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I'll be soon moving to USA from India and I've decided not to get a credit card. Instead, I'll own a debit card.

The thing is that in India, we do not often use cards and being honest, I've never swiped my debit card (or any card) in the machine. So, I'm not sure if my debit card would work in the swipe machine because in most of the movies/media, it is kind of reflected that those swipe machine works with credit card only.

I'm just not sure. Also, if debit card indeed work with swipe machine, then I'd be glad if you can tell me how do I go about using them (swiping, then what?). My question sounds dumb but honestly, I haven't used them ever and neither any person around me. So, that's it. :)

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    Who has issued the Indian Debit Card [Master/Visa? or RuPay] Is it Chip and PIN based card? – Dheer Mar 10 '17 at 10:28
  • Does your card have a magnetic strip on the back? – Ben Miller Mar 10 '17 at 14:44
  • For what it's worth, my Visa credit card was upgraded to a chip more than a year ago, while my Visa debit card is still only a magnetic strip (i.e. still swiped). If that's indicative of debit cards at large, then they're actually used in swipe machines more often than credit cards (which are now chip-read-only if the vendor supports chip reading). – JBC Mar 10 '17 at 16:28
  • What do you mean by "the swipe machine"? Just any place that accepts cards? – BrenBarn Mar 10 '17 at 20:10
  • @BrenBarn Yep. Like you see them in stores, payment places, etc – Anoneemus Mar 11 '17 at 5:44
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Debit cards with the Visa or Mastercard symbol on them work technically everywhere where credit cards work.

There are some limitations where the respective business does not accept them, for example car rentals want a credit card for potential extra charges; but most of the time, for day-to-day shopping and dining, debit cards work fine.

However, you should read up the potential risks. A credit card gives you some security by buffering incorrect/fraudulent charges from your account, and credit card companies also help you reverse incorrect charges, before you ever have to pay for it. If you use a debit card, it is your money on the line immediately - any incorrect charge, even accidential, takes your money from your account, and it is gone while you work on reversing the charge. Any theft, and your account can be cleaned out, and you will be without money while you go after the thief.
Many people consider the debit card risk too high, and don't use them for this reason. However, many people do use them - it is up to you.

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I recommend that you first try to use your card at a store in your home country, just to make sure that the point-of-sale features are enabled.

After you've verified that, you need to contact your bank and ask them if the card will work in both ATMs and in stores in the U.S. They may need to enable it to work in another country.

If you are going to be living in the U.S. for a while, you should consider opening an American bank account after you get there. If you don't want a credit card, you should be able to get a debit card here.

  • Hey, thanks for your opinions. Can you advice me whether I should get an US account or live with Indian (which charges 3.5% for intl transactions)? – Anoneemus Mar 11 '17 at 18:10
  • @Anoneemus How long will you be in the U.S.? Will you be working while you are here? – Ben Miller Mar 12 '17 at 12:26
  • I'll be in the US for next four years, and probably later too, but can't say for sure. I'll be attending a college, and will, of course, be on an F1 visa. – Anoneemus Mar 12 '17 at 18:03
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Whether your card will work, I believe, depends on the institution that issued it. You'll just have to try.

What I can tell you, is that the process of using a debit card or credit card in the US is fairly straight forward.

If your card has a chip, you'll 'insert' your card, chip end first, into the bottom slot of the reader, assuming the reader has one. This technology is still being distributed / accepted, so you may encounter some areas where they don't have this, or they have an insert or sign that says something along the lines of 'No chip reader / swipe instead'.

If your card doesn't have a chip, which looks like the bottom end of a cellular phone's SIM card, you just swipe your card in the reader. There will / may be on-screen prompts, which will explain any additional input necessary from you.

Depending on how they 'process' your card - As a debit card or credit card (They can 'process' a debit card as if it's a standard credit card), you may or may not be asked to enter your debit card's PIN. If they process it as debit, you'll have to enter your PIN. If they process it as if it were a credit card, it will still go through but you'll be asked to sign the receipt.

IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO NOTE: You need to find out whether your card issuer will charge you foreign transaction fees when you use your Indian debit card in the US.

Is the card carrying a different currency than the US?

  • Yep, I'll be charged 3.5% (bank takes it, which is an Indian Bank). BTW, what do you suggest, should I get an american bank account considering the fact that I'll be definitely living in the US for next 4 years (college) and probably later too? – Anoneemus Mar 11 '17 at 18:06
  • Yes, I think you should get an american bank account. Find one that doesn't have a minimum balance requirement or a fee for not meeting a minimum balance, decline what they call 'overdraft' protection or an 'overdraft line of credit' (This is when they will let you charge money you don't have in the account, at a ~$40 fee per transaction, it's a crazy fee). – schizoid04 Mar 11 '17 at 18:35
  • If you're planning on being out here for a while, you need a way to manage money without constantly having a 3.5% fee whittling away everything you do. You need a way to pay and be paid, and opening a bank account is probably the easiest way to do so, in my opinion. From here, you could choose to open a credit card or do any number of other things, but I'd say the important thing is going to be getting a manageable amount of your money into a local account. – schizoid04 Mar 11 '17 at 18:37
  • @schizold04 You suggest I should get an US bank account in order to save 3.5% charges, but what about the first time, when I'll send money from my indian bank account to american? Won't it be already have 3.5% charge? Or is there any other way to send money that won't take up 3.5%? How about wire transaction? – Anoneemus Mar 12 '17 at 6:42
  • The point of the US bank account is so that you may deposit money without suffering the currency exchange fee, which you would then experience again any time you withdrew money. You may experience this fee once when you put money in your US bank account, but you'll be able to make deposits into your US account without fees. And over 4 years in school, you'll likely have something to deposit at some point. I recommend only moving 'small' amounts to your US account, incrementally, so you don't pay a fee on the whole amount until you need it. – schizoid04 Mar 13 '17 at 4:50
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You can use the debit card for practically any purchase that you make. You'll have to take the usual precautions and then a few additional ones.

  1. While checking out at the bill counter, get the bill/receipt/invoice and please check the bill for accuracy and correctness while you give your card for a swipe.
  2. Once the swipe is done, check the amount before you enter the PIN in the swiping machine. Ensure no one is snooping on you while you enter the PIN.
  3. Once the transaction is authorised, the cashier will return the card along with charge slip. You may get an SMS with the transaction details. Do not forget to take back your card. Other precautions:
    • Do not share PIN with anyone.
    • Ensure sufficient funds are available for the transaction before swiping.
    • Never give the debit card to anyone
    • While swiping, ensure the card is always in your sight
    • For online shopping and payments, ensure the payments mechanism is done over a secure website and the transaction details are encrypted. You can find most payment services display the security certifications and features.
    • In the US, be careful with online subscriptions, read the terms and conditions carefully before entering the details. Else you may end up paying recurring expenditure without your concurrence.
    • Please check the monthly statement and ensure the transactions and charges are genuine.

Cards make your life really easy and convenient with some basic precautions. All the best for your travel and stay in the USA. My two cents.

  • Actually, the "never give the debit card to anyone" includes the shop assistant. If possible, swipe it through their machine yourself. – Andrew Leach Mar 10 '17 at 12:54

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