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Prepaid currency cards and how to use them

Prepaid currency cards are a secure way to make purchases on trips abroad. They can be a handy alternative to paying with cash and debit or credit cards.

They can also help you manage your spending and stick to a holiday budget. This guide explains how they work and how to use them effectively.

a hand holding a credit card

What is a prepaid currency card?

A prepaid currency card is a type of payment card. It allows you to load and store multiple currencies to use on your travels or for online purchases. You can even use it to spend in the UK if you like.

You might have heard this type of payment method referred to as a prepaid travel card, multi-currency card, Travel Money Card, foreign currency card or even forex card. They’re all similar, though their features can differ by card provider.

These cards are a convenient and secure way to manage your foreign currency and spending needs without having to carry lots of cash. Carrying one also avoids the need to use a debit or credit card, which could charge higher fees for transactions overseas.

What’s more, many prepaid currency cards aren’t linked to your bank account but topped up with an amount of your choosing instead, they make budgeting for your travels easier.

Benefits of a prepaid currency card

There are lots of potential benefits of using this kind of card.

  • They’re convenient: You can use a prepaid currency card to pay at shops, restaurants, online merchants and anywhere else that accepts payments from the major network the card is linked to (eg Mastercard®, Visa). You can also withdraw cash at any ATM linked to that network.
  • They hold multiple currencies: While some cards hold just one specific currency (eg, a prepaid euro card), many enable you to load and store several. You can move funds between different currencies if, for instance, you’re interrailing between different destinations and need to spend in different currencies.
  • They’re accepted worldwide: Just like debit and credit cards, travel cards are widely accepted around the world. They’re usually linked to one of the major credit card networks, Mastercard, Visa or AmEx, and accepted anywhere you see their mark.
  • They’re secure: With PIN protection and the ability on some prepaid currency cards to easily block or unblock them, they keep your funds protected if they get lost or stolen.
  • You can top up any time: Most prepaid currency cards are reloadable, allowing you to add more funds to the card as needed. Some enable you to do this online or through a mobile app. You may also be able to top up by visiting a bank or a partner location of the card provider. This flexibility ensures that you can access funds whenever necessary.
  • You can top up when the rate’s good: You can lock in savings by loading currencies onto your card when their exchange rates are favourable. Its value won’t change if the currency fluctuates.
  • They help you budget: By loading a set amount of money onto your card, you can avoid overspending. Many cards let you to track your spending online or with a mobile app too.
  • You may save on fees: The fees for foreign transactions, currency conversion and overseas ATM withdrawals may also be lower than using debit or credit cards.

How do I use a prepaid currency card?

Here's how you can make the best use of a prepaid currency card:

  1. Do your research: You need to know a card is going to work for you, your spending plans and any holiday budget you’re hoping to set. So research different prepaid currency card providers to compare the features and exchange rates they offer, and what customers say about them online. Look for a card that’s accepted worldwide and can provide reliable support – like the ability to get help fast if your card is lost or stolen.
  2. Understand the fees: Depending on the card, you may need to pay a fee to activate or reload it, perform transactions or use it to withdraw cash at an ATM. There may also be a fee if the card is left inactive for a period. So compare the fees from different providers carefully to see which setup suits you.
  3. Get familiar with the security features: Find out about the card’s security measures to safeguard your money. These should include how to block or unblock the card, transfer funds to other cards, and order a replacement if yours is lost or stolen.
  4. Keep an eye on exchange rates: If you’ve got the luxury of time before you travel, monitor the exchange rates and try to buy at a time where you’ll get a favourable exchange rate for your pound to the currencies you’re loading. Some providers hold flash sales on currencies, offering them at discounted rates, so look out for their sales.
  5. Use it like a regular card: Use your pre-loaded travel card as you would your debit or credit card: to make purchases in shops and restaurants, buy things online and withdraw cash at ATMs. You may also be able to make contactless payments, such as by adding them to Apple Pay or Google Pay on your mobile device with some cards.
  6. Keep track of what you’re spending: The balance on your card (and so the amount you can spend) is limited to the funds you load onto it, which is handy for budgeting. You can typically manage it online or with an app with most cards, including checking your transaction history. If anything that looks out of place it’s easy to spot and report quickly.
  7. Keep a backup: It's usually worth taking a backup card or some cash on your trip in case of emergencies or situations where the card may not be accepted. Some providers’ apps enable you to add and manage multiple currency cards, if you prefer to take more than one as a precaution.

Remember to always review a card's terms and conditions to understand its features and any limitations, and decide which option is right for you.

Does Post Office offer a prepaid currency card?

Yes, we do. It’s called the Post Office Travel Money Card.

Here’s a summary of what it offers:

  • Accepted at millions of locations worldwide, wherever Mastercard is accepted.
  • You can load and store up to 22 different currencies onto a single card.
  • Competitive exchange rates mean value for money when you convert currencies.
  • Top up online, with our free travel app, via our website, or at any Post Office branch across the UK.
  • You can also move funds between different currencies in the app or online.

Did you know?

Prepaid currency cards can be a handy and secure way to spend at music festivals both in the UK and abroad. Read our guide to using a travel card at music festivals.

Find out more about our Travel Money Card

Common questions

  • A prepaid currency card is different from a typical debit or credit card because it’s pre-loaded with a specific amount of money before it’s used. Depending on the card type you choose, it may not be linked to your bank account or a line of credit. This means it’s a secure option for taking on your travels and managing your holiday money without the risk of overspending, incurring debt or access to your accounts falling into the wrong hands.
  • You’ll usually be able to load money onto a prepaid currency card using a card provider’s secure online portal or mobile apps. These enable you to top up funds on the card from an account of your choice. Card issuers may also let you know about designated places where you can top up in person, using cash or card. For the Post Office Travel Money Card, you can do this in any of our branches.

  • Yes, most prepaid currency cards are multi-currency, meaning you can load them with different currencies and use them in multiple countries. They’re a convenient way to store, manage and pay with your holiday funds, without carrying lots of physical currency, especially if you’ll be visiting several destinations.

    Be sure to check the card you choose supports the currencies you need as this could save you money. If the currency you need isn't supported, cross-border fees may be charged to move the amount you need from a different currency.

  • It really depends on what you need. It can be handy to have some physical currency for smaller payments like public transport and tolls, or for situations when cards aren’t accepted. But a prepaid currency card can provide convenience and security, as well as competitive exchange rates.

    While you may like to take a debit or credit card as a backup, paying with them may incur foreign transaction fees you may not have to pay using a multi-currency card instead. Note, though, that using a card in country whose currency it doesn’t support may incur a cross-border fee.

    Some prepaid cards also offer extra protection if they get lost or stolen, if they aren’t linked to your bank account or line of credit.

  • The fees you can expect to pay for using a prepaid multi-currency travel card can vary by provider. They may charge a fee for purchases or ATM withdrawals, or to convert funds between currencies. Check the Terms and Conditions of any card you’re considering and compare providers with other options to make an informed choice.

  • Most card providers enable you to check your card balance and review your transactions online or using a mobile app. Set up and log into your account, then navigate to the balance or transactions sections to see them listed. You may also be able to check the funds remaining on your card, move them between different currencies, and check your transaction history for any signs of fraudulent activity.

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Post Office Travel Money Card is an electronic money product issued by First Rate Exchange Services Ltd pursuant to license by Mastercard International. First Rate Exchange Services Ltd, a company registered in England and Wales with number 4287490 whose registered office is Great West House, Great West Road, Brentford, TW8 9DF, (Financial Services Register No. 900412). Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.