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Prepaid Travel Cards

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Helen S | Edited by Johanna

Updated July 2016

Prepaid travel cards are like travellers cheques but without the hassle. You load them before you go then just use them as you would a debit card to spend or withdraw cash as you wish. You can also use them to lock in a rate, plus, because they're pre-loaded, it allows you to keep tight control of your spending.

The likes of FairFX, Travelex and Post Office are well-known prepaid card providers. But which are the best value? We've analysed rates and fees to work out our top picks.

The six prepaid card need-to-knows

Before you pick a prepaid card, it's worth checking out the other options. Travel credit cards give you better rates than you'll get on these cards.

But if rate certainty or tight control of your budget is what you want, then prepaid cards work very well, as once you've loaded them, you know how much you have to spend and can't go over that unless you reload. Here's what you need to know...

  • Your money's safe if the card issuer goes bust

    Lock with cardAll prepaid cards listed below are backed by a bank or building society. When you load cash onto a prepaid card, your cash goes into a ring-fenced account, separate from the prepaid card provider's account.

    So, if the prepaid card company goes bust, the bank or building society where your money's resting will still retain your cash.

    The slight risk comes if the bank or building society backing the prepaid card goes bust, as your cash is NOT protected.

    Sadly, with prepaid cards, the cash is counted as 'electronic money' rather than as a normal current account or savings deposit, so it's not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

    Therefore, think of your prepaid card as one that you'll keep cash on only for immediate spending requirements, rather than as a place to store heaps of it.

  • If you lose the card or it's stolen, you need to report it

    As long as you contact the provider of your prepaid card and get it blocked, you shouldn't lose out on any money. But you may have to pay for a replacement card – this can often cost up to £10.

    Pay special attention if your prepaid card is contactless. If it's stolen, it could be used for a series of small, fraudulent transactions. Always alert your card provider as soon as you're aware you no longer have the card.

    It's also worth alerting local police or security services if there's been a theft. You may need an incident number if you want to claim losses back on your travel insurance.

  • Providers use their own exchange rates, which can vary, so be careful

    Currency symbolsUnlike the specialist credit cards, which use Mastercard's or Visa's exchange rates, many prepaid cards tend to use their own rates. Typically this is set by taking a certain percentage as their exchange fee, usually between 1% and 2.5%.

    To choose the cards that feature in this guide, we do a comparison between the 'spot rate' (the perfect exchange rate) and the prepaid cards' own rates. We use this, along with the cards' fees and charges, to work out which are best to use abroad, then we list the ones with the best rates and lowest fees.

  • You lock in a rate when you load, which means you can win (or lose) if there are currency fluctuations

    Unlike debit and credit cards, which calculate your exchange on the day you spend, with prepaid cards, it's the rate on the day you load that's important. If the pound weakens after you load the card, you'll gain, so it can be good to have that certainty. Conversely, though, if the pound strengthens, you'll lose.

    Watch out for global prepaid cards. Here, you load them with pounds, and then the conversion happens on the day you spend.

  • Beware fees – some cards even charge you for not using them

    Prepaid cards have more fees than credit or debit cards. We take all these into consideration when picking our best buys, deliberately picking cards with low – or no – fees, but these are the charges you need to watch out for:

    Application and replacement fees

    Transaction fees

    Inactivity charges

    Paying for the prepaid card

    Exchange rate

    It's also worth checking the cards for loading and transaction limits. If you're likely to want to withdraw lots of cash, it's no good picking a card with a £50 or £100 per day limit for cash withdrawals. Check fees and limits so you get a card that suits your needs.

  • You can't use these cards for car hire, or at many petrol stations

    While these cards say they're accepted anywhere you see the Mastercard or Visa symbol, there are some notable exceptions. Car hire is the main one. Most car hire places won't accept prepaid cards, or if they do, they're likely to also require a credit card for the excess deposit authorisation, so make sure you have backup cards.

    We've also heard from MoneySavers that prepaid cards aren't accepted at many petrol stations or motorway toll booths.

    Please let us know in the Prepaid Travel Cards forum if you've had a prepaid card declined in other places.

