Prepaid Travel Cards

Lock in a top rate before you go

Prepaid travel cards, also known as currency cards, allow you to load them before you go abroad then just use them as you would a debit card to spend or withdraw cash as you wish. And because they're pre-loaded, it allows you to keep tight control of your spending. Some also allow you to lock in a rate in advance.

The seven prepaid card need-to-knows

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...

  • Before you consider a prepaid card, check out travel credit or debit cards. They're often less of a faff than loading before and the top picks consistently offer near-perfect rates every day of the week. Plus, if you're using a travel credit card for a purchase costing £100-£30,000 (even abroad) you'll also get section 75 protection.

  • All 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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:

    • Many cards cost £5 to £10 to open and display that fee prominently on their websites. However, many also charge a sneaky 'replacement fee', and set the expiry date to one year after opening. After 12 months, you'll have to pay around £5 to keep using the card and any funds already on it.

      A few cards also charge a monthly fee of a few quid simply for holding it, which works out hideously expensive.

    • Many cards charge you for retail purchases (just buying something in a shop), or withdrawing money from an ATM. Both fees usually jump when you're abroad.

      Spending. Some cards levy a fee every time you spend, either a percentage of the amount or a flat fee per transaction. If you make a high number of small purchases, go for a percentage fee. If you make fewer and higher-value purchases, go for a set fee.

      Withdrawing. Most prepaid cards charge for using ATMs, usually £1.50 to £2.50 per withdrawal. 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.

    • Prepaid providers want you to regularly use the card, racking up charges and boosting their profit. Therefore, you're often penalised if the card goes unused, typically £2/month if you haven't used the card in 12 months.

      So use it frequently enough on small transactions to avoid this charge. Similarly, don't overload funds onto the card; most charge a fee to refund the money.

    • There's a hidden charge you could fall foul of if you're using a credit card to pay for and to top up your prepaid card.

      Buying currency on a prepaid card is counted as a cash withdrawal, so you could face a myriad of fees, including cash withdrawal fees, interest, or even a fee for using a credit card charged by the money changer.

      Therefore, if you're buying and topping up currency on a prepaid card, ALWAYS use a debit card, which isn't allowed to charge this fee.

  • 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 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.

Perfect interbank rates, though limited free ATM withdrawals

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.
  • 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
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

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

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).
  • 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+
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Slightly worse rates than the above but £35 bonus when you load £500

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 £35 worth of currency as a credit when you load £500+.

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.
  • Application fee: None
  • 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? £35 credit when you load £500.

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. As well as looking at the prepaid cards below, it's also worth considering Travel Credit Cards too, which work in much the same way.

Perfect interbank rates, though limited free ATM withdrawals

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. 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

Slightly worse rates than the above but £35 bonus when you load £500

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 £35 credit when they load £500+.

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.
  • Application fee: None
  • 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? £35 if you load £500+
  • 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.

Prepaid travel cards Q&A

  • There's no right answer to this, which is why this guide focuses on how to get the best rate at any moment. If the pound is strong and the euro or dollar weak, many people think, "I'm not going away for a few months, but I'll grab my cash now." If the pound's weak, many want to hold off.

    There's nothing wrong with doing this, but you need to understand it's currency speculation and you're effectively gambling on exchange rate moves. Playing the currency market is something highly paid traders can't always get right. Those who do make a fortune. Those who don't lose a fortune.

    For more on this, read Martin's "Should I buy euros now?" blog.

  • Absolutely. You'll tend to pay the same costs on foreign websites as if you were actually abroad and spending there. If you're paying in a foreign currency, all the usual charges apply – the same cheap cards are cheap, the same expensive ones costly.

  • This is called dynamic currency conversion and usually should be avoided. Often the rate you get will be appalling, and someone will be making big money out of it.

    If you've got one of the specialist overseas prepaid cards, you'll get a much better rate paying in the foreign currency rather than pounds.

    Even if you're using a normal card, as you've no idea of the relative exchange rates, it's usually best to stick with paying in the foreign currency. For a great example of this, read Martin's blog.

    Watch out for this when withdrawing money from cash machines too. You'll often be asked if you want to have your money converted into sterling when withdrawing euros from ATMs. The general rule is to say no, as you could get a worse rate than the one you'd be given by your own plastic provider.

    A few machines now tell you the commission/load they add to the currency. If this is less than your card's own load (eg, it's 2.5% and your card is 2.75%) opt to pay in pounds. But if you have one of the specialist cards featured here, they're usually unbeatable, so select the foreign currency.

  • If you're going to get the cash out on a specialist overseas prepaid card that you've loaded in the currency of the place you're going, then it's better to wait until you're there.

    However, if you're just planning to use a normal debit or credit card or convert pounds when you're out there, there's no guarantee you'll get a better rate – and certainly changing in most hotels is normally a bad idea as they give poor rates.

  • This is less common with prepaid cards than with normal credit or debit cards, as prepaid cards are designed for use abroad, so it's unlikely a transaction will be blocked because of this. However, if it is, you can call the provider and ask it to remove the block.

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