Here’s what you need to know about contactless cards

Contactless cards let you tap or wave your card over the card reader—no swiping required. Most smartphones are also equipped with contactless payment technology, so you don’t need to rummage around for your wallet at all.

If you’re curious about going contactless but don’t know where to begin, we’ve put together this guide to help you get started.

woman paying with her smartphone in a store.

What is contactless payment?

Contactless payment is a way of paying that doesn’t require cash or even swiping a card. All you have to do is tap or hold your contactless card or smartphone near a compatible card reader while you’re checking out. The terminal will automatically connect with your bank account and the purchase will be complete in just a few seconds.

Understanding contactless technology

So how does contactless technology actually work? Contactless transactions are powered by either radio frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC) technology.

When making a purchase, these radio waves share your bank account, contactless card, or phone app details with the merchant’s payment reader. The transactions are always encrypted, so you can rest assured your information is safe and secure.

The convenience of paying contactless

The benefits of contactless cards include being easy to get, simple to use, and conveniently linking to your smartphone so you never have to dig for your wallet again. They cut down transaction time and let you get on with the rest of your day.

Most vendors are now accepting contactless payments. To check if your card is contactless, look for the universal symbol of four curved lines.

Contactless payment with a smartphone.
iPhone X with the N26 app showing the Apple Pay screen.

Mobile phone payment power

Contactless cards aren’t the only devices equipped with this technology—you can make contactless payments straight from your smartphone.

Mobile payments are made through a digital wallet app. Download a digital wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay, and link your card information to the app. Next time you want to make a contactless in-store purchase, just wave your phone over the card reader and wait for the beep. Check out our guide on digital wallets to learn more.

Digital wallet

Contactless cards—the (mostly) PIN-free

A contactless card is a debit or credit card with contactless technology. While usually that means you’ll never have to physically touch a card reader, sometimes you might be asked to enter your PIN periodically. This might happen for security reasons, or to confirm transactions over a certain amount.

Most issuers will also request that you make a traditional chip-and-PIN transaction first before the contactless payment technology is activated.

Ensuring contactless security

There is a risk of your contactless card falling into the wrong hands, but banks combat this by setting a contactless payment limit—usually of €50. This helps prevent expensive fraudulent transactions if your card is lost or stolen.

Another drawback to contactless cards is that they make spending very easy, so it can be harder to resist splurging. With an N26 Mastercard debit card, you can easily set a limit on your daily spending and withdrawals via your N26 banking app.

Mobile payment risks—smartphone safety

Contactless mobile payments might pose a risk if your device is lost or stolen. Apps such as Apple Pay and Google Pay require personal identification such as a fingerprint or facial recognition for added security on each transaction

Digital wallets also encrypt card payment information, so details are never passed on to third parties. Still, always report a stolen card or smartphone to your bank immediately, so they can block your account.

Contactless card payments with N26

N26 allows you to enjoy contactless card and mobile payments, no matter which bank account you choose.

All accounts come with a virtual N26 Mastercard, equipped with NFC technology, so you can make payments directly from your smartphone. If your account comes with a physical Mastercard, all of these are contactless, too. Manage your card settings or order a new one directly from your N26 app.

Make a PIN-protected transaction

With a new card, make an ATM transaction or PIN payment first, ahead of your first contactless payment

Check compatibility

Make sure that your banking app works with contactless payments, and that the card reader where you’re shopping is also compatible.

Know your payment limit

Be aware of the contactless payment limit so you don’t run into errors making transactions over that amount.

Wait for approval

It might be tempting to tap-and-go, but wait for the signal from the cashier that your payment has gone through.

Find a plan for you

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The free* online bank account

The N26 virtual card.
Virtual Card
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The bank account that gives you more control

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N26 You

The debit card for everyday and travel

N26 You card, Petrol.
  • Up to 5 free withdrawals in the Eurozone
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N26 Metal

The premium account with a metal card

N26 Metal - Charcoal Black.
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When using a contactless card, the cardholder simply taps or holds the card near the merchant payment terminal, at the point of sale. NFC technology allows the terminal to pick up the contactless card details and complete the transaction.

If your card has contactless technology enabled, it will have the contactless symbol on it. The symbol consists of four curved lines and can be found both on a contactless card, and on a compatible vendor terminal.

Contactless technology or NFC (near field communication) is a payment technology that allows a card or device to connect the consumer checking account with the point of sale terminal, by tapping or holding the card or device near the reader.

The use of contactless payments is on the rise, and contact-free technology is accepted globally. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, most retailers and vendors now use contactless payments for hygienic reasons, including restaurants, bars, shops and public transport.

All N26 customers are provided with a free virtual N26 Mastercard enabled with NFC contactless technology to make contactless payments.

There are numerous benefits to contactless payments, the most important being the speed with which you can complete transactions. Plus, Apple Pay and Google Pay transactions require fingerprint- or facial-recognition, adding an extra layer of security. While contactless payments are quite safe, they might pose a risk if your card or device is lost or stolen. Be sure to deactivate your cards immediately if this happens.

There’s no limit to the amount of contactless payments you can make per day, provided you stay under the daily card limit of €5,000 or the monthly card limit of €20,000.

There are several reasons why your contactless payment may have been rejected. First, check your N26 app to make sure contactless payments are enabled. If you have a new card, you’ll need to use it at an ATM or Chip & PIN before making your first contactless payment. It’s also important to hold the card directly to the NFC-compatible surface when paying, and keep it there until the payment has been authorized. For more information on contactless payments, visit our dedicated Support page.

Contactless payments should already be enabled for your account after you’ve made your first ATM purchase or Chip & PIN transaction. However, if you’ve disabled contactless payments, you may need to reactivate it to use it again. To do this, head to the Cards tab in your N26 app and tap Card settings. Then, tap Contactless payments to adjust your settings.

To deactivate contactless payments, head to the Cards tab in your N26 app and tap Card settings. Then, tap Contactless payments to deactivate this feature. Your account settings will be updated instantly.