Best Buys: Euro/Dollar prepaid cards

These are our top picks. We've deliberately picked cards with good exchange rates and low fees, plus none of these cards has a fee for spending. We regularly compare cards to ensure the ones listed are still top deals.

WeSwap

Perfect exchange rates for 12mths, plus £10 currency bonus

WeSwap*

This card from WeSwap* works in euros, dollars, pounds and 15 other currencies and is managed via a smartphone app. Apply via our link and you'll get an extra £10 of currency when loading £50 or more.

The rate it charges is based on the perfect interbank rate plus a fee, which depends on how quickly you’ll need access to the cash. The best rate is if you can wait seven days after uploading for it to convert - normally the fee is then 1%, but apply via our link above and this is wiped for the first year.

Need-to-knows
  • Apply via our link and you'll get an extra £10 when you load £50+, plus you'll pay no fees on seven day swaps for a year. This offer has just been extended and there are 2,000 bonuses available as of 12 July 2016.
  • The card works along with an associated app that you will need to download to make exchanges. You load pounds onto it, then tell it whether you want a same-day conversion to your chosen currency, or whether you're happy to wait for the no-fee option.
  • WeSwap technically works as a peer-to-peer exchange site. It 'matches' you with people in other countries who want pounds for their euros, dollars or more – in practice though you'll notice no difference.
  • If you withdraw less than €250/$300 (€200/$200 from 26 Sept 2016) on the card, you'll be charged a €1.75/$2.25 fee, so try to minimise the number of withdrawals you make. Withdrawals above this amount are free.
  • As well as euros, US dollars and pounds, you can also swap cash into 15 other currencies (see key questions). But, oddly, the card won't work in countries that don't use one of the 18 currencies as their official currency, so don't try.
  • If you don't use the card for more than 12 months, WeSwap has the right to charge a £2 per month inactivity fee, though it says it doesn't intend to. There's no fee to cancel.
  • You'll receive the card within 7-10 working days.
  • To be safe, only load cash on the cards if you'll use them soon.
  • WeSwap's card provider ringfences customer funds, and deposits these with Barclays and NatWest. But unlike the others, WeSwap isn't UK-regulated, the card's issued by IDT, regulated in Gibraltar - so you're ultimately reliant on its regulations to protect you (a lot must go wrong though before this matters - our key questions has more).
Stats box
  • Application fee: None
  • Monthly fee: None
  • ATM withdrawal fee: €1.75/$2.25 under €250/$300, free above
  • Loadable currencies: Pounds/euros/Norwegian kroner, Swedish kronor, Danish kroner
  • Spendable currencies: pounds, euros, dollars & 13 others
  • Top up: Free via debit card online/bank transfer
  • Replacement charge: £5
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): N/A (can only spend on currencies held on the card)
  • Any freebies? £10 of currency added when you load £50+
Key questions

It's registered in Gibraltar. Is it safe? We asked WeSwap this same question. Like all other prepaid cards, it ringfences its customers' cash in a bank account separate to its own funds. In this case, WeSwap puts funds with Barclays and NatWest (depending on currency).

If WeSwap went bust, IDT (the card issuer) would contact you to return your funds. If IDT went bust, WeSwap would look for a card issuer to transfer its business to - so there'd be a disruption in your service but your funds would be fine. If both went bust, your funds are still ringfenced, so the administrators of the companies' bankruptcy would contact you to return your funds.

Finally, if Barclays and/or NatWest went bust, your money's lost as it's not protected by the savings safety guarantee. But, this is the minor risk all prepaid cards carry.

How good is WeSwap's exchange rate? It comes up trumps when compared with the other specialist prepaid travel cards. Usually, WeSwap charges 1% on the spot exchange rate if you can wait seven days for your cash, or 1.4% if you want an instant transfer.

MoneySavingExpert users applying during this offer will get perfect exchange rates for a year, after which the card reverts to its usual charging structure.

What am I charged for cash withdrawals? You're charged €1.75 if you withdraw under €250, but nothing above that. In the UK, you'll pay £1.50 for withdrawals below £200, but nothing above. Other currencies attract an equivalent charge in that currency, eg, the dollar withdrawal charge is $2.25 under $300.

So, if you can, try to get larger amounts out if you're making cash withdrawals, though be mindful of safety. Otherwise, try to minimise the number of withdrawals you make.

