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Chip Ahoy! Chip Cards Finally Available at U.S. Banks

The logjam in chip-technology credit cards has finally broken, and, as of now, dozens of chip-enabled cards are available from banks based in the United States, with more coming along steadily.

Previously, technical differences in conventional cards issued by U.S. banks have made life increasingly difficult when you’re traveling outside the country. Many of you have found that you can’t actually complete a purchase when you have to use some automated payment machine and no attendant is available—rail and transit ticket dispensers, automated gasoline pumps, toll booths, and the like. And even when an attendant is available, you often have to wait a long time in line while folks with chip cards make automated purchases almost instantly. Fortunately, the problem is easing, so if you’re heading out of the country later this year, you stand a much better chance of getting a chip card.

As I’ve reported before, banks in most of Europe and many other areas have adopted “EMV” technology, which uses a chip embedded in the card in place of the familiar magnetic strip as the medium for storing on-card data. (EMV stands for “Europay, MasterCard, Visa,” representing three giant worldwide payment and transfer networks.) Security is based on a small integrated circuit embedded in the card. In Europe, most card transactions validate a purchase with a PIN rather than a signature, but, so far, most cards in the United States require a signature rather than a PIN.

U.S. banks have been slow to adopt EMV technology, mainly because of the tremendous cost of converting point-of-sale terminals. But complaints from travelers about troubles trying to use magnetic-strip cards when they’re out of the country have persuaded some big banks to issue cards with both a chip and a strip. Two online reports have recently published near-current tabulations of available chip cards, which I can summarize:

  • American Express Platinum, by request.
  • Bank of America: AAA Member Rewards Visa, Asiana Airlines AmEx**, Alaska Airlines Visa, BankAmericard Cash Rewards Visa**, BankAmericard Power Rewards Visa, BankAmericard Privileges Cash Rewards Visa, BankAmericard Privileges Travel Rewards Visa*, BankAmericard Visa*, Community Bank business, Corporate One business, Corporate Travel business, Executive One business, Hawaiian Airlines Visa, Norwegian Cruise Line MasterCard, Royal Caribbean Visa*, Travel Rewards Visa, and Virgin Atlantic AmEx.
  • Chase Bank: British Airways Visa Signature*, Chase Marriott Rewards Premier*, Hyatt Visa Signature*, JP Morgan Palladium Visa*, JP Morgan Select Visa Signature*, Marriott Rewards Premier Visa*, and United Mileage Plus Club Visa*.
  • Citi: AAdvantage Executive MasterCard, AAdvantage Gold MasterCard, AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard, AAdvantage Platinum Visa, Chairman MasterCard, Diamond Preferred MasterCard, Dividend MasterCard, Hilton Honors Reserve Visa*, Platinum Select MasterCard, Thank You MasterCard, Thank You Premier MasterCard*, plus all MasterCards by request.
  • US Bank: FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa, Korean Air SkyPass Classic Visa, Korean Air SkyPass Secured Visa, and Korean Air SkyPass Visa Signature.
  • Plus: Travelex prepaid debit card, some Wells Fargo cards by invitation, many limited-membership credit unions, and some online banks.

Whether your card is on this list or not, ask the bank that issues your card(s) about getting a chip card. As you can see, some of the cards are available only if you ask for them.

If you’re considering adding a new card specifically for travel, note that the cards marked with * add no surcharge for foreign purchases and those marked ** add only 1 percent; the others all add 3 percent. Note, too, that many of the listed cards earn airline mileage, hotel points, cruise points, or cash dividends. And if you see a card you might be interested in, by all means check the details with the bank—not only about chip availability but also annual fees and APR on purchases. Although I see no reason to challenge the sources of my lists, they are third-party and unofficial.

Oddly, except for the Travelex card, I haven’t seen any debit cards with chips yet. Maybe soon. Meanwhile, if you’d like to check, my sources are tables posted here on Nerd Wallet.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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