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Prepaid debit cards are a great way to have better control of your spendings. Why? Because you can only use as much money as you’ve put on such a card in advance. As a matter of fact, prepaid cards are pretty similar to debit ones. The major difference is that with a second one you can sometimes go overdraft. With a prepaid card, it’s not possible under any conditions.
In today’s blog post, Genome will discuss how prepaid debit cards for travel work, what are their strong sides, and which one of them is the best. Read on for more tips and recommendations.
What is an international prepaid debit card?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve surprisingly spent much more than you were supposed to? No matter if it’s a party with friends, a short vacation, or just an unplanned visit to a shopping mall. Yes, we’ve all been there. Truth to be said, it’s difficult to restrain yourself from buying more and more if you don’t keep track of spendings. This is where a prepaid card can become a lifesaver.
An international prepaid card is a subtype of a bank card, along with credit and debit ones. It works all over the world and can come with a few built-in currency accounts available (the range of all services depends on your issuer).
How does a prepaid card work?
It is usually connected to an account in a digital wallet. Most modern neo-banks offer prepaid cards, while traditional high-street banks focus on debit and credit ones.
First of all, you need to create an account with your provider and order a prepaid card. These can be both physical and virtual, as they all function in the same way. Virtual cards can be used with the help of Google/Apple Pay in most physical stores. If you need to pay online – you can still enter the details of your virtual card, and the transaction will go through. Even some ATMs nowadays allow you to withdraw cash without inserting a card. Instead, you will need to scan a special code on the ATM and confirm the transaction in your mobile banking application.
Secondly, you need to top-up the account to use the funds with the help of the card, and there are a few ways to do this.
via a regular bank transfer because you receive the necessary bank account details for your digital wallet.
link another bank card (in most cases, only debit cards are accepted). Such transactions are instantaneous.
finally, you can use Google/Apple Pay – the funds will be taken from the card saved in one of these services.
if you have a physical prepaid card, you can also put money on it in some ATMs.
Ordering a prepaid card is often much more simple compared to a debit or credit card. In many cases, you don’t need to pass any credit check or provide any financial documentation. Choose a provider and apply for an account with them online. Very few banks nowadays will demand your physical presence in a branch to do this. You will probably need to submit an ID card and fill in some personal information.
Once your application is reviewed (usually up to a week), you should be able to order a prepaid card. If you need it urgently, you can go for a virtual one first. You can start using it via Google/Apple Pay or add it to other digital wallets in no time. Meanwhile, your physical prepaid card will be delivered.
List of best international prepaid debit cards
We’ve prepared a brief overview of the most popular and costly prepaid cards providers to get you familiar with the options out there. No matter what issuer you select, all these cards will work wonders in most countries abroad. However, pay attention to fees, limits, and features you need to save money and receive the best offer.
This company (previously Transferwise) brings to the table multi-currency Mastercard prepaid cards with more than 50 currencies to choose from. If you’re located in Australia, New Zealand, UK, the US, and most European countries – you can have a free Wise account with a debit card.
You will receive local bank account details for such currencies like the euro, the US and Australian dollars, UK pound. It means that you can accept transfers to your account in these currencies with no charges. The monthly ATM withdrawal limit is 250$ or equivalent in any other currency. If you’re withdrawing a larger amount, you will need to pay a small fee.
The UK’s most valuable fintech was founded only 5 years ago but has already won worldwide recognition of millions of customers. International prepaid cards are available to the users of both personal and business accounts with Revolut. Exchange almost 30 currencies and pay in more than 150 currencies using Revolut Visa or Mastercard.
Apart from the US and Europe, this service is available in such countries as Singapore, Australia, and Canada. You will also receive local account details for most major currencies like the euro, British pound, and US dollar. Both for business and personal accounts, you can choose different pricing packages. These have various features and limits (currency exchange, ATM withdrawals, number of external and internal transfers, etc.) depending on how many of them you need every month.
