Travelling in the USA 🇺🇸

(Liam) #1

The following is based on own experience with added research and user feedback. It’s purely anecdotal and using the information you find in this guide is at your own risk. Your own mileage may vary!

The one takeaway for this: You are going to have to enable magstripe transactions.

The basics

  • Currency: Dollar
  • ISO 4217 Currency Code: USD
  • Symbol: $.

Card usage

Card acceptance is as high as you would expect in the US. Most stores, even those that are quite small will be happy to take payment in plastic form.

You’d also expect that chip and pin and contactless payments would, by now, be as ubiquitous in the US as in the UK. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, not so much.

Swipe and sign is still by far the primary method of settling card transactions.

Most stores and automated checkouts have all-in-one swipe/chip-and-PIN/contactless terminals fitted, but more than likely you’ll find that only the mag stripe reader is enabled.

Debit and credit cards in the States tend not to be contactless enabled so where contactless payments are accepted it’s likely cashiers will assume payments will only work on Apple/Google Pay. If you wave your card over the terminal and payment is accepted, the cashier will likely assume you are a witch.

Don’t be surprised if some transactions are authorised by swipe-without-signature or chip-without-PIN. It freaked me the hell out, but apparently, this is normal in America.

At some stores, the terminal may ask if you are paying by credit or debit card. You should choose ‘credit’, even if you are using a MasterCard/Visa debit card. Choosing ‘debit’ will attempt to route the payment through a rag-tag bunch of US regional bank payment networks and eventually fail.

If you are paying for petrol, you’ll likely be prompted for your Zip Code - the American five-digit postal code system. If this happens, you can try 99999 or 10001. If that is not accepted, you’ll need to pay in the kiosk.


Chargeable ATMs
Most ATMs in the states will charge you for making a withdrawal. Expect to pay anywhere between $1 and $6, depending on whose machine you are using.

Free ATMs
You may receive fee-free withdrawals from Wells Fargo, TDUSA, Citibank. If you have any more up-to-date info on this, please let me know.


Macy’s You may find Chip and PIN now works here. They were quite proud of this ‘new’ tech in the store I used. Mag Swipe if it doesn’t.
CVS It’s officially a ‘pharmacy’ but looks more like a supermarket. They have automated checkouts, but don’t expect contactless to work.


Updated: 19/11/2018


Pretty sure you can get free withdrawals from the Bank of America due to the Global ATM Alliance!

Edit: turns out only Barclays customers would get this as the alliance is to ensure their own customers have access to free ATM withdrawals abroad (I have excluded the mention of non-UK banks)

(Dotun) #3

Yeah, I have a Barclays account and was excited about this for only 20 seconds. Why? Because there is a still a 2.75% fee for any conversion of currency.

You’re just able to avoid £1.50 charge on TOP of the 2.75% fee if you use a BoA ATM in the US.

Worst case - 2.75% + £1.50 + ATM fee if using a Barclays card abroad in a non-BoA ATM.

So you’re better off with Starling and the ATM fee (if you can’t find any free ones).


If this extends to the cards with free foreign transactions then nah, that’s a pretty good deal. Also it still beats out Monzo’s 3% and at the very least it’s worth taking as a backup card as its a visa (incase mastercard dies)

(Dotun) #5

Starling + ATM Fee is better than Barclays’ 2.75% + £1.50 + ATM fee when using a non-BoA.

Starling + ATM fee vs. Barclays Alliance with BoA? Fair enough, but it all depends on the ATM fee you get with the Starling card. Remember, you’ll still get charged 2.75% with a Barclays Alliance ATM.

Starling + Free ATM though, is the best scenario.


I meant you should take one with you as a backup incase mastercard is down!