using canadian credit cards at US gas pumps

If you’re a Canadian and have traveled through the US by car, RV, whatever, you’ve probably noticed pretty much all the gas pumps require a ZIP code. You’ve probably also noticed that a postal code ain’t the same thing. Finally, you’ve probably been frustrated with having to deal with the surly station attendant who doesn’t seem to understand why you can’t use your card at the pump.

Entering 99999 or 00000 doesn’t work, depsite what you may have heard in the ways of sekrit c0d3z, and it’s a bit of a pain to have to make the walk, especially if you’re running short on time to make your flight and don’t want to spend $7/gallon for the rental company to fill it for you. There is, however, a way to enter a zip code that will authorize your Canadian card, and I’ma share it with you now.

Take your postal code (e.g. K2L 2K4), and strip away the letters (e.g. 224), then add two zeroes (e.g. 22400). Voila. You have a ZIP that will authorize properly at the pump, saving a little time and attitude from said surly attendant.

This has worked for me at Shell and 76 stations, and since they all use the same auth back-end, should work anywhere else. As always, ymmv, but it’s a little tip to remember next time you’re in the US.

41 thoughts on “using canadian credit cards at US gas pumps

  1. Oren says:

    I usually go with 90210. I feel like anybody who does any aggregate data analysis will find a lot of canadians have a residence out there.

  2. kev says:

    jeb: my experience has been the exact opposite, especially at 4:30am when the attendant is a) asleep b) surly from you making them “work” and c) will only give you pre-approved fillup amounts that you have to guess at for the rental. my favourite part is when they argue with you that they don’t have to take your card.

  3. missG says:

    @Oren funny :) But that wouldn’t work.

    The reason the machine requests your zip code is not to survey where consumers are living. Its purpose is to help verify the charge is being made by or on behalf of the cardholder – The zip code must match the one on file with the bank.

    Most gas stations have a quick & discreet checkout process for card transactions (swipe at the pump where no employees are watching), and when you factor in rising gas prices, you can see why they are a popular target for credit card thieves.
    The zip code requirement has helped reduce fraudulent charges, but obviously there are ways around it.

    Awesome tip @kev

  4. Sid says:

    Just some observations:

    1. When people report that the works for them, it would be really helpful if they stated which credit card they were using. I’ve seen this method in several similar threads but rarely is the CC type stated. I’ve seen a few cases where someone said it worked with VISA but I’ve yet to see anyone say *unequivocally* that it works for Mastercard. And there’s no particular reason to suppose that if it works for one then it works for the other.

    2. While the zip code requirement is a valid extra security measure, I doubt that it’s as rigorous as some people assume. If a person has had his CC stolen, chances are they also took his wallet. In which case they almost certainly have his zip code too.

    I took this up by emails to both VISA and Mastercard (Canadian) Customer Services.

    Visa was concerned and said they were talking to their US counterparts looking at ways to solve the problem.

    Mastercard simply parroted my own statements back to me (apparently agreeing there was a problem) and then basically said all I can do is pay at the attendant. In other words they (Mastercard Canada) weren’t about to lift a finger. This is why I think perhaps the Postal Code trick only works for Visa.

  5. marvinwo says:

    Used Amex,MC and Visa at Stations in Fl,GA,NC,MD and NY. The system worked everywhere

  6. Norm says:

    I tried it (14400) with my Visa today ( 2011/04/29) at a RACEWAY pump in florida and it does not work

    DURAMAX

  7. Sid says:

    I just got back from a 6 week trip to Florida. This worked 100% for me on the trip down, back and while in Florida.

    It only worked for my VISA (CIBC) though …. not Mastercard (Bank of Montreal).

  8. Jason says:

    Tried this at several pumps in California from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Did not work anywhere we tried. (TD Bank VISA)

    J\

  9. Harleyman says:

    I’m just back from a 3 week motorcycle tour of NE Canada and the US. Almost every gas station I went to (and on a bike thats twice a day!) would not accept my card at the pump which meant I had to go into the shop to pay the attendant and of course remove my helmet and earplugs, gloves and glasses etc! I have a visa platinum card from AIB Bank in Ireland, I will not go back until I also have a Mastercard as I found the bank’s atms did not want to know my VISA? What a pain in the ASS!

