Using my Barclaycard Arrival+ PIN in Italy

If you're a citizen of the United States, the Barclaycard Arrival+ card is likely the only "chip and PIN" card you carry. These cards are popular outside of the United States, but for economic and historical reasons they have not and, in my only-slightly-educated opinion, likely will never dominate the credit card market in the United States: plans by several issuers to issue chip and PIN cards have already fallen through; merchants have no interest in buying new equipment; and Americans just don't travel internationally very much!

But Barclaycard issues one, and it happens to be a card lucrative enough (because of the 10% points rebate on travel redemptions) that many travel hackers carry it.

Set your PIN online

One thing I didn't realize until I received my chip and PIN card is that the PIN is not hard-coded onto the chip. My understanding was that US-based issuers were resistant to adopting chip and PIN technology because their customers would be frustrated if they had to memorize a different PIN for each card. But with Barclaycard, you can set your PIN to the same number you use for all your other cards (and your phone, and your bank accounts, and your home security system...), and you can do it online.

Just go to "Account settings" in your online account and look for "Manage your PIN:"

Use your PIN at unattended kiosks

I used my PIN exactly twice in Italy: buying a train ticket from Milan's Malpensa airport into town, and buying a train ticket from Rome's Termini train station to Fiumicino airport. Both times were at unattended kiosks: I inserted my card, left it in the slot until prompted for my PIN, entered my PIN, then withdrew my card when prompted.

I had read a few posts around the blogosphere suggesting that the first time a card is used abroad, the cardholder has to sign the purchase in order to "activate" the card's PIN. That's completely incorrect: the first purchase I made on arrival in Milan was a PIN transaction at an unattended train station kiosk.

Sign everywhere else

I was surprised to find that every other merchant we visited in Italy had signature-compatible terminals. Some of the merchants themselves seemed surprised when the receipt printed with a blank space for my "firma," but we had no issues with acceptance.

This won't be true everywhere: I've visited Russian grocery stores that flatly refused to process signature transactions, so you still shouldn't travel abroad relying completely on your credit cards.

Bonus: Bluebird is still awesome for foreign ATM withdrawals

I mentioned this once before during a trip to the Czech Republic, but Bluebird is still a slam dunk for ATM withdrawals while traveling abroad.

I withdrew 200 euros twice at ATM's, and the total charges to my Bluebird account were $240.48 and $238.98, including all ATM fees. That gives exchange rates of 1.202 and 1.195 euro per US dollar, both within 2% of the financial market rates on the days in question (according to

It's hard for consumers to exchange currency at the prevailing market rates, and ATM fees can add substantially to currency exchange costs, while Bluebird offers exchange rates very close to market rates, along with flat international ATM fees. Unfortunately, not all ATM's are configured to process American Express withdrawals, so it may take some trial and error to find ATM's you can use your Bluebird card at (my card was rejected at one of the ATM's I tried).