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Prepaid cards for all currencies

If you’re planning an overseas trip or travel abroad regularly, a prepaid travel card in multiple currencies could help you save on costly foreign exchange fees. See what they are, how they work and if one could be useful to you.

If you’re planning an overseas trip or travel abroad regularly, a prepaid travel card in multiple currencies could help you save on costly foreign exchange fees. See what they are, how they work and if one could be useful to you.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Consumer expert on money and utilities
Last Updated
24 JULY 2023
7 min read
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What is a prepaid travel card?

A prepaid multi-currency card isn’t a debit or credit card. It’s a pre-loadable card, a bit like a gift card. It's an alternative to carrying foreign currency or traveller's cheques. Simply load it up in the currency of your choice, then use it for spending in shops and restaurants or for cash withdrawals abroad. You can reload the card if necessary.

You can’t get a prepaid card in every currency under the sun, but there’s a number of cards available in multiple currencies.

If you’re looking to save money on costly foreign exchange fees, a prepaid card in multiple currencies might work well for you.

While you can’t compare prepaid multi-currency cards with us, our simple guide can help you decide if it’s worth getting one.

How do prepaid currency cards work?

Multi-currency prepaid cards work by letting you spend up to the value you've loaded on your card in the chosen currency, similarly to how you would use a debit card at home. But the money is taken from the amount loaded on the card, rather than your bank account.

When you take out a multi-currency prepaid card, you’ll be provided with a PIN, expiry date, card number and verification code on the back (CVV). Most prepaid cards also have a contactless payment feature.

Simply load money onto the multi-currency card using:

  • Your debit card
  • A bank transfer
  • Online or mobile banking
  • Your card provider’s app.

You can usually link your prepaid card account, via the app, to your current account, then instantly move money across to reload it when you need it.

Some holiday money card providers let you hold a separate balance in each currency – for example, sterling, euros and US dollars. You can then move your money between them once it’s been loaded onto the card.

This flexibility would allow you, for example, to load £200 onto your card, then move it to your euros balance, locking in the exchange rate before you leave for a European trip.

Prepaid travel cards are typically accepted in all the same places as Mastercard or Visa. So, you should be able to use it abroad wherever you see the Mastercard or Visa symbol.

Top tip

Never use a credit card to top-up your prepaid card. It’s counted as a cash withdrawal, so you’d face the same fees as you would if you used your credit card at an ATM. Use your debit card to top up your prepaid card. The money comes straight out of your bank account and your bank won’t charge you a fee.

What currencies can you get on a prepaid travel card?

There are two main types of prepaid currency cards:

  • Sterling cards hold your money in pounds sterling, then let you spend in different currencies. Your money will be converted to the selected currency each time you use your card.
  • Multi-currency cards let you hold your balance in different currencies – for example, sterling, euros, dollars – and move your money between them.

The supported currencies depend on the card you choose.

Did you know?

Although you can usually use multi-currency prepaid cards wherever you see the Mastercard or Visa symbol, there are some exceptions. Many car hire companies, petrol stations and toll booths abroad won’t accept prepaid cards.

What exchange rate will I get on my currency card?

It depends on your card provider. Some providers offer ‘interbank’ rates – the rate the banks use – which is a fair, mid-market exchange rate. Others might charge a small exchange rate fee.

If your card holds your money in sterling and lets you spend in multiple currencies, you’ll get the current exchange rate each time you use your card.

If your prepaid travel money card is in multiple currencies, you’ll get the set exchange rate when you load money onto your card or move your balance from one currency to another.

What are the advantages of a prepaid currency card?

The advantages of using a multi-currency prepaid card include:

  • Cheaper to use abroad – some cards don’t charge a fee for spending or cash withdrawals up to a certain limit.
  • Many cards offer the interbank exchange rate.
  •  Less risk of overspending – you can only spend what’s on the card.
  • Easy to top up.
  • Safer than carrying cash around.
  • Can be used the same way as a debit card.
  • You can’t borrow, so you won’t risk interest charges or overdraft fees.
  • Quick and easy to convert into different currencies.
  • As you’re not borrowing money you won’t need a credit check.

