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The credit card world in the United States is slowly moving toward having EMV chip technology built into cards for better security, which is a good thing because we’re about a decade behind most of Europe and other parts of the world in getting it rolled out.
With cards that have an EMV chip embedded, instead of swiping your card to read the magnetic strip on the back, a merchant will insert your card into a reader where the chip and its encrypted information is transferred. They’ll then either ask for your signature or to enter a PIN similar to that of the PIN you use with an ATM card.
It’s a much more secure way to verify your card is valid and passes on less vital information than a magnetic strip which can put your account number in the hands of thieves. It also eliminates the need for manual old fashioned card impression devices – the very un-digital contraptions that put your card number on a carbon copy form. Those were prevalent in Europe and were a big source of fraud.
If you are traveling to Europe having a card with EMV chip capability will help you avoid a lot of headaches that come with trying to use a card that lacks it. A lot of places won’t accept cards without the chips because they no longer have readers for signature based cards. And many unmanned terminals will only accept a transaction if you have PIN to verify. To make it trickier, the PIN you use for cash advances on your card doesn’t work for this.
There are two basic levels of cards with chip technology:
Chip + Signature is a bit of a jury rigged way to get the security benefits of microchips. It has a chip built in but it doesn’t have a way for you to assign a PIN to your card. This kind of card will let you pay at an establishment that has a live person running the terminal that reads your card, but you can’t pay at unmanned terminals like train ticket kiosks. And many restaurants and other establishments that do have someone running the terminal may still choose not to accept a card without a PIN, even if it has a Chip built in.
Unfortunately most EMV Chip cards issued in the U.S. are of this the limited Chip + Signature variety, which is better than nothing but still no guarantee of hassle free payment in Europe.
They are a UK-based bank so are very well versed in dealing with Chip + PIN cards.
In January they launched in conjunction with Bank of Hawaii a Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard that offers PIN capability, among the first with a PIN option for U.S. residents from a major bank.
But not a lot of us have a need for Hawaiian Airlines miles.
Well, the good news is Barclays has confirmed it plans to offer Chip + PIN capability on its flagship Barclaycard Arrival Plus Double Miles MasterCard by the end of this year.
Here’s the note from a Barclays representative in their online forum confirming it:
The caveat is that it still won’t be a full fledged Chip + PIN card. Instead, it’s a hybrid – a card with PIN capability, but with priority for processing without the PIN, using your signature to verify.
So if you are using an unmanned terminal that has no signature option, the PIN capability will kick in. That’s good for dealing with train and gas stations in Europe. But it’s less helpful for situations where a merchant refuses to accept in-person transactions with a signature.
That’s because when you use a manned terminal this card will default to signature mode and there is no way to tell the terminal to switch to PIN mode and override the signature priority. In theory, merchants are required to accept a signature in these situations, but many don’t in the heat of the moment. Waiters are often only trained to accept PIN transactions and may refuse when a signature slip gets printed out. Imagine asking about this in a foreign language and you can see why a card that isn’t fully PIN priority can still cause headaches.
We keep a list of EMV chip cards available to American cardholders with no foreign transaction fees here, and note that USAA does offer its cards in versions that default to PIN processing first, which eliminates all the headaches, so keep that in mind as an alternative to consider.
But this development from Barclays is at least a step further than any other major bank has gone for an American card.
It sounds like it will be available late this year or early next year, but it all depends on how smoothly the experience with the Hawaiian Airlines credit card goes.
Frequent travelers to Europe will be looking for more announcements that can’t come soon enough.
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