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Can 5-digit PINs be an issue when travelling abroad?

November 7, 2016
Adèle Manseau
Desjardins Group

Planning a trip abroad? If so, you'll probably be bringing your debit and credit cards, both of which are protected by a 5-digit PIN . Will you be able to withdraw cash from automated tellers or make direct payments? Yes!

Every year, Desjardins members and clients perform more than 1.5 million withdrawals from automated tellers in more than 185 countries. The numbers speak for themselves. 

Up until 2013, the number of digits in your PIN was sometimes an issue because, despite recommendations issued by the Visa network, some financial institutions hadn't made the proper adjustments to their technology. But all the required changes have been made since 2015. Now, PIN range from 4 to 6 digits on the lower end, and can be up to 8 digits in some countries. So, if you have trouble withdrawing cash from an automated teller, the problem is probably not your PIN.

Equipment and circumstances

In some countries, things like equipment configuration can still cause problems for travellers. There may be keypads with numbers only (no letters) or with numbers in the reverse order. Or sometimes the instructions are provided in a language you don't understand. Finally, withdrawals may be restricted due to other constraints put in place for a given period of time, due to government decisions or in response to a specific situation. 

Here is a list of travel tips to make sure you don't end up with empty pockets on your next trip. 

1. Take 2 cards

If one is good, two must be better. Isn't that the conventional wisdom? Pack two different debit cards and two different types of credit cards (e.g. Visa, Mastercard, etc.). That way, if one doesn't work, you still have a back-up. 

2. Find different tactics for remembering your PIN

Since keyboards with no letters can pose a problem, make sure you memorize your PIN using the numbers only. Better safe than sorry! 

3. Bring some local currency with you

No matter where you go, you should always carry some pocket money in the local currency. Inquire before you go, because in some countries American dollars or the Euro are accepted everywhere. Cash comes in handy for small purchases at the market or in small businesses. It can also be useful if the automated teller doesn't work or the bank is closed. 

4. Don't take things for granted

The card payment and withdrawal system generally works very well, but that doesn't mean it operates perfectly everywhere and at all times. If you experience a problem, look for a financial institution that's connected to an international network that accepts your card--like Plus or Cirrus. The network name is indicated on the back of your card. And chances are, trying a different automated teller will do the trick. 

5. Talk to someone at the counter

Can't get the automated teller to work? Go talk to someone in person. All financial institutions affiliated with the Visa network are obligated to provide you with an advance on your credit card if the automated teller won't take your card. This cash can prevent you from running out of funds. But remember that interest charges apply as soon as you take out a cash advance, so you'll want to rectify the situation as soon as possible.