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Prepaid Travel Cards

Lock in a top rate before you go

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Helen S | Edited by Johanna

Updated July 2018

Prepaid travel cards, also known as currency cards, allow you to load them before you go abroad then use them as you would a debit card to spend or withdraw cash, allowing you to keep tight control of your spending. We've analysed rates and fees to work out our top picks below.

The six prepaid card need-to-knows

Before you pick a prepaid card, check out the other options. Travel credit cards are often less of a faff than loading these before you go. But if rate certainty or tight control of your budget is what you want, then prepaid cards work well as once loaded, 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 deposit customers' cash in a bank or building society in a ring-fenced account, separate from the 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 goes bust, because your cash is NOT protected in this case. Therefore, think of your prepaid card as one that you'll keep cash on 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, though you may have to pay up to £10 for a replacement card.

    Pay special attention if your prepaid card is contactless as it could be used for a series of small, fraudulent transactions, so always alert your card provider as soon as possible. It's also worth alerting local police or security services if there's been a theft - you may need an incident number to claim losses back on your travel insurance.

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

    Currency symbols Prepaid cards providers offer different rates to each other. Some use the 'spot rate' (the perfect exchange rate), some use Mastercard's or Visa's exchange rates, others still set theirs by picking one of these rates, then taking a certain percentage as their exchange fee, usually between 1% and 2.5%.

    To choose the cards in this guide, we do a comparison between the rates offered and the cards' fees and charges, then we list the ones with the best rates and lowest fees. Compare our top picks with the best you'd get for cash by using TravelMoneyMax.

  • Some cards allow you to 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 always calculate your exchange when you spend, with prepaid cards, some give you the ability to lock in a rate on the day you load them - good if you need certainty over budgets. If the pound weakens after you load the card, you'll gain, though conversely, if the pound strengthens, you'll lose.

    There are also prepaid cards which allow you to load them in pounds. These ones will give you the rate when the transaction's processed by the card provider, which can take up to a week.

  • 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 with bog-standard prepaid cards:

    Application and replacement fees

    Transaction fees

    Inactivity charges

    Paying for the prepaid card

    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.

  • 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. 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 back-up 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 cards to get the rate when you spend

With these 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. These cards are also the ones to use if you're planning a trip to several countries and just want one bit of plastic, or in countries where there isn't a specific prepaid card that carries that currency.

Revolut prepaid card

Perfect interbank rates, though limited free withdrawals

Revolut*

The prepaid card from Revolut* works using its app and gives perfect interbank rates (the rates banks give each other – far better than bureau de change) for most currencies, including euros and dollars. The only exceptions are Thai baht, Russian roubles and Ukrainian hryvnia – here Revolut will give you the best rate it can find at the time with a slight mark-up, so check rates in the app.

There are no spending fees but free ATM withdrawals are limited to £200 per calendar month – a 2% fee applies above this.

Do bear in mind that Revolut applies a small mark-up on its rates at weekends, when the markets are closed. It takes the interbank rate at midnight on Friday and adds between 0.5% and 1% depending on the currency until 11.59pm on Sunday. With this card, you can either get the rate when you spend or lock in a rate before you go. For more on this, see the write-up below.

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. Once you've loaded cash, you can spend anywhere in the world.
  • You'll either get a Visa or a Mastercard, though this won't affect the rate you'll get as Revolut uses the interbank exchange rate.
  • You need to request the card in the app and it can take up to nine working days to arrive.
  • You can hold 24 currencies including 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 140 currencies. When you spend, the card automatically exchanges from your available balances at the interbank rate for that currency.
  • Revolut is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, 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 for newbies applying via our link (norm £4.99) | Monthly fee: None
  • Exchange rate: Perfect interbank rates except at weekends, and for Thai baht, Russian roubles and Ukrainian Hryvnia (see above)
  • ATM withdrawal fee: None up to £200 or equivalent per calendar month, 2% after that
  • Holdable currencies: 24 currencies incl euros, US dollars, pounds, UAE dirham, Turkish lira and South African rand (see key questions for more).
  • Spendable currencies: 140 currencies incl euros and US dollars
  • Top up: Free via bank transfer or UK debit card
  • Replacement charge: £5
  • 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? None
Key questions

What currencies can I hold in the app? Once you've loaded your account with pounds, you can exchange in the app to euro, US dollar, Australian dollar, UAE dirham, Canadian dollar, Swiss franc, Czech koruna, Hungarian forint, Danish krone, Romanian leu, Swedish krona, Hong Kong dollar, Israeli new shekel, Norwegian krone, New Zealand dollar, Singapore dollar, Turkish lira, Indian rupee, Japanese yen, Moroccan dirham, Polish zloty, Qatari riyal, Thai baht, and South African rand.

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.

We always said that maintaining perfect rates wasn't sustainable and we were proved right when Revolut made changes in adding ATM fees, and not giving the interbank rate on the three excluded currencies or at the weekend.

At weekends, Revolut charges a mark-up on its rates, when the markets are closed. It takes the rate at midnight on Friday and adds 0.5% to major currencies and 1% to other currencies. This applies right up to 11.59pm on Sunday.

Please note too 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 £200 a calendar 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

Slightly worse rates than the above but a free £20 when you load £500

FairFX*

The Fair FX sterling* prepaid card, as its name suggests, allows you to load it in pounds. It converts it to other currencies when you spend overseas, and charges a relatively low 1.4% exchange fee. Plus, new customers applying via our link will get an extra £20 credit when they load £500+.

Our links also get you the card for free (normally £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.
  • You're charged £1 to withdraw cash from overseas ATMs, so try to spend rather than withdrawing cash. 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 regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, meaning money you deposit is ring-fenced in a separate bank account, 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.
  • Monthly fee: None | Exchange rate: Mastercard's, minus FairFX's 1.4% load
  • ATM withdrawal fee: £1
  • Loadable currencies: Pounds | Spendable currencies: anywhere Mastercard's accepted
  • Top up: Free via debit card online/bank transfer | Replacement charge: £6
  • Any freebies? £20 if you load £500+
Key questions

What are the ATM withdrawal charges? The only cost is £1 to withdraw cash from an ATM, less than most credit or debit cards. Try to minimise the number of withdrawals that you make, but strike a balance between that and carrying around wads of cash, which could be a safety risk.

Best cards to lock in a rate before you go

With these cards you lock in a rate days, months or even years before you go on hols, so know the rate you'll get before spending. They only allow you to hold around 20 of the world's most major currencies - but that should cover a vast majority of holiday destinations.

Revolut prepaid card

Perfect interbank rates, though limited free ATM withdrawals

Revolut*

The prepaid card from Revolut* gives perfect interbank rates (the rates banks give each other – far better than bureau de change) on most currencies. You can load it with pounds and then exchange in-app to 23 different currencies, including euros and dollars, meaning you can lock in a rate on those currencies before your trip. This is particularly useful if you're worried about currency swings.

There are no spending fees but free ATM withdrawals are limited to £200 per calendar month – a 2% fee applies above this.

Do bear in mind that Revolut applies a small mark-up on its rates at weekends, when the markets are closed. It takes the interbank rate at midnight on Friday and adds between 0.5% and 1% depending on the currency until 11.59pm on Sunday.

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.
  • You need to request the card in the app and it can take up to nine working days to arrive.
  • You can hold 24 currencies including pounds, euros and dollars on the card, and exchange between them instantly. So, if you've a balance in dollars on the card, and spend in dollars, it'll take it from that balance first.
  • You'll either get a Visa or a Mastercard, though this won't affect the rate you'll get.
  • Spend in a currency you don't (or can't) hold and it will do the conversion at that time, using one of the available balances you do hold. You can spend in more than 140 currencies.
  • Thai baht, Russian roubles and Ukrainian Hryvnia aren't exchanged at the interbank rate. On these, you get the best rate that Revolut can find at that time with a slight mark-up.
  • Revolut is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, 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 for newbies applying via our link (norm £4.99) | Monthly fee: None
  • Exchange rate: Perfect interbank rates except at weekends, and for Thai baht, Russian roubles and Ukrainian Hryvnia (see above)
  • ATM withdrawal fee: None up to £200 or equivalent per calendar month, 2% after that
  • Holdable currencies: 24 currencies incl euros, US dollars, pounds, UAE dirham, Turkish lira and South African rand (see key questions for more).
  • Spendable currencies: 140 currencies incl euros and US dollars
  • Top up: Free via bank transfer or UK debit card
  • Replacement charge: £5
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): N/A
  • Any freebies? None
Key questions

What currencies can I hold in the app? Once you've loaded your account with pounds, you can exchange in the app to euro, US dollar, Australian dollar, UAE dirham, Canadian dollar, Swiss franc, Czech koruna, Hungarian forint, Danish krone, Romanian leu, Swedish krona, Hong Kong dollar, Israeli new shekel, Norwegian krone, New Zealand dollar, Singapore dollar, Turkish lira, Indian rupee, Japanese yen, Moroccan dirham, Polish zloty, Qatari riyal, Thai baht, and South African rand.

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.

We always said that maintaining perfect rates wasn't sustainable and we were proved right when Revolut made changes in adding ATM fees, and not giving the interbank rate on the three excluded currencies – Thai baht, Russian roubles and Ukrainian Hryvnia (you'll need to check the rates via the app before you use it in those places) – or at the weekend.

At weekends, Revolut charges a mark-up on its rates, when the markets are closed. It takes the rate at midnight on Friday and adds 0.5% to major currencies and 1% to other currencies. This applies right up to 11.59pm on Sunday.

Please note too 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 £200 a calendar 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).

WeSwap

Interbank rates for six months, plus get a £25 bonus

WeSwap*

This card from WeSwap* allows you to spend worldwide and swap pounds into euros, dollars and 15 other currencies. Apply via our link and you'll get an extra £25 of currency when loading £500 or more. Plus, our link also gets you the perfect interbank rate (the rates banks give each other – far better than bureau de change) with no exchange fees. But there are two catches to this:

- You must wait seven days from loading the card to accessing your currency.
- The fees are only waived for six months from the date you first load your account with £500+.

Need-to-knows
  • After six months, you'll pay a 1% fee on each seven day swap.
  • If you need access sooner than a week from loading, you can't escape a fee – it's 1.3% to get it in three days, or 2% if you need it immediately.
  • If you withdraw less than €200/$200 (or currency equivalent) on the card, you'll be charged a €1.75/$2.25 fee (or a similar amount in your currency), so try to minimise the number of withdrawals you make, or make larger withdrawals, as they're free.
  • 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 its customers in other countries who want pounds – in practice though you'll notice no difference.
  • As well as euros, US dollars and pounds, you can also swap cash into 15 other currencies (see below). Alternatively, you can simply load the card in pounds and spend on it while abroad (WeSwap will convert pounds to the local currency for you), though you'll get the slightly worse Mastercard exchange rate and face a 2% fee.
  • You'll receive the card within 10 working days, though WeSwap says it should arrive in three to five.
  • WeSwap's card provider ring-fences 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 €200/$200, free above
  • Loadable currencies: Pounds
  • Spendable currencies: Worldwide.
  • 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? £25 of currency added when you load £500+
Key questions

It's registered in Gibraltar. Is it safe? We asked WeSwap this same question. Like all other prepaid cards, it ring-fences 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 ring-fenced, 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? Usually, WeSwap charges 1% on the spot exchange rate if you can wait seven days for your cash, 1.3% if you can wait three days or 2% if you want an instant transfer. MoneySavingExpert.com users applying during this offer will get perfect exchange rates for six months on seven-day swaps, 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 €200, 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 $200.

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.

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

Slightly worse rates than the above but £20 bonus when you load £600

FairFX*

If you're looking for tried and tested cards, or ones you don't need an app to operate, then look at the FairFX euro* and dollar* cards.

While the exchange rate's lower than the cards above, they're still decent, plus if you're a new customer and apply via the link above, it'll give you an extra £20 worth of currency as a credit when you load £600+ or £8 if you load between £300-£599.

Need-to-knows
  • You get FairFX's own exchange rate, which changes daily but generally beats that of most other prepaid cards.
  • You're charged €1.50/$2 to use overseas ATMs, so try to spend rather than wtihdrawing cash. 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.
  • FairFX is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, meaning money you deposit is ring-fenced in a bank account, 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
  • Loadable currencies: Euros/dollars only depending on card | Spendable currencies: Euros/dollars respectively (free); all others (1.4% fee)
  • Top up: Free via debit card online/bank transfer | Replacement charge: €9/$12
  • Fee for spending in different currency (eg, in dollars on a card loaded with euros): 1.4%
  • Any freebies? £20 credit when you load £600 or £8 credit if you load £300-£599.

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?

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