Skip to content

Contactless payments

How credit card contactless payments work  

Victoria Russell
Written by  Victoria Russell
5 min read
Updated: 27 Feb 2024

Contactless payments are a popular way to pay. Here we cover how ‘tap and go’ works on credit and debit cards, the limits on spending, and what happens if your card is stolen.

What is a contactless payment?

Contactless payment is the modern-day magic of money handling. Imagine tapping your credit/debit card or smartphone over a reader and—voilà—the payment is made without the need for a PIN or signature. It's a simple, swift, and secure way to make purchases, and it's taking the retail world by storm.

What contactless devices are there? Waiter taking contactless card payment

The surge of tap-and-go

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change in many areas, not least in the realm of contactless payments. As cash usage dwindled for hygiene reasons, tap-and-go transactions became the norm. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a retailer that doesn't welcome this method with open arms.

67% of debit card transactions in the UK are contactless

Setting up for contactless success

You can set up your credit card or debit card for contactless payments on the card itself (through your bank), with your mobile phone, smartwatch, or other contactless devices. Contactless payments are also often referred to as 'tap-and-go' by some banks and retailers.

The mechanics behind the magic

Contactless cards are embedded with RFID technology that allows them to communicate with payment terminals via radio waves. To make a payment, simply hold your card near the terminal and let the technology do the rest.

Recognising the contactless symbol

Keep an eye out for the contactless symbol—a set of four curved lines that echo the familiar Wi-Fi icon. You'll find this symbol on the back of your card and on compatible payment readers, signalling where the tap-and-go magic happens.

Making a contactless payment

Using a contactless card is a breeze. Just look for the contactless symbol on the payment terminal, tap your card against it, and wait for the green light—or a beep—to confirm your transaction is complete.

Understanding the limits

As of 15 October 2021, the contactless transaction limit was raised to £100, allowing for larger purchases without the need for a PIN. However, for mobile phones, the sky's the limit, while smartwatches might ask for a button press for added security.

Where can you use contactless?

The world is your oyster with a contactless card. Most retailers, eateries, and public transport services are on board with tap-and-go, though some may set a minimum spend.

Weighing the pros and cons

Contactless cards come with a host of benefits:

  • Speed: Transactions are lightning-fast.

  • Convenience: No fumbling for cash or remembering PINs.

  • Security: Enhanced protection against fraud.

  • Hygiene: Less contact means fewer germs.

But there are drawbacks to consider:

  • Theft Risk: If lost or stolen, unauthorized taps could occur.

  • Limited Abroad Use: Not all countries are contactless-friendly.

  • Overspending Temptation: The ease of use could lead to impulse buys.

How to disable a contactless card

Activating your contactless card

New contactless cards need a Chip and PIN transaction to kickstart their tap-and-go capabilities. Your bank will guide you through the activation process, ensuring you're ready to tap away.

Safeguarding your contactless card

Contactless chips generate unique codes for each transaction, making it tough for fraudsters to replicate. Banks keep an eye out for any suspicious activity and may occasionally ask for a PIN to confirm it's really you.

Protecting your payments

Concerned about the safety of your credit card? Our guide explains how credit card protection works, giving you peace of mind as you tap your way through transactions.

Our expert says...

"Technology has moved on in leaps and bounds in the last few years, thanks largely to the Coronavirus pandemic when many retailers stopped accepting cash and shoppers often had no choice but to use contactless payments. There are many benefits too, they’re easy, quick, and eradicate the hassle of rooting around for your payment card and remembering multiple PINs. Yet as with anything new, it’s important to be extra vigilant and to report anything suspicious as soon as you spot it."

- Rebecca Goodman

Other useful guides

For those eager to learn more, MoneySuperMarket offers a wealth of guides:

Compare credit cards with MoneySuperMarket

Before you dive into the world of contactless, it's crucial to choose the right credit card. MoneySuperMarket's eligibility checker offers a glimpse into your chances of approval without denting your credit score. It's a smart way to compare your options and make an informed decision.

MoneySuperMarket is a credit broker – this means we’ll show you products offered by lenders. We never take a fee from customers for this broking service. Instead, we are usually paid a fee by the lenders – though the size of that payment doesn’t affect how we show products to customers.

Frequently asked questions

What if the contactless card doesn’t work?

If your contactless card doesn’t work, you should contact your card provider and request a replacement.

If you’re trying to pay for something and your contactless payment doesn’t work, just insert your card and enter your PIN for the transaction to go through.

Can I opt out of a contactless card?

If you’d prefer to opt out of having a contactless credit card, it’s best to contact your bank or card provider. Whether you can opt out of having a contactless card will depend on who you bank with. If the bank isn’t able to let you ‘opt out’ of contactless it may be worth comparing credit cards, to find a provider that better suits your preferences.

How do the payments show up on my bank statement?

When you make a contactless payment, your transaction will show on your bank or credit card statement with the universal contactless wave symbol next to it.

It’s wise to keep an eye on your payment history, just as you would with chip and PIN transactions and bank transfers. If you notice anything suspicious or unfamiliar contact your bank immediately.

What happens if I am charged multiple times for the same transaction?

Being charged twice for one transaction when paying with contactless is highly unlikely. This is because once you’ve placed your card or smartphone on the card reader, the transaction is complete.

Payment terminals have been designed to prevent you paying for the same thing twice, so the chances of you getting charged double are highly unlikely.

Some terminals will ask you to only present one card if it can detect two, while others might cancel the transaction entirely to avoid overcharging.

Can I use my contactless card abroad?

You should be able to use your contactless card abroad if the option to pay with contactless is available to you. If the retailer doesn’t display the contactless symbol on their card reader, you may have to pay by inserting your card into the card reader and punching in your PIN or with cash.

Find a credit card