EMV chips: What are they?

They encrypt your data so it’s more difficult to steal.

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You might be curious about EMV chips after seeing one on your credit or debit card. They’re widespread for one reason in particular — they help keep your data more secure.

What are EMV chips?

EMV chips are the square-shaped computer chips you see embedded in credit and debit cards. Their purpose is to encrypt your bank information, making it more difficult for fraudsters to steal it. Credit cards with this technology are known as chip cards.

How do you use a chip card? Simple. Just insert — or “dip” — it into a payment terminal and leave it there until the purchase is complete. On the backend, the card’s EMV chip generates a one-time transaction code to verify your bank details, valid only for that purchase.

What does EMV stand for?

EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa, which are the companies that jointly developed chip-card technology.

Are cards with EMV chips more secure?

So, what’s the big advantage EMV chips have over magnetic stripes?

  • The main problem with magnetic-stripe cards is the data they store is static — it never changes. That means fraudsters can copy the data relatively easily. One way they do this is by installing “skimmers” into credit card machines to read your card information.
  • An EMV chip addresses this problem by creating a unique, encrypted transaction code each time you dip your card. It’s verified by your card issuer before the purchase is complete. Because the data changes each time the card is used, it’s much more difficult for criminals to steal your card information.

While credit cards still come with magnetic stripes, it’s best to use chip transactions whenever possible.

“Card present” vs. “Card not present” transactions

When you physically use your card at a payment terminal, you’re using a card-present transaction.

When you use your card without dipping it into a payment terminal — say, when you make purchases online or over the phone — you’re using a card-not-present (CNP) transaction.

EMV chips can stop many instances of fraud, but they offer no protection for CNP transactions. That said, take extra steps to ensure your account security when making these purchases. If you’re shopping online, for example, you may want to pre-enroll in services that offer one-time passwords.

Does my credit card have an EMV chip?

If you had a magstripe-only card, chances are your provider re-issued a card to you with a chip inside. If not, strongly consider calling your provider and asking for a chip card.

These days, major card providers issue most of their credit cards with EMV chips. This technology is standard in the United States now, as it has been around the world for some time.

Chip cards and contactless payments

EMV Chip
Some chip cards come with contactless payments using near field communication (NFC). If your card has this feature, look for this symbol above payment terminals:

To make a contactless payment, just take your card and hold it above the symbol. Typically, you can make transactions from $30 up to $100 without a PIN or signature, depending on your card issuer’s rules.

Chip-and-signature vs. chip-and-PIN cards

You may have heard of these terms in the context of travel. In the United States, we often use our chip cards and provide a signature for verification — hence the term chip and signature.

However, in many parts of the world, chip and PIN is standard — meaning the card user verifies the transaction with a personal identification number.

Most cards issued in the US are chip-and-signature. While this may have been an issue in the past for Americans traveling internationally, it’s not as much of a problem anymore. Many international merchants have the ability to accept chip-and-signature cards. And these cards are now likely to work at unmanned kiosks, even without PINs.

Can I get a chip-and-PIN card?

Some card issuers, such as Barclays, will assign a PIN to your card when you open your account. With other providers, you may need to call in and request a PIN.

If you’re not sure whether your card has a PIN, simply call your provider and ask.

Keep in mind that even if a PIN is assigned to your account, your card’s primary verification method might still be a signature. You may get the chance to use your PIN only at unmanned kiosks.

Compare cards with EMV chips

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Citi Rewards+℠ Card
Earn 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 24.99% variable)
$0
The only credit card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
1.5% cash back on all purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 15.49%, 21.49% or 25.49% variable)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
Citi Simplicity® Card
N/A
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 16.24% to 26.24% variable)
$0
Enjoy one of the longest intro APRs on balance transfers, no late fees, no penalty rate and no annual fee.
CardMatch™ from creditcards.com
See terms
See issuer's website
See terms
Can't decide on a card? Get personalized credit card offers with CardMatch™.
Citi® Secured Mastercard®
N/A
23.99% variable
$0
A no annual fee secured card for people who are new to credit or have limited credit history with a fair to average credit score.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

EMV chips make in-person transactions more secure. If your credit or debit card doesn’t have one, call your provider.

Chip cards are standard nowadays, and you’ll find many excellent credit cards with the feature.

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