International Prepaid Debit Cards

7 Things You Need to Know + Choosing the Best Card

Prepaid Credit Cards - OverseasToday you are going to find out the 7 most important things to getting an international prepaid debit card.

(I’ll also show you how you can save loads of $$$’s or £££’s)

But wait there’s more 🙂

Getting a debit card may not always be the best option and we want you to know what is better.

Know you want one? – Skip down and compare the best using our handy table.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

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  1. What Are They?
  2. How it Works
  3. When it Doesn’t Work
  4. How to Get One
  5. Best Cards for International Transactions Includes: UK, Europe, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand
  6. Travel Card Comparison
  7. FAQs

1. What Are They?

International prepaid debit cards (wiki), also known as currency cards allow you to load them before you travel overseas and use them as you would use a debit card to spend or withdraw cash.

These cards are often preloaded, which enables you to keep a tight control on your spending and reduce risk of lost funds.

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.

The cards are issued by a bank or financial institution and connected by major credit card companies such as MasterCard and Visa.

UK Focused Video: (but still covers cards in many countries)

2. How it Works

These specially designed prepaid debit cards (best) can be used to pay for almost anything without expensive fees and you can also get cash out from ATMs overseas usually for free. You can preload them with almost any currency you like and then make currency transfers and manage expenses from an app or online. Because they are not credit cards they are usually very easy to get and often come with a whole bunch of perks that make old school credit cards seem well – old school.

Once you sign up with a company of your choice, they will send you the travel card, which you can load through bank transfer or any other payment method that the issuer supports. Some cards are single currency cards, which means, you can load on a single currency in them, and some are multi currency cards and you can load multiple currencies in these cards and swap between currencies usually very inexpensively.

The cards can be managed through apps or online. The transaction costs associated with using these cards abroad are quite low compared to using debit or credit cards.

3. When they Don’t Work

Based on hundreds of reviews we have analysed, we found that prepaid cards while often being the best thing you can have for travel can have shortcomings.

Typical high-street bank issued cards for example usually suffer from high fees as we found out.

Meanwhile the newer raft of cards like the ones we feature below (are usually not fully fledged banks) while saving you a bundle are also not immune to issues.

The biggest issues we found was that due to banking regulations and there are a bunch of safeguards put in place.

These safeguards mean that in isolated situations some people funds can get frozen, causing all kinds of problems for some 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.

Aside from this, 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 One

You can get international prepaid debit cards from old school banks in your country.

However a growing number of people are opting for cards that offer far more at much lower cost.

In most cases, application is free, easy and all you need is to provide your personal details and proof of identity. Once they verify your identity, they will send you the card, which you can load with the currency of your choice and start using alongside an app you can download.

5. Best Cards for International Transactions

Country (of Residence)

International prepaid debit cards available

Click links to get the latest prices and inclusions for your country (opens new tab to keep reading)

UKRevolut, TransferWise, N26, Monzo
EuropeRevolut, TransferWise, N26
USAN26
AustraliaRevolut, TransferWise
CanadaRevolut
New ZealandTransferWise

 

6. Travel Card Comparison

As far as availability in most countries is concerned, Revolut (review) has the widest reach as it covers UK, Europe, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland, and will soon expand to the US as well.

Revolut Versus N26

Click Image for a Comparison

Considering all the important features and their wide coverage two heavyweights Revolut and TransferWise (comparison) are very solid choices. With TransferWise (review), the account opening is free, although they do charge a 0.35% to 2.85% conversion fee.

With Revolut the basic account is free, but they do charge a 0.5% – 1.5% fee on weekends. Revolut also has premium accounts called “premium” or “metal” and we found these come with some pretty cool perks that may well interest you – like travel insurance, flight lounge access and a concierge (booking service).

If we compare the cost and fees, Revolut proves cheaper for European and UK payments. However, if you live or need to transfer money outside of the Europe or UK, TransferWise will be a better option in most cases.

Again in this case, you will have to choose between lower costs of using TransferWise and the cool features of Revolut.

That said, TransferWise offers the borderless account 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.

TransferWise VS Revolut

Click image for a Comparison

If speed is your priority, then Revolut makes a better choice as it enables transfers in literally seconds (actual time will depend on the bank’s involved).