  10. Rob Coleman says:

    I use the ZIP for a friend’s address in Seattle. Obviously it won’t correlate with ANY information on my MasterCard but I’ve never had any problems using it. I’ve been limited to Washington State which might make a difference.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hmm…I think the problem here isn’t just the type of credit card…but rather the bank you use. Since Sid here uses CIBC, we know that their CCs are the ones that would work.

  12. Gregory says:

    I have not driven in US in recent years and was astonished to have great trouble buying gas during a trip to Texas last week. I found gas stations pumps would not accept my bank debit card or my VISA card for purchases. When I in the office they asked me how much gas I wanted and then provided a rebate if I did not use the full amount. I had to estimate tank requirements which is quite difficult on a newly-rented car. Grrr.
    I even tried my Esso Speedpass at an Exxon pump but that was also not accepted.
    To top things off the gas tank would click-off every 10 cents! I tried holding pump handle at different angles and speeds but with little success. It took me about 15 minutes to fill my gas tank! Grrr. Grrr.

  13. Emily says:

    I have a TD Visa.

    Tried the trick with using the 3 numbers from the postal code plus 00 and it worked fine in most places in Washington & Oregon (but not 100% of the time).

    Then I moved and updated my address with the bank…Since then it hasn’t worked with either my old or new postal code (71200/54500) so it may not be bank dependent…

  14. Darren Richard says:

    I travel extensively in the Western US and find that the farther south you travel the greater the problems you will have.

    I don’t understand how people posting here are having problems in Oregon. In this state it is actually illegal to pump your own fuel so you are forced to pay attendant directly anyway and if the gas nozzles clicks off prematurely the attendant will not attempt to put anymore fuel in even if your tank is still essentially empty so you will have to drive to another station. (In California they will fine you if they catch you “topping off” and there are signs in Spanish everywhere to this effect)

    On a side note, for fun sit at a self serve gas bar in any adjoining state and watch Oregon drivers blow their horns and wait impatiently for someone to come out and fill them. Anyone travelling out of state for their first time has never pumped fuel before so this bizarre spectacle is pretty common.

    In Los Angeles fuel is a crap shoot if you don’t speak Spanish. Chevron workers in LA for example won’t let you put in more then $40.00 dollars at some of their stations regardless of your ability to prepay so be prepared for that little surprise.

    The more Spanish your neighbourhood of fuelling choice speaks the less fuel you’ll be allowed to actually pump. I’ve never found an attendant who speaks English at these stations so I don’t know why that is.

    When it comes to limiting fuel purchases every station and state is different and every attendant swears it is the credit card or debit companies who’ve set the limits so if you drive a pickup truck or RV plan on being limited to anywhere from $75.00 – $125.00 even at truck stops. There is absolutely no consistency from state to state or station to station and this pisses off Americans just as much as us.

    For RV and pickup owners the upper end max limit under the best conditions is still only 3/4 of a tank full so you’ll always have to go in anyways and prepay if you’re doing anything other then topping off.

    Another note on American gas stations for Canadians: These are places more for where you go to buy liqour, pop, fantasy knives or potato chips. If it is a truck stop then include movies, stuffed animals, tattoo stickers and CB radios.

    Selling fuel is really a secondary consideration for American gas stations and the pumps only exist as a way to attract consumers to their stores for lottery tickets, booze and junk food. Do not expect to find bulbs, belts, fuses, oil or any of the other things you might need to continue motoring.

    If (and that’s a big IF) they have an air pump and it works you’ll pay $1.00 for every three minutes. The pumps are weak everywhere in every state at every station and you will average 10 PSI filled per minute so if you have a pickup truck tire that takes 80 psi it will cost $2-3 to fully fill depending on how low you are. Carry lots of quarters!

    Please note that in California they have to let you fill your tires for free though if you buy your gas at that station.

    When it comes to findng a pump without zip code authoristion then pick small local mom/pop type stations or card locks and it will work every time without restriction or fuel limits. It is only the chains that try to make it difficult.

    If you are using a VISA my experience is that 50% of chain stations will except your postal code instead of zip just don`t expect it to. The two exceptions are Chevron and Valero. These stations do not tolerate foreigners to pay at pump.

    Happy motoring in the USA.

