This is a wiki crowdsourced by the Monzo Community to help you travel with Monzo.
Just like Wikipedia, anyone can edit it to help out others. If you have any tips or feedback for visiting the USA with Monzo, please feel free to edit this guide. You can also add a comment or question below — someone will then incorporate your comment into the main text below and then delete your comment. To create your own “Monzo in …” guide if one doesn’t already exist, just copy this template into a new post and write away!
The United States uses the US Dollar ($ - USD).
Monzo users pay the Mastercard exchange rate with no added fees.
It is common in America to authorise a payment without a tip and then authorise the full amount later. Only the latter authorisation will actually settle but it can take up to 7 days for the first authorisation to clear and be “refunded”.
Many stores believe contactless is only for mobile payments, as they’ve never seen a contactless card. Contactless often is magstripe emulation mode (not EMV mode), which may not work reliably but should work with the most recent cards. And as a bonus you get to see the surprised reaction on the face of the shop assistant who would have never seen a plastic card used in that way. A lot of people in shops/bars were hesitant about contactless though, some even refused to use it and asked me to swipe instead. Generally, merchant education helps greatly with this, but don’t be surprised if you get frequent declines. Some enabled contactless readers don’t work at all. WalMart has enabled theirs but has them programmed to act as if nothing has happened. Due to a history of disputes with the networks along with cultural factors, whilst most terminals support contactless, many do not have it enabled. This is changing, however, as Apple Pay becomes more popular and more and more US banks issue contactless cards.
If you get prompted ‘credit or debit’ for a magnetic stripe transaction, always select ‘credit’ - this refers to the Mastercard network in the case of Monzo. Under the Durbin Amendment, all US debit cards support multiple competing networks. Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express are known as the ‘credit’ networks, even for debit.
While the terminal should never give this prompt for a chip transaction (it will see the card only has one supported AID), if a cashier asks it for a chip terminal facing them, say ‘debit’. To many people in the US, ‘debit’ is synonymous with PIN (since the competing debit networks mentioned above require PINs even for magstripe, and it’s very rare for a bank to require PIN for Visa/Mastercard/Amex/Discover in the US). If you say ‘credit’ for a chip transaction, generally it means they’ll attempt to bypass the PIN entry by pressing enter - which is likely to result in a decline on many UK cards (including Monzo). At some shops, however, staff are trained to bypass the PIN as a matter of course to “speed things up”, also leading to possible declines.
Similarly, do not be surprised if PIN is not used for a chip transaction. Many terminals, even ones technically completely capable of supporting PIN, have PIN support disabled. This is especially common in restaurants, as it allows them to take cards away from you to process. Even at restaurants where you pay at the front, many processors disable PIN support on all terminals going to restaurants. Some large chains, for example Target, also disable PIN support below a certain amount.
Many ATMs in the US are magstripe ATMs. In order to withdraw money from them, you’ll need to turn on the ability to withdraw cash from magstripe ATMs from Settings.
Most ATMs charge to withdraw cash (approximately $3 but can be up to $6). Generally speaking, credit union ATMs will charge on the lower end of that (and of the few surcharge-free ATMs out there, the vast majority are operated by credit unions). Another person says “the best I found were the Allpoint ATMs that are located in McDonalds or Western Union that only charged $1.19 a time”.
If you are in Philadelphia, DC, or Florida area, Wawa has no-fee ATMs.
Also in Philadelphia, “ATMs” are still called MAC machines. Some older people will give you a confused look if you ask where the closest “ATM” is.
Payment and withdrawal limits
All Monzo cards have some payment and withdrawal limits. To check yours before you leave, go to your Profile section of the app and tap on Limits.
Crowdsourced merchant data
The Monzo merchant data is often incorrect (eg. the map shows the wrong location or the name of the place is not correct). Please submit improvements to this data so it can get better for future visitors. It is more difficult for Monzo to automatically get the address of a merchant right because US postcodes are much larger and the initial authorisation message from MasterCard only includes a postcode.
The MTA kiosks in New York don’t accept most international cards (but you may have luck if you select credit and enter a zip code of 00000.) However, stations with OMNY readers installed do accept international cards if you tap your contactless card or mobile pay at the faregate.
Similarly, the Port Authority machines for buying/topping up the ConnectCard in Pittsburgh don’t seem to accept foreign cards for payment.
MARTA in Atlanta also will not accept Monzo (June 2018).
Trying to figure out public transit in Philly comes with its own special set of rules, good luck:
- SEPTA in Philadelphia does not accept international cards, for both kiosks and ticket offices.
- The kiosks at the airport only sell one-way tickets. You need to go into the city to purchase a transit card.
- Philly’s transit card is a SEPTA-branded mastercard, but despite the mastercard logo it cannot be used as an actual mastercard by default. @melody does not recommend activating the mastercard features, because it comes with hefty fees (like $5 monthly fee, $3-5 to load money, etc)
- SEPTA’s contactless readers accepts ONLY SEPTA-branded mastercards (despite the various payment network logos).
- Any “quick trip” ticket purchased at a rail station cannot be used on busses, and vice versa.
- If you travel to New Jersey on regional rail, you’ll need a paper ticket. There are no readers to tap on/off at Trenton or West Trenton.
Signature verification is most common, ensure the signature strip is signed so merchants may compare the signature on the back of the card. The signature strip is most easily signed whist the card is new. Otherwise a fine point permanent pen works well.
Many stores will attempt to ask for ID, however it is a violation of MasterCard’s rules to mandate ID.
“A Merchant may request but must not require a Cardholder to provide additional identification information as a condition of Card acceptance, unless such information is required to complete the Transaction, such as for shipping purposes, or the Standards specifically permit or require such information to be collected.”
You may have to authorise fuel first before you fill up. Practices vary widely, and can range from ‘pump and pay’ to ‘go in and ask for the pump to be turned on’ to ‘select an authorisation amount’. If you authorise $20 on your card then fill up and the pump stops at $17.50 (fuel is really cheap over there!) then $37.50 might come off your card. If this happens, the initial $20 authorisation will fall off your card but it takes a good few days, which isn’t useful whilst on holiday. If you pay $20 cash before you fill up, then you just need to go back in to the shop to collect your $2.50 change, no hassle.
If you use pay-at-the-pump, the authorisation amount will vary from $1 to $150. You won’t be able to select this, though it may be printed on the pump. You may or may not be able to pump more fuel than was authorised. Pay-at-the-pump is usually magnetic stripe based, and foreign cards may reject or may prompt for ZIP code (US postcode). If you get a ZIP code prompt, the numbers from your postcode followed by zeros to pad to five digits may work (though this could be coincidence) if that doesn’t work, try entering 99999 which can work. If this still doesn’t work, then the terminal will probably prompt you to see the Cashier, where you can do a normal card transaction and the pump will be authorised to the amount you specified.
Some merchants in the US don’t have terminals that will accept Monzo. Circle K is one of these, they will simply say after it being declined that they don’t support the bank.
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