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International prepaid cards
Compare fees, accessibility and more before choosing a prepaid travel card.
There are plenty of ways to take your cash overseas, but the right option will depend on your finances, travel plans and spending habits. Weigh the features, fees and benefits of a prepaid travel money to help you find the best travel money option for your next overseas trip.
Compare international prepaid cards
Consider foreign transaction fees, ATM withdrawal fees, load fees and more before choosing an international prepaid card:
3 factors to consider when comparing international prepaid cards
To get the best international prepaid card for you, compare the following info:
- Fees. Most prepaid cards come with high fees, so you’ll want to choose one with the lowest monthly fee and one that has low fees for things like ATM withdrawals and foreign transactions.
- Accessibility. Make sure it services the currencies you’ll be using. And make sure it’s widely accepted wherever you’re going.
- Exchange rates. You want the most competitive exchange rates — which is why using an international prepaid card is much more beneficial than exchanging cash at an airport kiosk.
We love Wise for being super transparent about all of the above, so it’s worth looking into if you’re on a tight timeline and want a no-BS experience.
Is an international prepaid card right for me?
An international prepaid card might be a good option if you want to:
- Visit a country whose currency is available on the prepaid money card.
- Avoid fees, including the currency conversion fee and the foreign transaction fee.
- Lock in your exchange rate before traveling.
- Preload a debit card that is separate from your personal banking accounts.
- Have an acceptable form of non-cash payment.
What is an international prepaid card?
An international prepaid card — also known as a prepaid travel money card — is a debit card that allows you to add money and converts it into several types of currency that you can spend when traveling. This ultimately allows you to spend overseas without paying a currency conversion fee. Before traveling to your destination, make sure your card supports the local currency to ensure you’ll benefit from its features.
Prepaid travel cards also let you lock-in exchange rates before you travel. By knowing exactly what exchange rate you’re getting and how much money you have on the card, you’ll be able to budget more efficiently.Back to top
Prepaid travel money cards pros and cons
Here are a few advantages and concerns with using a travel money card on your next trip abroad.
- Spend like a local. Prepaid travel cards allow you to preload multiple foreign currencies while avoiding the currency conversion fee.
- Backup card. Prepaid travel cards come with a backup in case the first card is lost or stolen.
- Manage your travel budget. Reload the card when you need funds with a locked-in exchange rate. This protects you from exchange rate fluctuations and also allows you effectively budget.
- Travel card fees. Each card will come with different fees such as initial load fees, reload fees, ATM fees and inactivity fees. Look at the Travel Money Card, as it waives most of these charges.
- Reloading time. It can take anywhere from two to three business days for the transaction to process — don’t forget about extra time for holidays or weekends.
- Weaker exchange rate. Although travel money cards protect you from unpredictable fluctuations in exchange rates, your exchange rate is generally lower than the market rate.
Get an international prepaid card online
The best place to get international prepaid cards is online, since you can compare the different fees and terms without squinting at the fine print. If you want to pick up an international prepaid card from a physical location, contact your bank to see if you can open one at a branch.
While some grocery stores and chain retailers like Walmart and Costco do sell prepaid cards and gift cards, many of these cannot be used internationally — or they’ll charge hefty fees when used internationally — so we strongly recommend going to your bank or getting one online.
5 international prepaid card fees and how to avoid them
Take a look at some fees associated with travel money cards and a few hacks to reduce or avoid them entirely.
|Fee||What is it?||How to avoid|
|1. Load fees||The fee you’ll pay when loading funds onto the card.||These are generally unavoidable. The best way to minimize the charge is to load larger amounts at a time and keep the number of reloads to a minimum.|
|2. ATM withdrawal fees||The fee you’ll pay when withdrawing money from an ATM. |
Keep in mind that local ATM fees may still apply.
|Only use it for card transactions, and avoid withdrawing money from your account at international ATMs.|
|3. Inactivity fee||A monthly fee following a period of inactivity, usually 12 months.||If you want to keep your account active, make a small transfer or purchase before 12 months of inactivity.|
|4. Currency conversion fee||The feel you’ll pay when you complete a purchase overseas in a currency that isn’t loaded on your card.||Load the foreign currencies on your card before you travel — this typically only takes only a few seconds. |
If you don’t load the currency before the transaction, you’ll get hit with a hefty fee that’s about 3% of the charge.
|5. Account closure fee||The fee you’ll pay for closing the card.||Use all the funds on your card. Most travel cards only charge an account closure fee if there’s still money left on the card that you’re trying to get back.|
What if my prepaid card doesn’t support the local currency?
Most prepaid travel cards — like the Travelex Money Card — support about six currencies that have their own currency wallet. When you load funds onto your card, you’ll have to choose which currency you’d like to top up so you can use those funds in that country without having to pay a currency conversion fee.
If you don’t have the funds loaded in that particular currency wallet, or if your card doesn’t support that local currency, you’ll get hit with a currency conversion fee whenever you use your travel card in that country.
Your card provider withdraws funds from your account according to the default currency order at their existing exchange rate, and charges you an additional fee for converting currencies.
What’s the default currency order?
Currency order matters when you withdraw or spend money in a currency that your card doesn’t preload and can’t support. When this happens, your purchase amount is taken from the available currency highest on the default currency order list. Your card provider typically determines the default currency order.
For instance, a typical currency could be:
- United States dollars (USD)
- Great British pounds (GBP)
- Euros (EUR)
- Canadian dollars (CAD)
- Australian dollars (AUD)
- Japanese yen (JPY)
- Mexican pesos (MXY)
If you have preloaded USD, EUR and AUD on your card, and you are spending Thai baht in Bangkok, the card will convert whatever USD you have into baht for your purchase.
If you have insufficient USD preloaded on your card, it will convert the remaining USD you have into baht, and then withdraw the difference from your EUR wallet. A currency conversion fee will generally apply in these instances.
Alternatives to international prepaid cards
If an international prepaid card isn’t quite what you’re looking for, consider these alternatives:
- Borderless accounts. A virtual bank account designed to streamline the process of withdrawing cash and paying in different currencies, with low fees and transparent exchange rates. We like Wise because it offers free ATM withdrawals all around the world.
- Cash management accounts. These are tech-savvy accounts offered by nonbank financial service providers, such as SoFi Money, Aspiration and Betterment. They’re considering because they have a reputation for low fees and offer more flexibility when it comes to managing your money. For example, Betterment reimburses you for all ATM and foreign transaction fees.
- International debit cards. Debit cards that won’t ding you for withdrawing money from a foreign ATM or stocking up on souvenirs in a foreign country.
- Travel credit cards. These typically come with zero foreign transaction fees and rewards you for buying travel items like plane tickets, hotel reservations, car rentals and more.
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