The EMV Card Experience

November 13, 2012

One of the biggest developments in the U.S. credit card scene over the last year has been the introduction of the EMV chip card. This card, which is slowly coming on the market in the U.S., is prominent in many other areas of the world. But what is having a chip card like?

I recently got an EMV chip card for a recent trip to Europe. Because EMV chip cards are pretty much the standard there, it's possible to run into problems being able to use a card that just has a magnetic stripe. That's because the payment terminals for the two types of cards are different. A magnetic stripe needs a slot where you can swipe the card, and the EMV card needs a slot where it can hold the card to read the data off of the chip. Some merchants in Europe won't bother getting both types of terminals, so if you go to them, don't have cash and don't have a chip card, you many not be able to pay for the items you're buying.

Now that EMV cards are in America, I decided to prevent this problem, and I got an EMV chip card. To figure out which one I wanted, I searched through a handy list compiled by users of, an online hangout for frequent fliers. These people are the first category U.S. card issuers are targeting, since they have an immediate need for the card. This list has become a Google Document, and it's helpful to see all of the different options that are currently on the market.

I had a long list of options I really wanted in this card. I wanted a Visa because my other main credit card is a MasterCard, and I wanted to have the flexibility to use either brand. I wanted a Chip + PIN and Chip + signature option because Chip + PIN is faster to use, since you just have to stick your card into the machine and type in your PIN to authenticate the transaction. You don't have to go through the long process of printing out a receipt and signing it. I also wanted the card to have a contactless option. A low or no annual fee, rewards (preferably airline miles) and a low exchange fee would also be a bonus.

Of course, there was no one option that would give me everything I wanted, so I chose to apply for US Bank's FlexPerks Travel Rewards card. This is a Visa card that comes with flexible rewards that I can use toward air travel, hotels, rental cars, cruises, merchandise gift cards or statement credit. It's a chip + signature card, and it has a $49 annual fee that's waived for the first year.

The card's online application was relatively simple and was completed within seven to ten business days. I got my card just in time for my trip and set off for Europe.

While in Europe, the card was invaluable. I didn't have to worry about merchants not accepting the brand of card, unlike one of my travel companions who regularly had to use something other than his American Express. I also didn't have to worry that my card wouldn't work with the local payment system. Because the payment terminal held onto the card in order to read the data, it never had to be swiped over and over if the machine couldn't read it either.

When eating out, waiters brought the payment terminal to our table and completed the transaction in front of us. This saved us the worry from thinking that someone might write down our credit card number when they had possession of the card.

The biggest hassle actually was completing the transaction by signing a receipt. While this is standard practice in the U.S. with the magnetic stripe card, the concept of completing a transaction with a PIN is very freeing, and it's much quicker in the long run. Waiting for a receipt to print and sign slowed me down.

Overall though, using the EMV chip card has been really simple and safe. As it expands to the U.S., I'm looking forward to continuing to use the chip technology as my primary way to make credit card payments.

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