Chip Card vs. Mag Stripe in Europe

I recently returned from the ultimate Georgia Tech Alumni trip, which included visiting an alum in Nice, France followed by joining 20,000 fellow Yellow Jacket fans at the GT vs. Boston College NCAA ACC Men's football game.

Since the EMV liability shift October 1, 2015, some of my banks and credit card companies have replaced my credit and debit cards with EMV chip cards. In my wallet, it's about 70 / 30 chip cards to mag stripe only cards.

With €3 in-hand, I start my journey in Nice, France. I proceed to look for an ATM machine to obtain more Euros. Near baggage claim, I spot an ATM machine. Ah ha! I insert my debit card, enter my PIN, select €100 to withdraw….instead of giving me Euros, the screen reads, "Unable to complete transaction." This is not very helpful. I knew I had enough funds in my account to cover the withdrawal, but I didn't know why my transaction could not be completed??? Fortunately, my friend Ella picks me up from the airport and takes me into the city there will be a plethora of ATM machines.

I had no idea what my ATM problem was.

Once I arrive in the city of Nice, ATMs are abundantly available. As I stroll down Cours Saleya, I approach another ATM machine, insert the same debit card, enter my PIN, amount, and once again receive the "Unable to complete transaction" error.

I'm thinking to myself, "What is the problem? Should I try another ATM? There's another ATM 20 feet away. Or should I try another debit card? What's my backup plan to get Euros?"

What's my next move?

At that point my husband turns to me and suggests, "Try another debit card." Sure enough, the ATM machine starts spitting out Euros.

The next day, we take a day trip to Monaco. I'm purchasing train tickets from a self-service machine at the Nice train station when I notice a little sign on the machine stating, "Chip Cards only."

At that point, I realize that Europe is converting to chip card readers and phasing out mag stripe readers. The debit card that wouldn't work was a mag stripe only card, and debit card #2 (which worked) was a chip card! Eureka!

As I continue my travels through Europe (France & Ireland), I find myself using my Visa chip card for purchases and my chip debit card for ATM withdrawals. In January, I posted about the confusion of using credit cards for retail purchases in my blog post, Do I swipe, dip, scan, PIN, or tap? In Europe, there's no confusion, every retailer, hotel, gas station, restaurant, merchant expects a chip card. Since all of my credit and debit cards are US based, all of my receipts state "Verified by Signature" - This means that none of my credit cards are "Chip & PIN," but rather "Chip & Signature." I didn't have any problems making purchases with my chip cards, except at a self-service gas pump in Ireland. Due to fraud, I believe that the self-service pump requires "Chip & PIN" only. I was still able to pay for my fuel with a credit card with the clerk inside the convenience store.

My favorite transaction was at the Irish equivalent of a dollar store called Dealz. Everything in the store was €1.50. I purchased 4 snacks and 1 umbrella for €7.50 with my Visa chip card. Many of my friends have complained about how slow EMV transactions are, but at Dealz, the chip card dip was just as fast as a swipe. I previously posted about how long EMV transactions take here.

What's in my wallet?

Here's the irony, debit card #2 (the chip debit card that works in European ATM machines) arrived literally the day before I left for Europe. Out of the four banks that I have debit cards with, only two were chip cards. Of my credit cards, all are chip cards including VISA, American Express, and MasterCard. On October 1, 2015, when the liability shift occurred only my AMEX cards were chip cards.

Where do we go from here?

Prior to this trip, I had no idea that using an ATM without a chip would be impossible in Europe. I'm so disappointed in the banks that haven't issued chip cards that I'm closing those accounts. That's an exaggeration, I'm closing my accounts for other reasons. I'm still surprised as to how slowly the EMV conversion has gone in this country on all fronts from financial institutions to merchants.

Best Part of My Trip

Georgia Tech won the football game against Boston College 17-14! Go Jackets! It was great to witness amazing fan support of my alma mater.

Special Thanks to Ella & Jody Dyer for their friendship and hospitality.