An international prepaid debit card (visa or mastercard) is a great tool if you are serious about overseas travel or paying online - safely and inexpensively. In this article, we'll compare the best cards for US, UK, Eur, Can, Aus/NZ and how show you how to choose the best.
I have been traveling, living overseas and doing business online in multiple currencies for decades now.
But in just the last few years international prepaid debit cards have made banking significantly better.
Icing on the banking cake? 🧁
I think they can be … Not only do they you save a bundle of money, they give you a lot more control and can save you a lot of time too.
That said, they are all different.
In this post, I have will show the most popular and highlight which ones might work best for you (regardless where you are in the world).
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links (not all cards reviewed have affiliate programs). If you use these links they come at no extra cost to you and help to support this website. Thank you! For more information, see my disclosures here.
|Availability||UK, US, most of the EEA, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Canada and Brazil||UK, US, EEA, Australia, Switzerland, Japan and Singapore||US||The UK and US||The UK and Eurozone|
|Trustpilot Ratings||4.5/5||4.4/5||1.2/5 (4.8/5 on App Store||4.4/5||4.1/5|
|Account Opening Fee||Free||Standard (Free), Plus (£2.99/month), Premium (£6.99/month), Metal (£12.99/month)||Free||Monzo (Free), Plus (£ 5 GBP/month), Premium (£15 GBP/month)||Starter (Free), Essential (£1.95 GBP/month), Classic (£5.95/month), Premium (£14.95/month)|
|Free ATM withdrawal fee||Free up to £200||Free up to £200 / 30 days or 5x withdrawals on the Free plan||Free||Fee-free in the EEA for paid users or those who deposit £500 every 35 days||€1.5 / £1.5 / 5 lei per ATM withdrawal|
|Exchange rate||Mid-market||Mid-market||Mid-market||Mastercard exchange rate||Mastercard exchange rate|
|Currency conversion fee||0.35-1%, no mark up||1% of the amount | 0.5-1.5% on the exchange rate on weekends||2% of the amount||No mark up (on Mastercard exchange rate)||2% of the amount|
|Spend in currencies in your account||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
|Why them?||Easy, inexpensive, minimalist and powerful for international people.|
Also have an excellent card for business and team management
|Strong alternative to traditional banks with a great travel card which includes insurance and other travel goodness.|
Also have a powerful card for business and team management
|Americans and non-citizens can build credit and they also have strong travel||Strong alternative to old school banking with travel built in||Easy to set up direct debits for monthly expenses with travel built in|
|Why NOT?||You want insurance and more bank like features||Complex array of cards, fees and offerings (which could also be positive)||Conversion fee of 2% is higher than Wise and Revolut||More focused on being a bank alternative than card.|
|See the latest prices/inclusions in your country||See the latest prices/inclusions in your country||Sable||Monzo||Monese|
1. What is a Prepaid Card?
An international prepaid debit card functions like a normal debit card and is usually connected to the Visa or Mastercard network.
This means you can get cash from ATMs almost anywhere in the world and make payments in person or online.
And if payments or ATM withdrawals are in a different currency – no problem. Instead of loosing a good chunk of fees with each transaction, international prepaid debit cards are generally inexpensive to use no matter what the currency.
Another big difference with a prepaid card is that instead of having an overdraft limit (like a normal debit card) or going into debt (like a credit card) – the funds need to be ready to go.
Preloaded cards enables you to keep a tight control on spending and reduce risk of lost funds which is particularly useful for;
– international travel
– dealing with different currencies
– keep a tight lid on expenses or business costs.
Apps also give you control though your mobile phone or online and some have multi-currency accounts can also make them very powerful additions to managing your money.
UK Focused Video: (but still covers cards in many countries)
2. How does a Prepaid Card Work?
Once you choose (above) the best card for your needs, they will send it in the mail. Most cards have a free option and monthly paid option which has more perks.
Even before the card arrive though you can load funds through a bank transfer or any other payment method that the issuer supports.
Some cards allow you to load single currency in them (more like a standard debit card), and some are attached to multi currency accounts which allow you to swap between currencies. No matter which you choose, both are designed to convert between currencies inexpensively.
Before you start spending though, it is a good idea to think about how you will use the card. For example, you can set up a PIN number or attach your card to a Google Pay or Apple Pay (which means you can pay with your phone).
Of course you will need the card and a PIN to get cash out from ATMs and even overseas this usually free with certain limits.
Apart from the basics in the Apps you will finds things like savings vaults, virtual cards, the ability to freeze cards and request money.
3. Pros and Cons of Prepaid Cards
Many offer international money transfers but specialist services generally offer a better experience
No credit / overdraft
Although regulated, many services are not fully licensed banks. In practice, this means funds can be frozen while you provide more ID (Recommended: Have a backup bank issued card and do not hold large balances).
