Thursday, August 20, 2015

Using an American Debit card in England

If you plan on using an American visa debit card, when you travel in the UK, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind.

Anyone here in the States will know, that it's only extremely recent (this year), that most people received a new debit card from their bank with a chip in it. Target has put in a whole new payment system in their stores, and they are asking people to use their "chip", it's so new here in the States, that my mom had no clue what they were talking about yesterday. when we were out shopping.

Chip? What? Put it where?

Anyway, in the UK, they have been using chipped cards since the beginning of time (give or take a few years!), when Americans traveled to the England before, it was all about stores having to "swipe" our cards for us.

However, things haven't gotten easier. Not for cards that aren't registered in the UK, and since my card is registered in the United States, I came across a few issues. They weren't huge, and they are manageable, but be prepared.

Here are some things to keep in mind.
  • You MUST have the back of your debit card signed. I know many people that don't sign the back of their credit and debit cards here in the States. This way. the stores are forced to ask for ID, after all, no one can forge your name if it's not there! That's not acceptable in England, if you plan on using your Debit card. Make sure the back is signed, before you shop! Mine was faint, and I caught grief for that, so I used a thin sharpie to re-sign my card.
  • You will need ID when you use your American card in the stores. Not only will they check the back of your card for a signature, wherever you shop may ask for ID. I only travel with my passport when I'm overseas. I haven't rented a car abroad yet, so I don't travel with my drivers license. Also, when I travel, I keep my passport locked up so that I don't lose it when I'm out and about. A manager was called when I went to Morrison's that approved my signature, but I was actually turned away by a manager in Matalan. How embarrassing. I had to leave the store and go to an ATM to get cash, and then return to the store. Also keep in mind, you will most likely be charged a foreign transaction fee, every time you use your debit card.
  • You won't be able to use your American registered card online. I did some house sitting when we were in the UK this past summer, I didn't know the area very well, so I decided to have our groceries delivered. It's a wonderful service offered in England. However, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Iceland and Asda do not take cards, unless they are registered in the UK. Even Matalan wouldn't accept my card online. HOWEVER... Places like Madame Tussaud's, Tower Bridge and The London Eye, will take your card! And you will save money by booking online.
  • Some places won't take your card at all! When flying Ryanair, they wouldn't take my card in flight and when we were in Corby and wanted to stop by McDonald's for a cold drink, (We don't actually eat their food), they wouldn't take my card either.
  • You will always be asked to sign your receipt. When people use their debit cards in the UK, they put their card with chip, into the payment machine, put in a PIN number and that's how they pay. Here in the States, we swipe our cards and then sign electronically or we swipe our cards and use a pin. Since there is no signature used in the UK, and they won't accept your PIN used in the States, they must print out a copy for you to sign. There lies the reason some businesses won't take your card, if they can't have you sign it, they can't accept it.
  • Some ATM's will not accept or recognize your card. But have no fear... All major banks, and they are everywhere... will take your debit card, and will give you cash. I suggest taking out 50 to 100 Pounds at a time, as you will be charged a fee by your bank, the foreign bank, and a possible foreign transaction fee as well.
Here is a typical credit and debit card machine, with electronic signature, in the United States.
Here is a typical credit and debit card machine located across the UK. No signature screen, only an amount due screen.
I want to stress that this blog posting is for debit cards only, I paid cash for our entire trip to the UK, minus 45 pounds that I put on a credit card at the airport. So I can't speak from experience when using Credit cards, as I only bring one on vacation for emergencies.

Of course when anyone travels abroad, they want to have the best experience possible, that's why I am writing this post. When traveling to any part of the UK from the United States, make sure you have picture ID on you at all times, and also... Keep some local currency on you. 

The weekend is fast approaching, I hope you have a great one!
Tammy x


  1. When chip and pin cards came about in the UK they were blocked for use abroad too, just as a fraud prevention measure. If you rang up your bank and told them you were travelling abroad they would unblock it so that it could be used. It may be worth checking if it's the same in the US. I used to work for a bank so I would take calls from people asking for their card to be unblocked for use abroad, but I left in 2010 and I haven't travelled abroad myself since before then so I'm not sure if it's the same here now or not.

    1. I have to call my bank before even traveling to another State in the United States, if I don't, my bank is allerted and my card is blocked, with "suspicious activity" until I call and let my bank know it was me that made the purchases. My bank knew I'd be in several States as well as England and Ireland. The chip isn't even in most of our cards here in the States. But if a card isn't registered in the UK with a UK address, you have to sign! Hopefully this all changes soon!

  2. The dilemma of how to pay when we travel is something we still haven't figured out, even after two years of traveling to a new country every other month! We don't have any credit cards and I'm unwilling to pay the foreign transaction fees for using our debit card abroad, so we typically just pay for everything in cash! Luckily, the big stuff like hotel accommodations and airfare is always paid for in advance with our debit, but still, carrying enough cash for food and entertainment for 3-5 days is scary!

  3. This is really an interesting post, as it's not something that I ever had to really worry about. We have always just used my US bank card in the US, and when I was still in an LDR we would just use my other half's card in the UK. Though I have used my US debit card in the UK in the past without any issues (years ago). Another thing to consider when helping my family plan their trip out to England.

    Also, I had no idea that they were introducing chip and pin cards in the US. Hope that works out, and maybe makes it easier for people who travel to use their card anywhere.


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