Old May 1, 12, 2:16 pm
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 1
Chip-and-signature in France... one trick

I don't have a chip-and-anything card, and on my last trip to France, I found myself teaching people how to do swipe-and-sign. (Chip-and-PIN has been the rule in France since 1992, so now there's an entire generation of young retail clerks who have grown up never knowing of the existence of swipe-and-sign cards).

One of my colleagues had a Citi chip-and-sign card, and so she inserted it into the slot and it asked for a PIN, as usual.

I speak French fluently, and so I was able to explain.

"C'est comme les cartes pour les handicapés," I explained, "mais aux States tous les cartes à puces sont comme ça." It's like cards for the disabled (by European law, chip-and-sign must be provided for the disabled who can't enter a PIN—for example, people who have had strokes may not be able to enter a PIN), except that in the States all chipped cards are like that.

"Ah," he said, "saisissez quatre zéros alors."

My colleague typed in four zeroes and the receipt printed. He fetched a pen, she signed the ticket, her copy printed as normal, and we were off to the races.

It turned out to be good advice; in most places that did what I assume is offline verification, four zeroes worked beautifully. We were able to buy train tickets at the automatic ticket machines in both Paris and Lyon, we were able to rent bicycles at Vélo'V (the Lyon equivalent of Vélib'), and we were able to pay for tolls at the tollbooths on the A13.

The only issue we had was at a gas station in Meaux, where the reader refused the card. When I asked inside (fortunately it was open and not just a station-robot), they said the gasoline/petrol machines took that sort of card but not the gasoil (diesel) machines. What??

I'm still planning on applying for the Andrews FCU card before our next trip. What a pain in the behind.

For those who don't have a chip-and-PIN card or chip-and-signature card, all I can offer you is to bring identification, print out the following explanation in French, hand it over, and hope for the best.

Je regrette, mais les cartes de crédit américaines n'ont toujours pas de puce. Il faut passer la bande magnétique par la fente d'à côté (ou en haut). La machine imprimera un ticket, et il faut que je le signe. Je suis prêt(e) à vous prouver mon identité.

I'm sorry, but American cards still don't have a chip. You need to swipe the magnetic stripe through the slot on the side (or on the top). The machine will print a ticket, and I need to sign it. I can prove my identity to you.
I hope this helps while we wait to join the twenty-first century.
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