Money matters are one of the major concerns for travellers, long term, short term and regular. There are many prepaid travel cards available now, but which is best?
Taking a good prepaid travel money card is one of the most secure ways of looking after your travel finances. Done right, you’ll have low currency fees, minimal ATM transaction fees and the security that if your card is lost or stolen you can lock or cancel it and get a new one delivered promptly.
You might be wondering if just using your bank card or your credit card is a good idea. In most instances, no, it’s generally not advised. Most bank issued debit cards charge high fees for foreign transactions and you also don’t often get the best exchange rate.
There are a few exceptions. The Halifax Clarity Mastercard offers no fees for ATM withdrawals or foreign transactions, but it is a credit card so you will be charged between 19-26% interest on any balance you accumulate.
Our recommendation is to use a prepay travel money card (ie: a card you can top up with credit from your bank account). This way you’re in control of the money you have on your card and if someone does steal it they don’t make off with your whole travel fund!
Here at GoneTravelling we’ve used a few options for paying our way on the road over the years (from rolled up notes to travellers cheques! to the modern prepaid app based travel cards). These are the best prepaid travel cards we would recommend for regular travellers.
Revolut was one of the first generation of app based prepaid travel cards. It acts like a bank account and you can top up your card and hold all major currencies, including Pounds Sterling, US Dollars, Euros and Australian Dollars.
You need to order your Revolut card via their app (available on iOS and Android) and then top up with £10. You then pay £4.99 for delivery (or Euro/Dollar equivalent) which comes out of the balance.
Once you receive the card you activate it via the app, and away you go!
There are no fees to top up the card once you receive it and the exchange rate is pretty much as close to market rate as you can get. In fact, most major currencies are available at current market rate during currency trading hours (in London). Outside of these hours you pay between 0.5% to 2% over the market rate. Still pretty good and much better than most current accounts.
Standard account holders can withdraw a maximum of £200 from foreign ATMs, fee free. After this there is a fee of 2% on the value of the withdrawal.
Other great features of the Revolut card include.
- Instant top up using the app.
- Pay your contacts from the app.
- Option to use a ‘virtual bank account’ for online transactions that you don’t fully trust (a maximum of 20 per month).
- Transfer between multiple currencies inside the app – all at market rates.
- Deactivate your card and order a new one as soon as it’s lost or stolen.
- See instant, daily and monthly reports on your spending by location and type of transaction (food, entertainment, travel etc).
- The Revolut Mastercard is contactless and now works with Android Pay for full contactless functionality.
- Your account has a sort code and account number so can accept bank transfers or set up regular payments.
- Your account also has option to receive US Dollar or Euro bank transfers.
- Available to residents of the UK, EU and Switzerland. Other countries coming soon…
- Option for premium service (approx £6.99 per month).
- Option for crypto currency trading (if thats your thing).
- I haven’t found many cons, but my main observation is that many companies won’t accept the Revolut card as a credit card for security purposes. For example, when hiring a car you often need to block off an amount for the security deposit, but this isn’t possible with any pre-paid bank card – not just Revolut (If you plan to hire a car, having a credit card will still come in handy).
- The US Dollar and Euro bank transfer feature is done via a third party. Your money gets sent to Revolut and the sender has to put in a reference number so that the money is correctly assigned to you. A bit fiddly, but there are plans to provide individual Euro and Dollar accounts soon.
- Although Android Pay is up and running, Apple Pay isn’t (for now).
Revolut has been my first choice travel card for around 3 years. As it’s a Mastercard it is accepted pretty much everywhere and the option to top up the card on the go means you can stay in control of your spending.
Extra aspects like the virtual account and being able to accept bank transfers in Dollars or Euros is the charm for me.
If it matters, Revolut cards are a cool two tone blue and red. Premium members can choose funky designs and colours…!
Get your Revolut pre paid travel money card.
Monzo focus more on being a virtual current account than a foreign exchange focused card. However, they still have some great fees if you’re planning on using Monzo as a prepaid travel card.
Like Revolut, Monzo is applied for and topped up via an app (available vis iOS or Android). You only carry your home currency on your Monzo account (so no USD if you’re a GBP card holder etc), but it still works out the most favourable exchange rate.
You pay the Mastercard rate for currency exchange rate and can withdraw up to £200 fee free in a 30 day period. After this there is a 3% charge on the total transaction.
