Objectives We sought to determine whether elimination of pulmonary vein (PV) arrhythmogenicity is necessary for the efficacy of left atrial circumferential ablation (LACA) for atrial fibrillation (AF). Background The PVs often provide triggers or drivers of AF. It has been shown that LACA is more effective than PV isolation in eliminating paroxysmal AF. However, it is not clear whether complete PV isolation is necessary for the efficacy of LACA. Methods In 60 consecutive patients with paroxysmal (n = 39) or chronic (n = 21) AF (mean age 53 ± 12 years), LACA to encircle the left- and right-sided PVs, with additional lines in the posterior left atrium and along the mitral isthmus, was performed under the guidance of an electroanatomic navigation system. The PVs were mapped with a decapolar ring catheter before and after LACA. If PV isolation was incomplete, no attempts at complete isolation were made. Results After LACA, there was incomplete electrical isolation of one or more PVs in 48 (80%) of the 60 patients. The prevalence of PV tachycardias was 82% before and 8% after LACA (p < 0.001). At 11 ± 1 months of follow-up, 10 (83%) of the 12 patients with complete and 39 (81%) of 48 patients with incomplete PV isolation were free from recurrent AF without antiarrhythmic drug therapy (p = 1.0). A successful outcome was not related to the number of completely isolated PVs per patient (p = 0.6). Conclusions Left atrial circumferential ablation modifies the arrhythmogenic substrate within the PVs. Complete electrical isolation of the PVs is not a requirement for a successful outcome after LACA.