Chip-and-PIN or chip-and-signature, plus FAA electronics rules change

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the December 2013 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 454th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the original international travelers’ forum.

The December issue is out, meaning the holidays are coming and it’s time to order ITN gift subscriptions for your traveling friends. Call 800/486-4968 and tell us when you want the gift cards to go out. Or visit our website and click on “Subscribe” and “Send a gift,” then select a subscription length.

A bronze bust of Albania’s national hero, G.K. Skanderbeg, located at the National Museum inside Krujë Castle. Photo: ©ollirg/123rf

A year’s subscription is like sending gifts 12 months in a row!

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Need more convincing? 

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Give the gift that lasts: the magazine for people with a love for travel. It may be low on glitz, but it’s high on helpful info and enthusiasm!


Before a trip to France, one of ITN’s subscribers, Diana Haynes of Carlsbad, California, signed up for a particular Visa card with Bank of America thinking she was getting a “chip-and-PIN” card, the type of charge card required at certain transaction points in Europe.

She got a Travel Rewards Card, promoted as having a security chip and charging no yearly fee and no foreign transaction fees and for which it is not necessary to have any other accounts with Bank of America. To activate the card, she was not required to have a personal identification number (PIN), but she did request one in writing and got a PIN assigned to the card.

During her 6-week trip in September-October 2013, she was able to use the card without a PIN when she provided a signature on the charge receipt. However, when she tried using the card at transit-ticket machines and unmanned gas station pumps, it was rejected, even when she provided the PIN.

She wrote, “As soon as my husband and I got home, I canceled the card. We wanted it specifically for use at unmanned machines, and this card did not let us do that. When I called BofA to cancel, I asked more specific questions and they agreed it would not work in the way that I wanted in Europe and that the chip was more of a security chip in case of theft.”

ITN has received several letters from subscribers about BofA’s Travel Rewards Card and about one of Citi’s Visa cards. As the use of magnetic-strip cards is beginning to be phased out at more and more point-of-sale terminals overseas, more US banks are offering credit cards with security chips, which are much more difficult to fake or alter. Some banks are issuing all their new cards with chips and are encouraging their existing customers to “upgrade” existing cards. 

These banks definitely can boast that the cards have antifraud security chips embedded in them with account information that is encrypted, but some are also touting the cards as being more useful for travelers overseas. This is misleading. 

These security-chip cards being issued in the US are “chip-and-signature” cards with which you usually must provide a signature (and an ID) to complete a transaction. What are being used in many countries outside of the US are “chip-and-PIN” cards for which an “enabled” PIN is assigned that you punch into the credit card terminals when asked. 

These new terminals use the security standard called “EMV” (short for “EuroPay, Mastercard and Visa,” the three companies that backed its development). The EMV terminals read the encrypted chip information. 

While chip-and-signature cards can also be used in most of those terminals, there are certain locations which will require a PIN to be typed into the EMV terminal in order to complete the transaction. This can happen at ATMs, transit-ticket machines, gasoline pumps and kiosks.

Unfortunately, the chip-and-signature cards that are becoming more common in the US will not function in some of the European devices requiring a PIN.

The requirement to enter a PIN to complete a transaction is an extra layer of security when a merchant or terminal cannot immediately verify that a card is being used by its owner. It is more difficult for someone to use a stolen card without knowing the PIN.

Warren Moe of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, wrote, “My new credit card with a chip is a Bank of America Travel Rewards Card. I applied for this in August 2012 after once again surveying the Internet to see if chip cards issued in the US were available.

“The website information was not explicit about whether the card was ‘chip-and-PIN’ or not. When I called their customer service, the specific agent I spoke with was knowledgeable enough about foreign cards to tell me that although the card had a chip, it was not a chip-and-PIN card. I am still not able to use it for completely automated transactions. 

“I got the card anyway because the terms were good for foreign transactions and also because I would then be more likely to find out if they upgrade the card in the future to a true chip-and-PIN.

“The card clearly has the word ‘Signature’ printed below the Visa logo. But because it has a chip, many merchants on my 2012 trip to Spain would start to process it as a PIN transaction. I learned to use the phrase, ‘Esta tarjeta necesita firma’ (‘This card needs a signature’).”

Currently, there are only two US banks that ITN is aware of that offer true chip-and-PIN cards to US residents: USAA Bank (for military and veterans) and Wells Fargo (in a limited trial to selected members). A few credit unions offer chip-and-PIN cards, but most require a cardholder to be a member with a checking or savings account. The ones ITN are aware of are Pentagon Federal Credit Union, State Department Federal Credit Union, Andrews Federal Credit Union and the United Nations Federal Credit Union. 

