Chances are you’ve noticed a transition in the credit card industry from simple magnetic strips to cards with embedded microchips. The cause of this shift? The technology used in the magnetic strips was developed in the 1960s, making it easy for criminals to steal credit card data. The good news: Most credit cards are transitioning to an EMV chip, which makes it much more difficult for a hacker to steal your information. US credit card issuers, though, have been slower to adopt this technology than worldwide issuers, which makes an EMV chip credit card essential for international travelers.
So, it makes sense then that the best EMV chip credit cards will also have features that travelers look for, such as the ability to earn travel rewards for your spending, and no foreign transaction fees. That being said, not all EMV cards have travel in mind. I’ve highlighted two below that offer great introductory offers and great cashback rewards as well.
The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for Best EMV Chip Credit Cards
- Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
Best EMV Chip Credit Card for Premium Travel Rewards
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Best EMV Chip Credit Card for Travel Statement Credits
- Discover it® Cashback Match™
Best EMV Chip Credit Card for Casback Rewards
What is an EMV chip credit card?
An embedded EMV credit card chip establishes two-way, encrypted communications between itself and the card reader. While this process adds to the time it takes you to make a purchase, it also makes your credit card data extremely difficult to intercept at the cash register. And, if your data should be stolen by hackers in some other way, it’s nearly impossible for them to create a duplicate card that includes a uniquely encoded microchip. By comparison, the old credit card magnetic strips are unencrypted and inexpensive, and low-tech machines can read them much like a cassette tape or a floppy disc.
I like to compare the move to EMV chip credit cards to a house that repeatedly has its front door’s lock picked until the owner replaces it with a sturdy deadbolt. What the EMV chip does is prevent the easy cloning of credit cards — this is the credit card industry securing its front door. Nevertheless, nobody in the credit card industry believes that the adoption of EMV chip cards will end credit card fraud all together. If your EMV credit card ends up in the wrong hands, it can still be used by a thief pretending to be you in a store. And, if your credit card number is stolen, a criminal could still use it to make purchases online or over the phone.
If your credit card (or its number) is stolen and fraudulent purchases are made, you are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which caps your personal liability at $50. And in practice, every major card issuer has a $0 liability policy.
The Best EMV Chip Credit Cards
If you travel extensively, then the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ is for you. In fact, this new card was such an immediate hit, that Chase actually ran out of cards for a short time. It offers 3x points for all travel and dining purchases, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points are earned in Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, and you can redeem each point for 1.5 cents’ worth of travel booked through its online travel agency (100,000 points are worth $1,500 toward travel). Alternatively, you can transfer your rewards to loyalty programs for airline miles or hotel points.
Other benefits include a $300 annual statement credit toward travel purchases, and $100 credit toward the Global Entry application fee, and a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you access to 900+ airport lounges. There is a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fee. And, if you spend $4,000 in your first three months from opening an account, you’ll earn 50K bonus points, which you can redeem for $750 toward travel.
Best EMV Chip Credit Card for Travel Statement Credits
If you prefer to earn rewards as statement credits toward travel purchases, rather than airline miles or hotel points, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® could be a better choice. It comes EMV-equipped, and Barclaycard is one of the few major banks that issues cards that are compliant with the Chip and PIN implementation, which is commonly used at unattended kiosks found at train stations, on gas pumps, and at toll booths, making your data a bit more secure. In addition, this card offers customers double miles on all purchases, and each mile is worth one cent as statement credits toward travel purchases. You also receive 5% of your redeemed miles back. There is an $89 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Best EMV Chip Credit Card for Cashback Rewards
When you are looking for cashback rewards, the EMV-equipped Discover it® Cashback Match™ card is a credit card to consider. This card offers 5% cash back up to the quarterly maximum at featured rotating categories of merchants, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Rewards can be redeemed at any time, and for any amount as cash back or statement credits.
Discover is also known for its excellent customer service. Other attractive features include no penalty interest rate, no foreign transaction fees, and an automatic waiver on your first late payment fee.
Why has it taken so long for the EMV system to be adopted?
The EMV smart chip technology dates back to the early 1990s when it was introduced in Europe. (EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa — the three companies that were originally behind its creation.) Although Europe and other parts of the world embraced the new standard early on, the US credit card industry made the decision to forgo EMV smart chips and focus on other types of fraud-prevention methods for the next 20 years.
But after several high-profile data breaches that struck some major American retailers, it became clear that our credit card industry needed to move beyond magnetic strips, and quickly. On October 1, 2016, the industry underwent a so-called “liability shift,” which meant that the cost of a fraudulent transaction would fall on either the retailer or the card issuer, whichever had chosen not to use the latest EMV smart chip-enabled cards or card readers.
This soft deadline, along with the high cost of EMV chip readers and software, resulted in a very slow rollout of smart chip technology at most stores. One year after the liability shift, your chances of finding a working chip card reader at each store you visit are just one in three. And, while most new credit cards issued will include an EMV chip, few card issuers are proactively replacing existing credit cards when they expire.
Having an EMV-equipped card reduces the likelihood that your credit card data will be stolen. And as EMV card readers are primarily used around the world, Americans traveling abroad are sometimes unable to complete transactions using cards without a smart chip. If you are planning on traveling outside of the United States, you should always have at least one EMV-enabled credit card with you.