This online German bank offers a smart card for your international spendings. You don’t need to convert money into some foreign currency beforehand to make a purchase. Now, you can pay straight away with any currency available in your N26 account. This neobank uses an Interbank (mid-market) rate and does not charge any conversion or markup fees.
N26 has a few pricing plans, including a free one. Be careful as there might be small fees for ATM withdrawals, etc.
It’s a fully authorized and regulated digital bank in the UK. Monzo uses a Mastercard exchange rate and imposes no additional currency conversion or exchange markup fees. Apart from different pricing plans, you can also apply for a loan or receive some interest on the accounts with this bank.
It’s a typical prepaid card that can be bought either in the US or other eligible countries. NetSpend card is connected to Western Union so that the cardholders can send and receive money via this network. The card can be used both domestically and internationally. There are two pricing plans available: Pay-As-You-Go and a paid one. With the first one, you need to pay for each transaction, but there’s no monthly fee. The second one works the opposite: you have a monthly fee, but the number of unpaid transactions is limited.
If you’re not planning to do many transactions, you can choose the Pay-As-You-Go option. However, in the opposite case, you might spend a fortune on fees, so you better choose a monthly paid plan.
This prepaid card is linked to your PayPal account balance or can be topped up online or at special retail locations. The fees are quite high though, especially if you’re traveling abroad. First of all, you’re charged $5 each month for using a card. Secondly, there’s a 2,5% fee for each foreign transaction.
The good news is that PayPal prepaid can be reloaded in numerous locations, including all NetSpend locations. The minimum amount for this is $10 or $20 (depends on where you’re topping up a card), while the maximum is only $500. The funds are protected by FDIC though, which means that you can get all the money back if your card is lost or stolen.
All the aforementioned providers present excellent mobile and web applications for their users. As you could have already noticed, the services are also pretty much the same. However, the most important factor for choosing your international prepaid debit card issuer is fees. Below, you can find a precise table with a comparison of all providers we were talking about and their charges.
Where it can be used
UK, Europe, Australia, Singapore, and Switzerland
UK, Europe, USA, Australia, NZ, Singapore
UK, Eurozone, USA
The US and other eligible countries
Anywhere where Mastercard is accepted
Free account option
Yes, Pay-As-You-GO is free, but there’s a fee for each transaction
Yes, but you need to pay $5 monthly for using a card
ATM withdrawal fees
Free with Free card for up to £/€200 monthly, £/€400 monthly with Premium package and up to £/€600 monthly with Metal accordingly. 2% flat rate for the numbers above.
Free up to £200 / 30 days2% over £200 / 30 days
Free cards have a 1.7% fee. All the other plans have only 5 free ATM withdrawals available per month
Pay-As-You-GO option has a 4% fee on all foreign transactions (including ATM withdrawals)
Free card up to £200 / 30 days period is free and 3% fee thereafter. Plus Traveller has an upper limit of £400.
$1.95 fee for each ATM withdrawal + 2,5% fee for foreign transactions
Currency Exchange fees
Free up to £5,000/€6,000 monthly with the standard card. No monthly limit on Premium and Metal cards.
With Genome, you can pre-order both virtual and physical debit cards for your personal and business accounts. These can be used both domestically and internationally because we support multi-currency accounts. Send and receive SEPA and SWIFT transfers, as well as free and instant internal transfers from other Genome users.
4 tips for using your international prepaid debit card
Let’s now move to the list of practical advice to make the most of your prepaid debit card:
Sometimes you can be asked to choose the currency you want to use when purchasing something or paying in a foreign country. You can usually see a small notification on the POS terminal after you’ve already swiped your card or made a contactless payment. It will ask you to select the sum either in your home currency or a local one.
At first, it may seem like a smart idea to pay in local currency to save some money on exchange rates and conversion. Unless you know about double currency conversion. Here currency exchange happens twice within one transaction because of two different currencies involved (local one and your home one) with two foreign bank accounts. Moreover, you will also need to cover the costs of the markup rate.