A chart listing which US financial institutions have chip-and-signature cards and which ones have chip-and-PIN cards can be found in’s forum. To find it, do a Google search for “EMV Cards in US spreadsheet” and click on one of the results from, then on “Who issues them. See Google Docs spreadsheet in Post #1,” then on the link to the spreadsheet.

Many countries are switching their terminals to the EMV antifraud system. According to the 2012 annual report from EMVco (which reports on the EMV standard), 94% of terminals in Western Europe, 78% in Canada and South America, 73% in Eastern Europe, 76% in Africa and 50% in Asia have been converted to the new standard. US vendors have not yet adopted the new EMV terminals.

If you applied for and received a true chip-and-PIN credit card from a US-based financial institution and have used it overseas successfully at an unmanned pay point — by entering your PIN — tell us which financial institution issued the card plus the name of the card and what some of the qualifying requirements were. 

Write to Chip-and-PIN Cards, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or email editor@intltravel


On Oct. 31, the FAA announced that it has lifted the ban on airline passengers’ using portable electronic devices, like tablet computers and e-readers, during takeoff and landing. A couple of things need to be made clear, however.

First, the ban on using cell phones to text or place calls during landing and takeoff remains. You can utilize your phone only if it’s switched to “airplane mode,” which disconnects it from cell service. (Incidentally, during flight, leaving your phone on not only is pointless but will drain the battery because it will continue to fruitlessly seek a network.)

Second, airlines will not be implementing the rule change on tablets and e-readers all at once. The FAA stated that it may take months of testing to determine whether some airplanes still might be affected by electronic interference. Once the results are sorted out, it still will be necessary to complete safety assessments and crew training and deal with foreign regulation boards. That said, a Delta Air Lines spokesman said that Delta was ready and scheduled for implementation immediately.

Also, non-US airlines must comply with the rules of their own regulatory boards and may not follow the FAA rules. Since the rules may change when you hop from flight to flight, be sure to listen to the flight crew’s instructions regarding using electronic devices.

Some flight attendants are dreading having a partial ban, which would mean they would have to tell some passengers to stop texting on their phones (transmitting) while letting others continue to play solitaire. Give ’em a break and obey the airline staff when they once again remind everyone to turn off electronic devices. Also, because of the larger size of laptop computers, those will have to be stowed away during takeoff and landing.

For more info, visit the FAA website


ITN subscriber Nell Nicholson wrote, about my October 2013 column, “Thank you for the article on lost airline luggage, which included a mention of the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. I go often because I live within 10 miles of it. There are always some fantastic surprises to find there. 

“I travel internationally two or three times a year, but most of my treasures come from the Unclaimed Baggage Center — and I didn’t have to carry them around in my suitcase. I have been going to the center for over 40 years. What a great source of souvenirs and keepsakes! 

“I have enjoyed ITN for over 20 years. Thanks!”


Jack Dini of Livermore, California, wrote, “This is in reference to a travel report of mine, “Returning to the Homeland: Albania” (Oct. ’13, pg. 52). Shortly after that issue of the magazine was sent to subscribers, I received a call from a guy I had worked with but hadn’t seen in 39 years. He and his wife had traveled in Albania earlier this year with the same guide we had. My wife and I got together with them and talked about the guide, Enea Kumi, and other travels.

“Then, in mid-October, I got a call from another person I had worked with at the same business (Sandia in Livermore). He and his wife had just returned from Albania and they, too, had traveled with Enea. Except for one brief encounter, I hadn’t seen this person since 1980. So my wife and I got together with his wife and him.

“I find it amazing that the three of us, who hadn’t seen one another in a very long time, all visited Albania and all were led to Enea Kumi by an article or two in ITN attesting to the trip he offered.

“This shows how folks trust others when reading this magazine.”


ITN staff remembers Barry Nash, with whom we had a long relationship. Many of you knew him as your tour guide in Alpine Europe. Barry passed away on Aug. 24 of this year.

Barry started Nash Travel Tours in Danielson, Connecticut, in 1979 and often advertised in ITN. Later, he was the US contact for Harp & Shamrock Tours in Ireland. We appreciated his sense of humor. 

Barry’s longtime home was Connecticut and he was 80 years old. He made great memories for a lot of people.


Retiring from her longtime position as an Assistant Editor here at ITN is Jane Albusche, who found it necessary to devote more time to family responsibilities — and who certainly has earned the time off. Among the most considerate people anywhere, Jane could be counted on to make a room more pleasant, as any of you who spoke with her on the phone will know.

We wish her the best, and we’re still deciding where to meet for the going-away party.

And we’re pleased to welcome a new member to our staff, Chris Wilson. Chris steps in as Assistant Editor already familiar with the ITN operation because, from 1980 to 1988 she worked in these offices as the Managing Editor and then Editor of WORLDRADIO, a former sister publication to ITN devoted to Amateur Radio. 

It’s a comfortable transition for everyone.     — DT