaction if I ran into any problems. There is a move afoot by the card companies to increase acceptance of signature based cards at places that are notorious for being Chip and PIN only like train ticket kiosks and unattended gas stations and toll booths. I assume that’s why my Sapphire Preferred card worked for Paris Metro.

I have no idea if the USA will eventually move to Chip and PIN. The banks and their lobbying arms appear to be vehemently opposed to it. I suppose I don’t really care, but I would prefer Chip and PIN if for no other reason than I don’t need a PEN to verify a transaction. Additionally, my instincts tell me that if the banks are so against something, I should probably be for it. I’m kidding….but only a little.

In the end, all that really matters is whether or not your card works. The answer in my experience is yes, but it is always a good idea to carry some cash, and perhaps a backup card like the Aviator Red card that can process a PIN transaction at unattended terminals and kiosks in a pinch.

-MJ, November 28, 2015