An prepaid debit card for making payments in different currencies or paying for things takes banking to the next level when it comes to ease of managing your money and you can save a bundle in the process.
The biggest issues we found in isolated situations some people funds can get frozen, causing all kinds of problems especially for overseas travellers.
This in no way should stop you from enjoying the benefits of getting one in our opinion.
Our suggestion is simple – have a backup plan for paying for things and limit the amount you hold on these services.
Also many cards offer money transfer services. While the occasional small money transfer is fine, many of these services use third party services to make the transfer happen.
This can increase the potential for problems with your account and is generally slower. For large transfers of even just small regular ones we think it better if you use the services of a money transfer company.
Also see our FAQs below.
4. How to get a Prepaid Card
You can get prepaid debit cards from old school banks in your country and some may even have travel rewards and insurance associated with them.
But make no mistake the fees for currency exchange are almost always going to be higher and there may be ATM fees. If you are considering a bank issued card you will likely have to look through the marketing and get to the fine print to really understand what you are paying in fees.
Alternately this new breed of international prepaid debit cards is designed to be far cheaper and better.
In most cases, application is free, easy and all you need is to provide your details and proof of identity. The lack of credit checks also helps keep things simple and fast.
Once they verify your identity, you can often start using them immediately even before your physical cards arrives.
5. Best Cards by Country
|Country (of Residence)||Best Cards|
|UK||Revolut, Wise, Monese, Monzo|
|Europe||Revolut, Wise, Monese|
|USA||Revolut, Wise, Sable|
|New Zealand||Revolut, Wise|
|Rest of World||Revolut, Wise|
Check out the latest offers and info for your country
6. Card Comparison – Travel, Business and Bank Alternative
In the world of international prepaid debit cards there are two standouts – Wise Vs Revolut.
Similarities between Wise and Revolut
- Both have multi currency accounts and cards
- Account balances can be held in many different currencies
- Transparent, inexpensive and fast money transfers
Differences between Wise and Revolut
- Wise is generally simpler, cheaper and (for many) more useful
- However, Revolut has lots more frequent traveller and digital bank goodness
- The way they charge fees is different, and some people may even do best by having both.
With Wise (review), the account opening is free, although they do charge a 0.35% to 2.85% conversion fee.
Common currencies tend to be at the lower end (like half of 1%) and the Wise calculator is helpful to see what you will pay. Bear in mind a bank issued card often charges 3% just on the exchange rate and there can be other fees.
Revolut also has premium accounts called “premium” or “metal” and these come with some pretty cool perks that may well interest you – like travel insurance, flight lounge access and a concierge (booking service).
Generally you will have to choose between lower costs of using Wise and the feature rich potential (at a small price) of Revolut.
As far as availability in most countries is concerned, Revolut (review) and Wise have the widest reach as it covers UK, Europe, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland, and will soon expand to the US as well.
That said, Wise offers the Wise multi currency Account (review) as well, which is fantastic for those who need local bank details in various countries like freelancers or those who split their lives between multiple countries.
For those who seek the peace of mind of a real bank – Sable (review) for the US (through
Monzo is also a bank (UK only), so they are able to offer interest on its accounts, personal loans, and bill-pay services which in addition to occasional short term travel benefits makes it a great choice if you want some banking and travel more limited travel features rolled into one.
Ultimately, the card is the one that best meets your needs and offers the best rates and lowest fee for your transactions. So, compare the options based on your requirements and then make a choice.
7. Tips and FAQs
How to choose a prepaid card
Be careful choosing a prepaid debit card. On many occasions I have said to friends of mine, “you should check out Wise or Revolut because they don’t charge the crazy fees banks do.”
Only to be told, “Nope all good, my card doesn’t have fees”
They all have fees! Question is how well have they kept them out of view of their customers.
If you are considering using a bank issued debit card for business or travel – I highly recommend going deep as you possibly can into the real fees. Because they can be really high.
Then contrast this with the list above and consider some of the other things they can do. The Apps and multi currency accounts are standouts.
Alternately, why not get the free offering and take it for a test trip?
If you are anything like me, you will be very glad you did.
What are the main fees for prepaid debit cards used overseas?
Currency exchange is often the largest and it is often hidden inside the exchange rate you get. Other fees to consider include ATM fees, overseas purchase fees, reload fees, inactivity fees and cash-out fees. Fortunately in recent years a handful of excellent services have emerged which simplify the fees.
Which is the best debit card for travel?
A lot depends on your needs. Some major considerations are the fees (often only found in the fine print), if they are a multi currency account and what additional travel related extras you might like – ie. insurance, travel lounges and booking services.