How to Pay for Fuel in the USA

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.

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