  15. mike says:

    blame our politicians they picked the british system of postal code. like we don’t live in north america

  16. Dave G says:

    Using Mastercard the postal code trick never worked for me in KY, TN, or MS and other states. I mostly tried to avoid stations where I learned it was required — BP & Pilot — and used other sellers (Irving, Texaco).

  17. kelly says:

    Thank you soooooo much. Stranded in the US, can’t use my phone without a zipcode to pay with my Visa. Used your info to buy minutes and phone home!!!! YAY!!! Thanks asleep at the wheel!!!!!

  18. Jim says:

    Worked like a charm for me at the Valero station in Sand City California.
    Thank you

  19. Jim Jamieson says:

    tried this method usiinng mastercard or visa in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida…..doesnt work worth a crap.

  20. Mark Seymour says:

    Yup a gas station attendant (Shell in upstate NY) told me theis trick and IT WORKS!! The digits from your Canadian postal code are used to validate against your registered credit card address. This worked with a CIBC Visa. Glad this tip is out there, hope more Canadians find out (border states should post this at their pumps!!!) and have less hassle at the pumps (but isn’t the cheaper gas nice? :-)

  21. Alex says:

    Just heading south to Fla. and checked with both TD and RBC.TD says use the first two numbers of your postal code and 000 and RBC said to use the three numbers and 00…will try both out of curiousity.

  22. Jim Elliott says:

    I tried this (as 42400) in Fort Lauderdale at a Chevron with my BMO US dollar MasterCard last week and it did not work.

  23. Doug says:

    The canadian digits +00 used to work 100% up to 2011..now it only works at some stations.

  24. Pierre says:

    Spoke to AMEX after coming back from Florida last year. I was told to use 90210. looking forward to trying it out next week. Calling CIBC VISA today to find out if they can associate a ZIP code with my card.

  25. gigi says:

    We are currently travelling from texas to Qu├ębec within the next 2 weeks. I will try that trick because every gas station on our way down was asking our zip code and everytime ihad to get out of the pickup prepaid and then put gas in Hope it will work!!!!!

  26. Cha says:

    Just want to add that I was down in California recently where my PCFinancial card works using that trick at 76 but didn’t work at Chevron.

  27. koenig says:

    I’m building my American credit, so have credit cards issued by American banks, even though I’m Canadian. In Canada my American cards will not work at the pumps, always get a see attendant message. So Americans must have the same problem in Canada.

  28. Ann Perfitt says:

    Having been using this method since a very nice attendant at a Safeway service station in Newport, WA told us about it several years ago. Works at most stations—that is the strip away the letters and go with the numbers from your postal code and add 00 on the end (as RBC says). Have also used it in Oregon, California, Nevada, and Idaho — all travels should know this!!

  29. albert says:

    Just got back from a trip through Washington and Oregon. I used to avoid the stations that asked for zipcodes (e.g., Safeway which has been doing it in Washington for years), but it is now pretty much universal. I have tried both entering arbitrary numbers like 00000 or 12345 and real zipcodes like 90210 and 96822 which I used to have when I lived in the US. None of these has EVER worked in my experience.

  30. Dee says:

    spoke to TD visa about this issue…….now another version of zipcode password emerges… they told me, use only the numbers out of postal code and the first 2 numbers of your phone number (so if you postal is M7K 3C3 and your phone number is 905 555 555) You would use, 73390 as your US zip….I haven’t tried it yet, but will let you know if it works. Why is something so easy, so difficult??

  31. Mike says:

    Used TD visa (US$, CDN Card) today outside Syracuse NY on I90 at Sunoco. No Zipcode required.

  32. Chris says:

    Instead of using 00 at the end, find an actual US Zip Code that starts with your 3 numbers from your postal code. Example – Mine would be 94600, but instead i use 94608 which is in Emeryville , California. This works for using Canadian credit cards to subscribe to US stuff as well. I use it for subscribing to Hulu and it also works at gas stations.

  33. Rob says:

    Totally works..Use your first 3…last two digits don’t matter..just throw something on there!

  34. pmcd says:

    What happens if your postal code is x4x 2×8. This yields the first three digits 428 which is an unused zip at this time.

  35. VAL says:

    My bank (HSBC Canada) recommends using three digits from Canadian postal code plus two zeros. It works for MasterCard, not sure about Visa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>