A Lesson on Credit Cards

Have you ever been so thoroughly shamed and embarrassed by something as simple as operating a gas pump that your shame has lasted days? It’s not like we are novices when it comes to point of sale machines, but we were so thoroughly defeated I felt like we were playing a different game all together. We have a modicum of experience buying things in foreign countries between the two of us (Bella has been to over 100 countries!) but the gas pumps in Iceland were simply beyond our abilities to operate. We tried Visa cards, MasterCards, American Express, and I even have a Visa from a prominent Canadian bank; all of which we use regularly with and without the PIN. We figured we were properly armed to venture off into the northern reaches of Iceland, far from the metropolis of Reykjavik. Little did we know what embarrassment awaited us.

We rented this awesome sleeper van so we could take advantage of the extended daylight hours (we later learned just HOW extended) and the multitude of locations in which we could simply pull off the side of the road to rest and recharge. I paid with my Amex without any trouble at all.

The first time we stopped on our way to the city of Vik, the tank was at 3/4s full so I tried to fill it up at an automated pump. It didn’t take Amex so I tried my visa and after I entered the PIN it just cycled back to the starting point. Strange. I tried the Canadian card and that time it told me I had the wrong PIN! Impossible. Bella’s turn was equally unsuccessful. So we drove across the street to the N1 gas station with a convenience store attached. Those pumps didn’t work either so the cashier sold me a 3000 Icelandic Krona prepaid card. I used the Visa to pay for that. Of course the pump took it the card with it’s name on it.

We had dinner in Höfn and I couldn’t sleep so I drove another hour or so, stopping for the “night” just around midnight. We woke around 3:30 AM to this view. Not really very dark and not able to sleep anymore we continued our journey.

3:19 AM

We tried to fuel up a couple of times around 5:00 AM to no avail. Since the tank wasn’t empty we decided to push on to the town of Reykjahlíð. We arrived at the local N1 around 7:30 on Sunday and failed again to get the pumps to work. The convenience store portion opened at 9:00 a.m. so we took the opportunity to sleep in the parking lot.

I don’t know where to buy horseshoes in Michigan, but I do in Iceland

At 9:00 AM, I went in and purchased a 10,000 Icelandic Krona card with my Amex and nearly filled the tank. Perfect.

As we headed towards Reykjavik for our scheduled visit to the Blue Lagoon Sunday evening we stopped one more time and I purchased a 5000 Krona prepaid card. That time I didn’t even bother attempting to pay at the pumps.

Monday morning left me with a dilemma. I couldn’t find our new favorite gas station brand and I had to fill the van before returning it. I tried again at the pump to no avail and then went inside to see what could be done. The cashier said “I have an idea! Let’s go try it.”

He walked me through the transaction on the pump and when we got to the screen where it asked for the PIN he said “just hit the green button.” It worked! All this time we had assumed the PIN was required like all POS machines in Europe.

I really learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes it pays to simply skip a prompt when things aren’t going well. I’ll definitely remember this.



I'm an engineer, a veteran, and an avid traveler. I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson - "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

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