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Hero guide to….pre-paid currency cards


Hero guide to ….pre-paid currency cards

Remember the faff of using travellers’ cheques? No, me neither, I never used them because I didn’t want to go to a bank or hotel reception desk to cash them in every time I needed some cash, and then there was the problem of falling into a swimming pool with them in your pocket and trying to piece the soggy bits of paper together to work out the serial numbers so you can cancel them.

Fortunately, there’s no need for travellers’ cheques anymore because now we have pre-paid currency cards, which are soooo much better. Basically, you get one of these little bad boys, download the app and use it to load money from your bank account directly onto the card.

You can choose to keep sterling on your card, which is then converted into the local currency every time you use the card abroad, or you can opt to convert it into euros, or dollars or whatever the currency is that you need at the exchange rate available at the time. This is a good option if you think the value of the pound is likely to fall before your trip; an alternative is to hedge your bets and load the card with 50% sterling and 50% foreign currency.

You use the card abroad just like a debit or credit card, but there are no currency conversion fees to pay and the exchange rate on some of these pre-paid currency cards is just as good or even better than credit or debit cards. You can also use them to withdraw foreign currency from cashpoints abroad without charge in many countries – but check the card’s T&Cs because I got stung for £4 to withdraw just $20 using Thomas Cook’s pre-paid currency card in New York. Revolut, which is my card of choice, allows you to withdraw up to £200 a month for free, after which there’s a 2% surcharge.

They are a great alternative to credit or debit cards for youngsters when they start to travel independently – and parents can use the app to track their teenagers’ spending when they go clubbing to Ayia Napa/San Antonio/ Magaluf/ heading off on a gap year

I’ve used my Revolut card in France, Spain, Italy, Hungary and the USA and it’s so easy. I only load the card with small amounts of cash at a time, and just top it up using the app on my phone whenever necessary.

The conversion rate is usually much better than I’d get changing the money at a high street foreign exchange bureau, and it’s only slightly worse than the best online foreign currency ordering services like Travel Money Club.

When withdrawing money from an ATM abroad, always select the option for the funds to be deducted from your account in the local currency, NOT sterling, otherwise the bank will stiff you on the exchange rate. Press the NO CONVERSION option if there is one.

Another great feature of the app-based pre-paid currency cards like Revolut is that if you lose it, you can freeze it using your phone, so there’s no risk of someone else spending your money.

Most places that accept payment by credit and debit card will also accept pre-paid currency cards, but I’ve found that you can’t use them at pre-paid petrol pumps (or certainly not at some gas stations in France) and you’ll still need a credit or debit card to hire a car or check in a hotel as neither will accept pre-paid cards as guarantees against additional charges such as room service or damage to a hire car – although you can use pre-paid currency cards to pay for these items at the end of your trip.

To be honest, I always used to travel only with credit and debit cards and a small amount of foreign currency, but even if you’ve got a credit or debit card that doesn’t charge any fees or spending abroad, a pre-paid currency card has several other advantages, not least that you can buy your currency in advance to lock into a good exchange rate, and you can set yourself a holiday spending limit. It’s also more secure as you can easily freeze the card from your app if you lose it or it’s stolen, and un-freeze it again if it’s found.

However, for me, the best thing about pre-paid currency cards is that they are a great alternative to credit or debit cards for youngsters when they start to travel independently – and parents can use the app to track their teenagers’ spending when they go clubbing to Ayia Napa/San Antonio/ Magaluf/ heading off on a gap year (delete as appropriate). I gave one to my 17-year-old son when he went on a lads’ holiday to Ayia Napa – although when I saw that he hadn’t withdrawn any money for the first 5 days I convinced myself he was dead in a ditch and was 5 mins away from calling Interpol when he replied to my frantic messages (are you okay, are you alive, hello hello HELLO?)  saying sarcastically (I hope): “I don’t need any cash, the drugs here are cheaper than at home J”.  I’m not sure why, but I felt a whole lot better.

When your kids go off on their gap year, you can order them their own (you have to be over 18 to have your own Revolut card), and remember, they can freeze it if they lose it.

As a footnote, I should point out that not all pre-paid currency cards are equal; some are free (like Thomas Cook’s) but might offer poor exchange rates; some (like Revolut) charge a fee, but offer better exchange rates. Some charge for cash withdrawals, some don’t. You need to do your research and decide which one is best for you. For what it’s worth, I recommend Revolut, which charges £4.99 for its card, because of the ease of use, great exchange rates and free cash withdrawals up to £200 a month.

And here’s a little tip: link your pre-paid currency card to your Uber account to avoid paying a foreign currency conversion fee on your debit or credit card every time you pay for a ride.

Other benefits of pre-paid currency cards:

1: Better exchange rates

2: Completely flexible

3: Manage from the app

4: Never run out of cash

5: Secure – free it if you lose it

6: No left-over currency

7: Great for teenagers travelling independently


If you like the sound of the Revolut card, you can get one for free by clicking on the advert below. Full disclosure: I receive a small fee for any card orders as a thank you for the info, however, I only accept affiliate links to products I’ve tried and tested myself and can hand on heart recommend. And like I said, other cards are available.

Linsey McNeill

A journalist and travel writer of 35 years' standing, a once-a-week yogi, terrible skier and out-of-order mum to 2 teens. Previously Editor of TravelMole.com, bylines also include The Telegraph, The Times, The Observer, the London Evening Standard, Which? and The South China Morning Post.

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