A prepaid travel card is designed as a safe and convenient way of carrying cash abroad. It works by preloading the card with either foreign currency or pounds sterling, which you can then use to make payments or withdraw cash while you're abroad. They include either the Visa or Mastercard symbol, depending on which card network they are part of, and can be used anywhere that accepts Mastercard or Visa credit or debit cards.
Prepaid travel cards are a good way of keeping track of your holiday spending as you can only spend what is loaded on the card. When you reach the limit, you can add more money onto it. They also provide a cost-effective and relatively safe way to take money abroad as the card can be blocked if lost or stolen.
What type of prepaid travel card should you get?
Choosing the right prepaid travel card will largely depend on how you are planning to use it. You can expect to pay fees for various features of the card, including loading money on the card, making transactions, withdrawing cash or simply keeping the card active. We explain the various fees in more detail later in the article.
Apart from cost, the main consideration is whether to get a card that offers a single currency - say, euros or dollars - or a multi-currency option. Alternatively, you may prefer a card in pounds, which can be used more widely, including on your return to the UK.
Single-currency prepaid travel cards
If you are going to just one destination or are, for example, travelling around a few European countries that all accept euros, it can be simpler to opt for a prepaid travel card in just one currency. When you load money onto the card, it will automatically be converted into that currency and it is easy to keep track of your balance as it will also be displayed in that currency. The exchange rate you receive will be the one at the time you load the money on the card.
Another key advantage of single-currency cards is they are usually free, although some require a minimum initial amount to be loaded on the card. The main drawback is you won't be able to use it in countries with other currencies and may have to pay a fee to transfer any remaining balance back to your bank account.
Multi-currency prepaid travel cards
As the name suggests, these cards allow you to have different currencies on one card. This is handy if you want to use the card for multiple trips or will be visiting several countries during one holiday. It also means you can either choose to lock in an exchange rate when you load a particular currency or, instead, keep some of the money in sterling and transfer it into another currency later down the line. It is worth noting that you could face an additional 2% fee for converting money on the card from sterling into another currency depending on the terms and conditions of the card.
Some cards can hold as many as 14 different currencies, with the individual balances in each one kept separate and viewed easily. However, you need to keep in mind the card will limit the maximum amount you can load on it, so you may want to consider how much you are likely to want to spend in each currency before loading to avoid having to pay additional top-up fees later down the line.
Sterling prepaid travel cards
Another option is a card that you top up with pounds and then choose to pay in local currency with each purchase when you are abroad. These cards offer travellers the greatest degree of flexibility and can also be used in the UK. However, there is less certainty on the exchange rate you will get as it will be calculated each time you use the card and will therefore be subject to daily fluctuations. This can make budgeting more challenging.
How much does a prepaid travel card cost?
Cost of buying the card
While many cards are free to purchase when you load the card with a minimum initial amount, others will charge an initial fee of £5 or £10 to take out the card.
As with the initial set-up fee, some cards require cardholders to pay a monthly fee to keep the card active. This could be as little as £1 per month, but could be as high as £10. It is worth checking in advance what happens to any balance remaining on the card if you don't keep up with these monthly payments.
Using the card
Again, while it's not the case with all prepaid travel cards, some will charge a small transaction fee for every purchase on the card. There may also be a similar fee for withdrawing money on the card from an ATM, either when you're abroad or back in the UK.
Topping up the card
You could face a fee of 2% to 3% to top up the card. This charge tends to be levelled on cards where there aren't transaction fees for using the card or withdrawing money on the card.
Replacing lost or stolen cards or cancelling the card
You may have to make a one-off payment to replace the card if it is lost or stolen. Similarly, you may have to pay to cancel the card and to transfer any remaining balance back to your bank account.
Which are the best prepaid travel cards?