What currencies can I hold on the WeSwap card? Pounds, euros, US dollars, Swedish krona, Norwegian krona, Danish krone, Australian dollars, Canadian dollars, Swiss francs, Hong Kong dollars, Japanese yen, Singapore dollars, New Zealand dollars, South African rand, Polish zloty, Turkish lira, Israeli Shekel and Hungarian forint.

Revolut prepaid card

Perfect rates for a year & a free £5 when you load £500

Revolut*

The prepaid Mastercard from Revolut* works alongside an app and gives perfect interbank rates (the rates banks give each other – far better than bureaux de change) for most currencies, including euros and dollars. The only exceptions are Thai baht and Russian roubles - here Revolut will give you the best rate it can find at the time, so check rates in the app.

There are no spending fees, and no ATM fees on withdrawals up to £500/€650/$700 a month, but a 2% fee applies above that. As a bonus, if you use the invite code MSE when signing up, it'll add an extra £5 to your balance if you load £500 or more.

We've always said that maintaining perfect rates isn’t sustainable, so if Revolut can't find a way to make other revenue (eg, selling other products to existing customers), after a year it may add a fee to hold the card (it'll notify you if it does). It has already made changes in adding ATM fees, and not giving the interbank rate on two currencies, but it's still a top pick for the majority.

Need-to-knows
  • You need a smartphone to use it as it's managed via an app, meaning you can load, exchange and withdraw funds with the touch of a few buttons (the link above will go to your app store if you're on a mobile). Once you've loaded cash, you can spend anywhere in the world Mastercard's accepted.
  • You can hold pounds, euros and dollars on the card, and exchange between them instantly. So, if you have cash left over after your holiday, just swap it back to pounds, and use the card here.
  • You can spend in more than 80 currencies (not just euros, dollars or pounds). When you spend, the card automatically exchanges from your balances at the interbank rate for that currency, except Thai baht and Russian roubles where you get the best rate that Revolut can find, though it may not be the interbank.
  • You need to request the card in the app once you've signed up – it won't arrive automatically.
  • To be safe, only load cash on the cards if you'll use them soon.
  • The card takes up to 10 working days to arrive.
  • Revolut's card provider Optimal Payments is FCA-regulated, meaning money you deposit is ring-fenced (in a Barclays account), so in the event there are problems with Revolut, the money's safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: None | Monthly fee: None
  • Exchange rate: Perfect interbank rates except for Thai baht and Russian roubles (see above)
  • ATM withdrawal fee: None up to £500/€650/$700 a month (or equivalent), 2% after that
  • Loadable currencies: Pounds/euros/dollars | Spendable currencies: Euros, dollars & 84 others
  • Top up: Free via bank transfer or UK debit card
  • Replacement charge: £6
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): N/A (all exchanges are done at the interbank rate)
  • Any freebies? £5 of currency added when you load £500+
Key questions

How good is Revolut's exchange rate? Revolut's exchange rate is the best you can get for the majority of currencies, as it uses interbank rates, which tend to be slightly higher than Mastercard's or Visa's rates. This excludes Thai baht and Russian roubles though – for those, check the rates via the app before you use it in those places.

Please note that Revolut reserves the right to begin charging a 1% exchange fee (or a small, fixed fee) after a year.

What am I charged for cash withdrawals? Nothing up to £500/€650/$700 a month (or equivalent), 2% above that. Providing you stick to the limits, you won't be charged fees anywhere in the world (unless the machine itself charges a fee).

Good card for spending, no transaction or 'load' fees

Good card for spending, plus up to £20 bonus when you load £300+

FairFX*

If you're looking for tried & tested cards, or ones you don't need an app to operate, then look no further than the FairFX euro* and dollar* cards.

They have decent rates, plus if you're a new customer and apply via the link above, it'll give you an extra £8-worth of currency as a credit when you load £300-£599 or extra £20-worth if you load £600+. You'll also get the cards for free (usually there's a £9.95 application fee if you load less than £200).

Need-to-knows
  • You get FairFX's own exchange rate, which changes daily but generally beats that of most other prepaid cards.
  • Until 30 Sept 2016, you'll be refunded the €1.50/$2 cash withdrawal fee, making it free to withdraw cash from overseas ATMs. You can make up to three withdrawals a day, and 10 over a four-day period.
  • The cards take seven to 10 working days to arrive.
  • You must load the card with at least €60/$75.
  • If you have cash left over, you can spend it for free in the UK. But don't use the card at cash machines here as the fee will still apply.
  • FairFX is FCA regulated, meaning money you deposit is ring-fenced, so in the event there are problems with FairFX, the money is safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: Free if you use the links above and top up £50+ currency. If not, £9.95
  • Monthly fee: None | ATM withdrawal fee: €1.50/$2 (until 30 Sept this fee will be refunded)
  • Loadable currencies: euros/dollars only depending on card | Spendable currencies: pounds & euros/dollars respectively (free); all others (1.4% fee)
  • Top up: Free via debit card online/bank transfer | Replacement charge: €9
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): 1.4% (free if spending in the UK)
  • Any freebies? £8 credit when you load £300-£599, £20 if you load £600+
Key questions

How good is FairFX's exchange rate? It's always among the top currency cards in terms of rate. If you spend in a currency other than euros on the euro card or dollars on the dollar card, you'll be charged a currency conversion fee of 1.4%.

What are the ATM withdrawal charges? There's a €1.50/$2 fee, which until 30 Sept 2016 is being refunded, effectively making cash withdrawals free.

Best Buys: Global currency cards

With the global cards, you usually load them in pounds. Then, when you're overseas, the card does the conversion when you actually use it to buy something. You're more open to currency fluctuations as you don't lock a rate in, but it also means you could win.

It's best to use these cards if you're planning a trip to several countries and just want one bit of plastic. Or, they're useful in countries where there isn't a specific prepaid card that carries that currency.

We've picked the cards that have the lowest exchange loading when they make the currency conversion.

Revolut prepaid card

Perfect rates for a year & a free £5 when you load £500

Revolut*

The prepaid Mastercard from Revolut* works alongside an app and gives perfect interbank rates (the rates banks give each other – far better than bureaux de change) for most currencies, including euros and dollars. The only exceptions are Thai baht and Russian roubles - here Revolut will give you the best rate it can find at the time, so check rates in the app.

There are no spending fees, and no ATM fees on withdrawals up to £500/€650/$700 a month, but a 2% fee applies above that. As a bonus, if you use the invite code MSE when signing up, it'll add an extra £5 if you load £500 or more.

We've always said that maintaining perfect rates isn’t sustainable, so if Revolut can't find a way to make other revenue (eg, selling other products to existing customers), after a year it may add a fee to hold the card (it'll notify you if it does). It has already made changes in adding ATM fees, and not giving the interbank rate on two currencies, but it's still a top pick for the majority.

Need-to-knows
  • You need a smartphone to use it as it's managed via an app, meaning you can load, exchange and withdraw funds with the touch of a few buttons (the link above will go to your app store if you're on a mobile). Once you've loaded cash, you can spend anywhere in the world Mastercard's accepted.
  • You can hold pounds, euros and dollars on the card, and exchange between them instantly. So, if you have cash left over after your holiday, just swap it back to pounds, and use the card here.
  • You can spend in more than 80 currencies (not just euros, dollars or pounds). When you spend, the card automatically exchanges from your balances at the interbank rate for that currency, except Thai baht and Russian roubles where you get the best rate that Revolut can find, though it may not be the interbank.
  • You need to request the card in the app once you've signed up – it won't arrive automatically.
  • To be safe, only load cash on the cards if you'll use them soon.
  • The card takes up to 10 working days to arrive.
  • Revolut's card provider Optimal Payments is FCA-regulated, meaning money you deposit is ring-fenced (in a Barclays account), so in the event there are problems with Revolut, the money's safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: None | Monthly fee: None
  • Exchange rate: Perfect interbank rates except for Thai baht and Russian roubles (see above)
  • ATM withdrawal fee: None up to £500/€650/$700 a month (or equivalent), 2% after that
  • Loadable currencies: Pounds/euros/dollars | Spendable currencies: Euros, dollars & 84 others
  • Top up: Free via bank transfer or UK debit card
  • Replacement charge: £6
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): N/A (all exchanges are done at the interbank rate)
  • Any freebies? £5 of currency added when you load £500+
Key questions

How good is Revolut's exchange rate? Revolut's exchange rate is the best you can get for the majority of currencies, as it uses interbank rates, which tend to be slightly higher than Mastercard's or Visa's rates. This excludes Thai baht and Russian roubles though – for those, check the rates via the app before you use it in those places.

Please note that Revolut reserves the right to begin charging a 1% exchange fee (or a small, fixed fee) after a year.

What am I charged for cash withdrawals? Nothing up to £500/€650/$700 a month (or equivalent), 2% above that. Providing you stick to the limits, you won't be charged fees anywhere in the world (unless the machine itself charges a fee).

Good card for spending, no transaction or 'load' fees

Good card for spending & a free £20 when you load £500

FairFX*

If you're going on a world tour, and you just want a sterling card that will transfer into almost any currency in any country, the FairFX sterling* prepaid card has a low exchange rate loading.

Plus, new customers applying via these links will get an extra £20 credit when loading £500+. You'll also get the card for free (there's usually a £9.95 application fee if you load less than £200).

Need-to-knows
  • You get FairFX's own exchange rate, which is charged at 1.4% off the near-perfect Mastercard exchange rates.
  • Until 30 Sept 2016, you'll be refunded the £1 cash withdrawal fee, making it free to withdraw cash from overseas ATMs. You can make up to three withdrawals a day, and 10 over a four-day period.
  • The card takes seven to 10 working days to arrive.
  • You must load the card with at least £50.
  • Bizarrely, you're charged to spend in the UK with this card, even though it's in pounds, so keep it only for overseas travel.
  • FairFX is FCA regulated, meaning money you deposit is ring-fenced, so in the event there are problems with FairFX, the money is safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: Free if you use the link above and top up £50+ currency. If not, £9.95
  • Monthly fee: None | Exchange rate: Mastercard's, minus FairFX's 1.4% load
  • ATM withdrawal fee: £1 (until 30 Sept this fee will be refunded)
  • Loadable currencies: Pounds | Spendable currencies: any world currency (1.4% fee)
  • Top up: Free via debit card online/bank transfer | Replacement charge: £6
  • Any freebies? A bonus of £20 when you load £500+
Key questions

How good is FairFX's exchange rate? It's always among the top currency cards in terms of rate. Use this card, and you're charged a conversion rate of 1.4%, one of the lowest transaction fees we've found for a sterling conversion card.

What are the ATM withdrawal charges? There's a £1 fee, which until 30 Sept 2016 is being refunded, effectively making cash withdrawals free.

Travelex Cash Passport*

Another card offering low loading fees for worldwide spending

Travelex Globe Cash Passport

Exchange giant Travelex offers its Globe Cash Passport, which allows you to load it with pounds, then charges you a 2.49% load every time you make a transaction in a different currency. It's a higher exchange fee than the others, but you're not charged an extra fee to withdraw cash, so this could be worth it if you'll be using ATMs a lot.

Need-to-knows
  • You get the near-perfect Mastercard exchange rate, but this card charges a 2.49% exchange fee for each cash withdrawal and purchase made overseas.
  • The card costs £9.99 to get, but it does come with a free additional card, ideal if you need one for a backpacking child.
  • The card will be sent by first class post, meaning it could take a 3-5 working days to arrive (you can collect in a branch, if there's one close)
  • You'll need to activate the card by calling the number on it.
  • Travelex is FCA regulated, meaning the money you deposit is ring-fenced, so in the event there are problems with Travelex, the money is safe.
Stats box
  • Application fee: £9.99 | Monthly fee: None
  • Exchange rate: Mastercard's, minus Travelex's 2.49% load
  • Cash withdrawals: Free | Top up: Free
  • Loadable currencies: Pounds | Spendable currencies: any world currency (2.49% fee)
  • Replacement cost: Free

Prepaid travel cards Q&A

  • When’s the best time to buy currency?

  • Do the same rules apply when buying off overseas websites?

  • If I spend abroad and they let me pay in pounds, is it worth it?

  • Should I get my travel money out in the UK or overseas?

  • My card was blocked while I was abroad, can I prevent this?