Top tip

If you hold a prepaid currency card and are offered the choice of paying in GBP or the local currency, always choose the local currency. If you pay in GBP, the foreign retailer’s bank or ATM withdrawal bank will do the currency conversion for you – not your card provider. This is called ‘dynamic currency conversion’ and the exchange rates can be horrendous.

What are the disadvantages of a multi-currency card?

Other downsides to multi-currency prepaid cards:

  • Unlike credit cards, they don’t have Section 75 protection.
  • Unlike your bank account, money on your prepaid card isn’t protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).
  • Unlike a 0% credit card, you can’t borrow money then spread your repayments over a period of time.
  • Some prepaid cards limit how much you can load, withdraw or spend during a certain period; for example, per day or per month.
  • Some places, like petrol stations and toll booths, might not accept prepaid cards
  • Any balance left at the end of a trip may just be sitting there from one year to the next, not earning interest compared with if it were in a savings account There is also a currency risk if the currency sitting on your card is falling in value compared with sterling or another currency you often use.
  • Fees are not always transparent or easy to understand.

Looking at the last point, it’s important to read all the terms and conditions when you look at multi-currency prepaid cards. They’re all different and some can hit you with a number of fees. Watch out for:

  • A fee for buying the card
  • A free card, then a ‘sneaky’ replacement fee for a new card
  • Fees for putting money on your card
  • Fees for spending and cash withdrawals
  • A fee for not using your card
  • A charge for closing your account.

Is it worth getting a prepaid travel card?

Before you decide to get a holiday prepaid card, you might want to consider:

  • How frequently you travel abroad and much you'll use it
  • All the fees involved
  • Whether the card provider charges an exchange rate fee
  • What the limits are for spending and cash withdrawals
  • If your chosen currencies are supported.

While a prepaid currency card can be a cheaper way to store and spend your money in different currencies, check the terms and conditions carefully for any unexpected fees.

Please note: Compare the Market doesn’t offer a comparison service for prepaid cards.

What are the alternatives to a prepaid travel card?

You might want to consider a travel credit card instead of a prepaid foreign currency card, if you prefer the option of ‘buy now, pay later’. It can help you spread the cost of your holiday spending, but you’ll pay interest too.

Travel credit cards offer low, or sometimes no, fees when you use them abroad. And like prepaid cards, they often offer better exchange rates than a standard credit or debit card. If you can pay back what you owe in full when you get your bill, this can be a good option for some.

And unlike prepaid travel cards, a travel credit card can give you Section 75 protection for purchases between £100 and £30,000, although this is not guaranteed.

Compare travel abroad credit cards

Frequently asked questions

Can you have more than one prepaid currency card?

Yes, most prepaid card providers let you take out an additional card linked to the same account – for example, if you want a spare card or an extra card for your partner or child. You might have to pay extra for it though.

You could also opt for cards from different providers. But you’d need to work out carefully if this is cost-effective because of charges.

Can I get a travel currency card with a bad credit rating?

Yes, because you can’t borrow on a prepaid card and you can only spend what’s there, so there’s no need for a credit check. This means that you should be able to get one even if you have a bad credit rating.

Just be sure that putting money onto the card isn't going to push you into further debt.

Will a holiday prepaid card affect my credit score?

Prepaid cards don’t usually show up on your credit file, so they shouldn’t affect your credit rating. This means that using a prepaid card won’t improve your credit score, but it shouldn’t damage it either.

But if you use a credit card or go into your overdraft to put money onto your prepaid card, then this could have an impact on your credit score.

Is money on prepaid cards for travel protected?

Prepaid cards aren’t protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the same way bank and savings accounts are, for example.

But if your card provider is ring-fenced by a licensed bank, your money should be protected if they go bust. Ring fencing means that the card provider is required to ‘safeguard’ your cash by holding it in a separate bank account from their own funds.

Just be aware that if the ring-fencing bank went out of business, you might not get the money on your card back.

How can I find out the balance on my prepaid card?

You should get instructions provided with your card about how to do this. You’ll usually need to go to the card issuer's website, install their app or call a number on the back of the card.

Some shops may also be able to read the card's balance for you – but this isn’t possible everywhere.

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Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

Learn more about Sajni

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