In the table below, we summarise the best prepaid travel cards based on the fees they charge, the maximum and minimum amount you can load on the card and the ease of use.
|Name of card||Set-up fee||Load fee||ATM withdrawal||Minimum/maximum on card||Best for...|
|Those travelling in the eurozone and looking for a strong all-round card|
|Free||Free||$2||$75/$10,000||Those looking for a good dollar-denominated card with low fees|
|Free||Free||Free||£50/£12,000||Those looking for a multi-currency card that accommodates the largest range of international currencies|
5 free withdrawals a month (up to £200), 2% fee thereafter
|Unlimited||Those who want the flexibility of a sterling-denominated card with the potential to reduce costs by topping up on weekdays|
Best prepaid travel cards for Europe
Set-up fee: Free
Exchange rate: First Rate exchange rate
Load fee: Free
ATM withdrawal: 2 EUR
Daily cash withdrawal limit: 450 EUR
Minimum/maximum amount on card: £50/£10,000 (maximum £30,000 in total over one year)
Additional fees: Inactivity fee (£2 per calendar month 12 months after expiry), cancellation fee (£5)
Best prepaid travel cards for America
Set-up fee: Free
Exchange rate: Mastercard rate
Load fee: Free
ATM withdrawal: $2
Daily cash withdrawal limit: $1,000
Minimum/maximum amount on card: $75/$10,000
Additional fees: Replacement card ($12), inactivity fee ($3 per month after expiry), cancellation fee ($5)
Best multi-currency prepaid travel cards
Set-up fee: Free
Exchange rate: Caxton's rate
Load fee: Free
ATM withdrawal: Free
Daily cash withdrawal limit: £300
Minimum/maximum amount on card: £50/£12,000
Additional fees: Replacement card (£5), inactivity fee (£2 per month after 24 months of inactivity), cancellation fee (£1.50)
Best sterling prepaid travel cards
Set-up fee: Free
Exchange rate: Interbank rate Monday -Friday, 0.5% or 1% additional fee on Saturdays and Sundays, depending on currency
Load fee: Free
ATM withdrawal: 5 free ATM withdrawals a month (or up to £200), 2% fee thereafter
Daily cash withdrawal limit: £3,000
Minimum/maximum amount on card: Unlimited
Additional fees: Replacement card (£4.99)
For more detailed insight, read our Revolut review.
What exchange rate will I get on my prepaid travel card?
Locking in the best exchange rate can make a huge difference to how far your money will stretch during your time abroad. For most prepaid travel cards, the exchange rate will be set by the either the card network - Visa or Mastercard - or an interbank exchange rate, which all tend to be the most competitive rates on the market. The card provider will then typically add commission on top of that.
You can find the Visa and Mastercard exchange rates on their websites. It is more important to check the terms and conditions of the individual card to see what level of fees or commission they charge on top of this standard rate.
What are the advantages of prepaid travel cards?
- Using a prepaid travel card is generally safer than carrying the equivalent amount in cash as, if it's stolen, you can cancel the card and stand a better chance of being able to get back the remaining balance on the card. You will often also be issued with a replacement card.
- These cards allow you to budget as the amount you spend is limited by the total you have loaded on the card. There is no potential to become overdrawn as they aren't linked to your bank account. You also know what the exchange rate is at the point you put money on the card, so it also removes that uncertainty if there are fluctuations.
- You don't need to have a credit check to get a prepaid travel card, unlike a travel credit card. This means it is a good option if you have little credit history or have an impaired credit score.
- It is a way for parents to give their teenage children spending money for their first solo holidays, with the ability to top up the balance if there is an emergency.
What are the disadvantages of prepaid travel cards?
- As we've outlined above, there are fees associated with prepaid travel cards, which is how the card companies make money. Depending on what the fee structure is, it could work out cheaper to opt for a specific travel credit card.
- Although they are widely accepted, there may be some retailers who won't accept them and only take cash.
- Unlike credit cards, prepaid cards aren't covered by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which gives protection for purchases between £100 and £30,000. This is explained in more detail in our article "Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act explained - your rights and how to claim".
What are the alternatives to prepaid travel cards?
An option that may work out cheaper for frequent travellers is a dedicated travel credit card. As the name suggests, these cards are designed with deals aimed specifically with foreign usage in mind, with many offering no foreign transaction fees, free ATM withdrawals and competitive exchange rates. For a full rundown of the best cards available, read our article "Compare the best travel credit cards".
Another alternative to a prepaid travel card is an app-only bank such as Monzo and Starling. If you bank with either of these you can spend abroad with no additional foreign transaction fees and withdraw money abroad at no extra cost, although some limits may apply. For more information on these app-only banks, read our reviews: