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!


I’m going to the US in a few weeks time and my intention is to use my Starling card for as many transactions as I possibly can.

I’ve read through the thread and so I understand about making sure if I’m asked credit or debit, to say credit (I’ve had to do this anyway in South Africa using a WeSwap Mastercard).

I’ve previously used my Starling debit card in Dubai with no problems, both at the hotel I stayed at and at the airport and the transactions were done in Dirhams and the conversion done at the Mastercard rate. My question is in respect of my forthcoming visit to the US, will the stores process my purchases in USD automatically? or am I likely to face being asked whether I want the purchases processed in GBP? like what apparently happens in Europe if you don’t specify which currency, only for the merchant to ignore your preference so you get ripped off. All my previous visits to the US I’ve only ever paid in cash for everything.

Advice appreciated.

(Richard Müller) #8

Mastercard Canada suggest that non-US cardholders use the numbers from the postcode of the cardholders address followed by padding zeros, so if your postcode HP24 1AA use 241000


I’ve used my Starling cards extensively in the US.

The transaction will always be in USD with no reference to GBP but you will be asked if credit or debit. Always state credit otherwise it will be declined.

ApplePay isn’t as widespread as it it here in the UK, but it’ll still work if you do come across it.

You can use your card exactly the same way as you do at home with full confidence that you’re not being ripped off.

Enjoy your trip!


Thank you for taking the time to clarify that. It was pretty much as I thought, but it is good to get the info from someone who has experience of using the card across the Pond. :+1:

I’ll also be taking my Amex card, but that will just be used to pay for the car hire and as an emergency back up if I need it to pay for stuff.

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Out of interest, what’s the Amex acceptance like in America? I’d assume it was pretty much the same as MC and Visa given the name of it! But could be wrong.

Pretty much all car hire places in Europe refuse Amex from my experience!


Yeah Amex acceptance in the US is pretty good. I belive their interchange fees are actually lower than Visa for many merchants, so there’s no reason not to accept them.

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I get a lot of Starling declines in America, the card doesn’t like being swiped. Sometimes you will also get a ‘declined’ notification on your phone when using Apple Pay & contactless, which is really frustrating.

Many POS terminals have an ‘enter card’ option, where you can type in all the card details - this works a treat with Starling.


Europe will never see my Amex card on account of the fact I’m never going to bother spending my hard earned cash across the channel ever again. It’s the US/Caribbean for me these days.

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Out of interest, is this using the Teal card or the original purple card?

I didn’t get any declines at all in Dubai and that was using my old purple card.


It’s a teal card.


Ok thanks. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

If needs be, I’ll just take out cash from Wells Fargo, there’s a branch just a couple of blocks away from the hotel I’m staying at. I’m taking some cash anyway, but no where near enough for what I plan on spending!


And is this due to low AMEX acceptance rates or something else?

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( #19

I wanted to know too, but it scared me so I chose not to ask… Just incase… You know… The current climate…



It was pretty sunny today.