Shop or online purchases in any currency are always fee free.
- Instant top up via the app.
- Create savings pots on your Monzo account which you can share with other Monzo users. Sort of like a joint account but not a joint account…
- Pay friends and contacts via the app.
- Live reports on spending including locations etc.
- Monzo Mastercard is contactless and works with Android Pay.
- Option for £100 overdraft (after a credit check).
- Freeze card if lost or stolen and order a new one within the app.
- It’s not quite as full featured as Revolut, with less options to hold multiple currencies or crypto etc.
- Monzo markets itself as a bank account, but there are no physical branches. However their customer service is very good, so if you do have a problem you can normally sort things out online or over the phone.
- Currently only available to UK users.
If you’re looking for a hassle free online bank account, and one that doesn’t charge a fortune to use abroad, then Monzo is probably the best option. It’s not quite a true ‘prepaid travel bank card’ but it has all the features of one.
As a final selling point, Monzo probably have the best card on this list with a shocking coral pink card as standard.
Get your Monzo virtual bank account/travel money card.
Similar to Monzo, Starling markets itself as a virtual bank account rather than a prepaid travel card. You order your Starling Mastercard from the iOS or Android app and top it up with Pounds Sterling. It’s UK residents only like Monzo so no multiple currencies yet.
Using Starling abroad is pretty much the same as the previous two options. Free ATM withdrawals, Mastercard’s rate for local currency, easy to top up via the app etc.
In fact pretty much the only thing that separates Starling from Monzo is that you earn interest on your balance with Starling.
- Instant spending reports and breakdown of spending by location etc.
- Top up easily via the app.
- Lock your card if it goes missing and unlock it again if you find it.
- Earn interest on card balance (between 0.25 and 0.5%).
- Zero ATM fees.
- No charge for delivery of card.
- Contactless Mastercard works with Android Pay and Apple Pay.
- Only available to UK residents at the moment.
- Brands itself as easy international bank transfers but charges £5.50 for SWIFT transfers.
- Like Monzo, Starling is an online bank with no physical presence. But customer service is available 24/7.
There isn’t much between Starling and Monzo as a straight choice between virtual bank accounts. As a prepaid travel card, they’re much the same. Although Starling does edge it with no ATM fees and the interest on balances.
Starling’s cards are a very corporate purple.
Get your Starling virtual bank account.
One of the first prepaid travel money cards I used was the Caxton FX. Using an app to top up and then access your balance was a novel idea about ten years ago, but the new boys on the block (above) have usurped this as my preferred travel companion.
But, it’s still a good choice.
Caxton are foreign exchange dealers, so their main business is buying and selling currency. I’m not sure how that affects your choice of card, but Caxton FX prepaid cards do much the same as Revolut, although a little bit more limited.
- Caxton’s Mastercard can be applied for from their website.
- Download the iOS or Android App to keep track of your spending and top up.
- You can also top up on their website.
- Choose from a specific currency card (Euro, GBP, Dollar etc) or choose a card which can carry multiple currencies.
- Mastercard’s local currency rates.
- Zero ATM fees overseas, but a small charge to use it at home.
- You can buy a secondary card which shares the same balance as the main card (£5 charge).
- Charge to use at home (£1.50 ATM or POS charge).
- Mark up if transaction is in currency not supported by card (2.49%)
- ATM balance enquiry £0.30p.
- UK residents only.
- Not contactless, chip and pin only.
The Caxton FX is a solid choice for a prepaid travel money card, being one of the oldest dedicated prepaid travel cards. For me, the Revolut app features and flexibility (plus contactless) mean that would be my preferred option.
The Caxton FX card comes in a solid black colour.
Apply for your Caxton Card here.
Other popular travel money card options include:
Fair Fx – Similar to Caxton FX but has an ATM fee of €1.50.
Travelex Card – Similar to Caxton but has an inactivity fee of £2 per month after 12 months of non use. Also FX fees and load fees are not as good as Caxton or Revolut.
Lyk Card – Similar to Revolut, backed by travel giants Thomas Cook. Contactless and supports 10 currencies. Not a bad choice…
Had any experiences with prepaid travel money cards? Is there one you could recommend that we haven’t covered? This is also a very UK-centric list, so Americans, Canadians, Europeans etc, please feel free to comment below…