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Originally published Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 6:25 AM

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Most U.S. ‘chip’ credit cards aren’t yet the real thing

U.S. banks are moving away from antiquated magnetic-strip technology, but the interim chip-and-signature cards they’re issuing won’t work in some places abroad.

Detroit Free Press


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

But it still might not work very well when you travel abroad.

Huh? What? I turned to Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for, to explain.

My question: 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?

Schulz’s answer: 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.

Q: Are any American companies issuing true chip and PIN cards right now?

A: Yes. Barclays Card Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. There also are credit unions offering them (Wings Financial, Andrews Financial, United Nations Federal Credit Union), and issuers that deal with the military (USAA World MasterCard).

Q: Will more offer them soon? Travelers are desperate.

A: Yes. Chip and signature is a transitional thing. Both Chase and Target have said they are going to issue true chip and PIN cards by early 2015. We are moving toward chip and PIN.

Q: I already saw a chip card reader at a Walmart checkout line. It read my credit card chip, then I signed.

A: Yes. Next year, VISA, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are shifting the liability to U.S. merchants and retailers who don’t have chip readers (and still use magnetic stripe technology). The merchants will bear the liability next time there is a data breach or fraud. If you are looking to give retailers an incentive, that did the trick.

Q: Any last advice for travelers? I would guess that merchants abroad still crave Americans’ business and will find a way for them to use their ancient credit cards somehow until our technology catches up with the rest of the world.

A: Like anything in life, it’s about planning ahead and not being scared of these situations, but just being prepared.

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