Initially, you will probably be issued with a debit card, which permits you to use your bank’s ATMs ( distributeurs automatiques) for deposits, withdrawals, transfers of funds and, in most cases, bill payments and other standard forms of transfer between accounts. Most debit cards also give you access to any ATM that’s part of the related debit card network (such as Maestro or Cirrus), although some banks make charges for use of another bank’s machines. You can also use debit cards to make purchases at many shops and petrol stations. Debit cards are often preferred to credit cards, as the money is credited almost immediately to the vendor’s bank account.
Debit cards normally have an electronic chip embedded in them, which allows them to be read by special machines. You need a four-digit code (referred to as a PIN : Personal Identification Number) to validate a transaction or to use your card in a bank machine. In Belgium, the major types of debit card are Bancontact, Mister Cash and Maestro, which are accepted wherever the relevant logos are displayed.
It’s also possible to make small cash purchases in Belgium using a cash card (named “Proton” in Belgium), which you can use like a phone card. There’s an initial charge for the card (normally no more than €5 to €10), after which you can load the card with up to €120 of electronic ‘cash’ at either your bank machine or any telephone booth displaying the cash card symbol. At a store where cash cards are accepted, you can pay by inserting your card in a special machine and confirming the amount you wish to pay. Note that no PIN is needed for cash card transactions, so if you lose your card it can be used by the person who finds it (just like cash). Cash card functions are typically incorporated within debit cards.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg from Survival Books.
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