THE ZIPCODE PROBLEM: USA PAY AT THE PUMP WITH A UK CREDIT CARD

posted in: Travel | 9

One thing you can’t get away from whilst road tripping in the USA is the need to buy fuel.

Virtually all gas stations in the United States have what in the UK we call ‘pay at the pump’. If you don’t use pay at the pump, you must pre-pay inside with either cash or credit card – there is no option here to fill up first and pay afterwards. If you are paying inside and don’t know how much fuel you want (i.e. you are going to fill the tank) then you either have to leave your credit card inside with cashier whilst you fill up, or get more authorised on your card than you will need and have the remainder refunded when you’re done.

How to Pay for Fuel in the USA with a British Credit Card

Using pay at the pump in the USA with a UK credit card. Still from the Drift.

80% of time when you swipe your credit card at the pump you get asked to enter your zip code, which is the US version of our postcode and always 5 digits long (no letters). The remaining 20% of the time you don’t get asked for a zip code and can pump away. Everything I have read about how to pay for gas (petrol) in the USA with a British credit card says that if you’re asked to enter a zip code you need to go and pay inside instead. Entering 90210 or 00000 doesn’t work – I’ve tried. However, I’ve found an alternative:

To pay for fuel at the gas pump in the USA with a British credit card, when asked for the zip code enter the digits from your postcode, ignoring the letters, and then enter zeros (0) to fill the remaining digits until you have 5 digits in total. For example, if your postcode in the UK is NG29 1JX enter 29100; if your postcode in the UK is W1 1AA enter 11000.

How to Pay for Fuel in the USA with a British Credit Card

LincsGeek filling up with gas. Still from the Drift.

This works with my Visa credit card issued by a British bank, and I’ve used it successfully in Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. I understand that in the next couple of years most gas stations will be switching over to the chip-and-PIN method that we’re familiar with in Europe, but until then hopefully this will help.

How to Pay for Fuel in the USA with a British Credit Card

We are using the “plus” petrol hoping our bikes are happy with that. Still from the Drift.

Incidentally, on a related note, some chip and PIN machines have been rolled out to stores and restaurants but generally the cashiers have no idea how to use anything but the swipe part of it (there are some exceptions), so if the machine recognises you have a chip card and wants to use that instead of the magnetic strip you might have to show the cashier how to do it.

Comment below to let me know if it works for you.

9 Responses

  1. I found entering the three numbers of my postcode followed by the first two again worked sometimes.
    You’re right about cashiers not knowing how to use the chip- and swiping a card with a chip usually doesn’t work making it appear as if your card isn’t valid.

    • The Americans seem anti chip and pin. Walmart definitely knows how to use them, but most other places use swipe even if they have the chip and pin machine.

  2. I’m so glad you found a way to do this. Having to get off your bike and go inside — twice — is a pain. I always use my credit-card at the pump now to avoid that.

    For context, in the past, pumps here never asked for your zip code — and didn’t require you to pre-pay. It was only in the last decade that they added those requirements for security. Too many people were pumping and leaving without paying. I love when I go to a rural area and they have old pumps still working on the honor system. It’s like going back in time.

    • Yes it was a handy find, for sure.

      Ha ha “going back in time” that’s funny – most pumps here are on the honour system; pump the fuel, then go in and pay. Only some supermarkets have pay at the pump here when you bung in your credit card first.

      • Of course they almost all have camera systems with number plate recognition too. However, I think most of them are front facing, so wouldn’t work on a bike!

      • They do… I wouldn’t dream of leaving without paying, but I think it would be pretty easy to catch me if I did!

  3. Ooh this is so useful – going to need this info for an upcoming driving trip I’ve got in September through California and Nevada, so fuel shall be needed!
    One thing I was curious about though was pre-paid Travel Money Cards – I’ve read about all the benefits they offer for shopping, eating out etc. but they can cause issues at petrol pumps where they’re not wildly accepted…? Can anyone shed any light on this please before I get one?

    Thanks!

    • Glad you found this useful. I’ve no idea about prepay cards but would assume that if you get a PIN with them and they are registered to your home address then they should work the same. Worth checking with the card provider though for sure.
      Have an awesome trip!

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