EMV Certification in a Nutshell

The purpose of this article is to familiarize integrators with EMV processing, help merchants understand the process of EMV certification and estimate its cost.

The relevance of EMV certification

EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa, and denotes a worldwide transaction authentication standard. The standard is based on usage of integrated circuit cards, which increases the security of EMV card transactions in comparison to magnetic stripe cards. More information on EMV standards can be found here.

From January 1, 2005, merchants in EU area are held liable for all fraud resulting from transactions processed in the systems, which do not support EMV. In the US, EMV certification also became an extremely relevant issue after the associations declared that the liability will be placed on merchants at the end of 2015, i.e. if a person wants to make a purchase from a merchant, using the EMV card, but the merchant doesn’t have an EMV terminal, and the transaction ends up being part of fraudulent activity, it is the merchant who is going to be held financially responsible for the incident’s consequences.

Although many merchants can purchase EMV terminals from the acquirers and do not necessarily need to conduct the in-depth analysis of EMV certification process, gateways, payment facilitators, as well as companies, that maintain their own proprietary payments ecosystems, have to face the question of how to undergo EMV certification, i.e., how to add EMV support into feature sets of their products.

Let us move on and review the EMV certification process in greater detail.

EMV certification phases

Before starting an EMV certification, a company needs to make a decision about the three key components of the process:

  • Terminal(s) (hardware device) that will be used to read EMV cards. Some information on payment terminals can be found in our respective article
  • Payment gateway software or some form of software package that will deliver transactions to the acquirer
  • Acquirer(s), that will process the transactions

After these decisions are made, the company can proceed with the EMV certification, that is, generally, comprised of two sub-certification processes (phases): host integration and EMV certification.

Payment processing host integration

Generally, there are no certification fees involved in this phase, and the main cost is the cost of development of the integration code. It involves integration on the message level between your system and the acquirer. As part of this integration, a proper message format is implemented to enable a payment gateway to submit EMV fields to acquirer’s system in a format that it can “understand”. In a sense, the process is similar to classical integration, described in the respective article.

EMV certification

It is a process, in which an EMV terminal (a terminal, supporting EMV card processing) and a so-called EMV toolkit are used. Special test scripts, certified by the acquirer for every association, have to be executed with the help of the EMV toolkit. The results of execution of the test scripts are submitted to the acquirer to be considered for review. The acquirer forwards the results to the associations for their final approval.
Usually, EMV certification involves an administrative fee (charged by acquirers), ranging between $2,000 and $3,000 for every formal test script run. Re-certification process has to be initiated every time when a new hardware device, using a different EMV kernel is added to the previously certified EMV-processing pad.

For example if any VeriFone mx9 series device has been previously certified, any other device of a kind is automatically covered by that certification. But in order to use some Ingenico device, you would have to initiate another EMV certification (even if you are going to utilize the existing host integration and the same back end).
The most popular EMV toolkits include ICC and B2 toolkits. Particularly, these toolkits are quite popular among acquirers in the US.

Selecting a device

The list of all desired devices to be supported needs to be compiled in advance and included into the initial certification. While selecting the devices, one should understand that only terminals and readers, which have EMV level 1 and level 2 certified kernels, can be used.

An EMV toolkit works as both card reader and card writer: it both reads data from the chip and writes new data on it to be read during subsequent transactions.

Developing terminal application

As we’ve mentioned above, firstly, a business wanting to process EMV transactions, needs to select payment terminal, supporting EMV and certified by the acquirer.
Secondly, the integration needs to understand that most terminal manufacturers will not provide a stock payment processing application with the terminal. In this sense, a terminal is similar to a PC with just an operating system installed, without any applications. It is the integrator’s responsibility to procure (develop or license) a terminal payment application, compatible with the hardware and the operating systems of the models of the terminals that it wants to support.

There are various ways to simplify the development process: it can be outsourced, or some existing applications can be purchased; but, generally, it has to be accounted for in the budget for the project.

For deployment and management of the terminals, software updates, remote configuration management a separate software package is used, which is, generally, called, terminal management software.

This terminal application has to be able to utilize required peripheral devices, such as card readers, signature capture etc., and accommodate whatever types of transactions that are going to be required (credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, EBT, etc.).

Most large terminal manufacturers (such as VeryFone) maintain their own payment gateways. A business can purchase a terminal with the manufacturer’s application on it, which is, generally, “tied” to the manufacturer’s gateway. Therefore, if a business wants to connect such EMV terminal to a different gateway, it, generally, has to undertake some software development.

Selecting acquirers to partner with

A business, planning to integrate with several acquirers, needs to understand that each acquirer requires a separate EMV certification for each country, in which the business is going to process.

An average cost of EMV toolkit (which is used in every EMV certification) ranges from $10,000 to $30,000 per user license. That is why, when the acquirer is selected, it is advised to consider the models of the toolkit that the acquirer supports, so that potential cost savings can be realized by going with specific acquirers and toolkit vendors (by using a single toolkit for two or more certifications across different acquirers). And if you are already in possession of a certain toolkit, it never hurts to ask the acquirer explicitly, whether they would accept the tests using your version of the toolkit.


If you are a business considering the idea of going through EMV certification process, you need to select the devices you are going to use, payment gateway and acquirers you are going to partner with; also you need to decide how to get or develop terminal applications. And, of course, you need to carefully plan respective budgets.