For those who seek the peace of mind of the real bank – N26 and Monzo may be the right choice. N26 (review) is based out of Europe (Germany) which is particularly useful for all Eurozone users. However, there are no hidden fees and unreasonable exchange markups like the regular banks.

Monzo (review) 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.

Review of Monzo Versus Revolut

Click image for a Comparison

Ultimately, the best travel 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.

CardRevolutTransferWiseN26MonzoMonese
AvailabilityUK, Europe, Australia, Singapore and SwitzerlandUK, Europe, USA, Australia, NZ, SingaporeUK, Eurozone, USAUKUK and Eurozone
OffersRevolut offers in your country OR For business TransferWise offers in your country N26 offers in your country Monzo latest prices and services in your country Monese latest prices and services in your country for mobile and desktop
Account opening feeFree, Premium €7.99/m or Metal €13.99/m. Also business options and prices in GBP, USD, AUD, NZ (click for Business or your country)FreeFree, You €9.90/mo, Metal €16.90. (click for UK and USA prices)Free, Plus Supporter £4.95/m (min 6 months), Monzo Plus £9/m (min 6 months)Free for the Simple Plan; £4.95/month for Monese Classic; and £14.95/month for Monese Premium
ATM withdrawal feeFree up to £/€200 per month with Free card, £/€400 per month with Premium and up to £/€600 per month with Metal. Flat fee of 2% for amounts above.Free up to £200 / 30 days
2% over £200 / 30 days
Free card attracts 1.7% fee. "You" and "Metal" options have free ATM withdrawls up to five/month then €2 fee applies.Free card up to £200 / 30 days period is free and 3% fee thereafter. Plus Traveller has an upper limit of £400.£200/30 days on the Simple plan; £800/30 days on the Monese Classic plan, a flat 2% fee is applicable thereafter beyond these limits; no ATM withdrawal fees on the Premium plan.
Exchange rateInterbank Rate (+0.5% to all major currencies)Interbank Rate (same as mid-market rate)Interbank RateMastercard exchange rate
Interbank Rate
Currency conversion feesFree up to £5,000/€6,000 per month with standard card. No monthly limit on Premium and Metal cards. 0.5% fair usage fee0.35%-2.2%N26 doesn’t charge exchange mark-ups or conversion fees.Monzo doesn’t charge exchange mark-ups or conversion fees.2% on the Simple Plan (€2/£2 minimum); 0.5% on the Classic plan; and no fee for the Monese Premium plan
Spend in currencies in
your account
FreeFreeFreeFreeFree
Deal maker?Option to avail travel insurance at a low costWide availability and true multi-currency card with over 50+ options. Top Choice.Full service current accounts that can be managed via their mobile appFully authorized and regulated digital bankEasy to set up direct debits for monthly expenses

7. FAQs

Can you get a Visa prepaid card?

Yes, Revolut offers a Visa card. Most other cards are MasterCard only.

What are the costs associated with using an international prepaid debit card?

The main costs that you incur when using an international prepaid debit card are account opening fees, currency conversion fee, exchange rate markups, ATM withdrawal fees and monthly charges if any. In most cases, the account opening is free. However, for premium accounts you need to pay a monthly fee. Depending on the service you choose, you may have to pay a currency conversion fee or a markup on the exchange rate. Thankfully, these fees are much lower than what regular banks charge. For withdrawing or spending on currency loaded in the card, you don’t pay anything but for withdrawal in other currencies you pay a small fee. Most cards offer free withdrawal up to a certain limit and charge a small fee thereafter.

What are the upsides of using an international prepaid debit card?

  • Ability to lock in exchange rate before you travel, it covers a lot of risk associated with exchange rate fluctuations
  • Ability to load multiple currencies in a single card
  • Lets you make ATM withdrawals, pay for shopping and online purchases just like a local debit card or credit card
  • Helps control spending
  • Great gifting option
  • Some cards come with great perks such as travel insurance, concierge (travel booking), travel lounge and more

What are the downsides of using an international prepaid debit card?

  • Risk for accounts or funds to be frozen
  • In some cases, it may take up to a couple of days to load the card, which can leave you stranded for cash in a foreign country
  • While the ability to lock in exchange rates can prove to be a huge benefit, however, sometimes currencies can fluctuate unfavourably.
  • No overdraft facility
  • May not be accepted in all places like in hotels where only credit cards will work

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