Debit cards in Belgium operate on a system called Bancontact/Mister Cash and are therefore referred to as Bancontact cards. As in other countries you need to enter a 4-digit PIN code when you want to make a transaction.
In addition to the Bancontact/Mister Cash system, these cards usually also include the Maestro service (used for making international payments), although acceptance of this type of payment card may be more limited depending on the country you are visiting. If you are traveling a lot, you may find it easier to have a visa card (this is offered from some banks).
It’s very popular these days to personalise your debit card and ask the bank to have a special picture of your loved ones, or something else printed on your bank card. Many banks have special promotions about this.
Proton (electronic wallet for small payments)
Most debit cards also have a special function attached called Proton. This is a way to pay smaller amounts and you don’t need to enter your PIN code. You need to charge the Proton from your normal debit account and then you can spend that amount of money without entering your PIN.
In time, this system is meant to replace all cash payments and it will get there, but there is still a long way to go, since not all shops accept Bancontact/Mister Cash and Proton. Still, it is said that Belgium is one of the first countries leading the way to a ‘cashless society’.
Many people claim that the Proton system is very unsafe, because when your card gets stolen, people can just access the credit that is on the Proton card, but in a way, that is the same as when your wallet gets stolen, as people can also take all the cash that is in there.
The cost of using a debit card is usually included in the cost of your account.
Most banks offer you 2 options: MasterCard or VISA. Many people say that there is no big difference between these two, so it doesn’t really matter which card you pick, but you need to look into the costs and fees that might be payable. In terms of worldwide acceptance there is little to choose between the two, although it is possible Visa is accepted in slightly more places.
Choose the card which provides the best service according to your needs. Remember that MasterCard and VISA are 2 individual companies who use banks as ‘resellers’ for their cards. So the service you get does not depend on the card, but on the bank you get it from, so it might be a good idea to compare cards from different banks to each other. This way you can choose what bank or card suits your needs best.
The cost per year for credit cards can range from €0 (for younger people or certain promotions) to €20 for basic cards to €100 or more for cards with a bigger spending limit and added services.