Thus, if you want to be thrifty, always choose the local currency, no matter whether you’re withdrawing funds in the ATM or paying with a card.
ATMs are great because they look the same and have the same functionality no matter in what country you’re located. With some ATMs, you can only withdraw money, while with others you can also top up your bank card with cash. But what about ATM charges? Indeed, they differ with each ATM provider. What’s more, in some cases, you will need to pay for every little thing you do: checking your card balance, printing the receipt, etc. When it comes to trips abroad, ATMs are crucial, because you will usually need cash in local currency.
So, how do you get your money and not waste half of your vacation budget on ATM fees?
The first piece of advice is simple but not very practical: avoid withdrawing cash if possible. So, let’s proceed to other more practical pieces of advice in case you do need real money.
Try to use the ATMs of your financial provider – some of them will have these in the most popular travel destinations.
Go for the ATMs of local banks rather than international ones. You can see the last ones at railway stations, on main streets, in shopping malls, etc. Undoubtedly, their location is nothing but convenient, but the charges are also nothing but extremely high.
Try to figure out your fees before using an ATM. For example, you can check the balance of your card from a mobile application rather than doing it in the ATM.
Look for special services that offer more information on ATM charges. For instance, you can use Tripadvisor to check ATM fees in popular tourist destinations
Think about your alternatives. An international prepaid card is great, but what if you lose it or spend all the money? It’s always a wise decision to have some extra cash, an additional bank card with available funds on it, or a friend/relative who will be able to send your money immediately.
The mid-market currency exchange rate (also known as interbank) is your best friend when traveling to another country. It’s an ultimate indicator of the average sell and buy prices of two different currencies. By comparing your exchange rate to the mid-market rate, you can see how beneficial your rate is or look for some better options. Some services do offer exchange rates that are very close to the interbank one, while others also include a markup rate to their pricing.
Where can I get an international prepaid debit card?
Most providers let you apply online and will send the card to you by post or any other delivery service available in the area. You should be able to get a free prepaid card from most banks in your country. You can also download an application or use a website to open an account with a provider. Once your account is activated, you can order a card and get it shipped to your address. One of the best things is those big providers working on a global market even deliver prepaid cards to different countries.
What are the benefits of using an international prepaid debit card?
Such cards have plenty of awesome advantages. Let’s have a closer look at all of them:
If you exchange your currency for a foreign one before traveling to a new country, you can lock the rate. In such a way, you protect yourself from rate volatility that can always happen when you’re already abroad and avoid extra spendings due to unfavorable rates.
With some providers, you can use multiple currencies with one card.
An international prepaid debit card allows you to spend only how much you’ve loaded onto it. It’s an amazing solution for people who can only spend the necessary amount of money and not more. With prepaid cards, you can never go overdraft
You can withdraw cash and pay both online and in physical stores in foreign currencies but don’t need to open a foreign bank account for this.
You can monitor spendings and remaining balance from a mobile application
Some card issuers offer extra-level services for additional prices, such as smart devices and travel insurance, travel lounge, concierge, etc.
What are the downsides of using an international prepaid debit card?
Similarly, there are quite a few disadvantages:
You cannot go overdraft if you need money urgently
Sometimes, it can take a few days to top-up the card
Not all facilities accept prepaid cards. In some hotels, for example, only credit cards can be used.
On the one hand, all these drawbacks are not that serious compared to the benefits of prepaid cards. On the other hand, it’s better to be prepared and have a backup plan. For instance, if you’re worried about any unprecedented expenses on a trip abroad (car crash, injury, fines, etc.) – bring some cash or one more bank card just to be on the safe side.
Which prepaid Visa cards can be used internationally
In fact, any Visa prepaid card is suitable for using abroad. The thing is that some card issuers offer only Visa or Mastercard cards. That’s why if you need a Visa prepaid travel card, make sure that your provider will issue such a card for you.
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