Figuring out the best way to spend money overseas — without paying excessive fees or risking theft — is often a top concern for travelers. Reflecting that, a reader heading to Rome asked, “What about putting money on a prepaid Visa card here in the States and using that overseas?” She preferred to leave behind her usual credit card and the debit card tied to her bank account.
“Travelers are much better off using a credit card than a prepaid debit card,” said Anisha Sekar, the vice president of credit and debit products at NerdWaller.com. I turned to the experts at the personal-finance company for advice, and Sekar was very clear. For both protection and affordability, credit cards are better.
Most prepaid debit cards can be costly, Sekar said. Fees for purchasing the card, loading it with funds and withdrawing at ATMs make most of these cards unappealing. The cheapest card in this category is American Express’ Bluebird, but Amex isn’t widely accepted overseas. The Cash Passport MasterCard (formerly the Travelex prepaid card) comes with a purchase fee (which varies by location), a $2.50 fee for withdrawing cash at an international ATM and a $20 balance refund fee.
But liability is the biggest issue. Lose a credit card and, provided the loss is reported, you’re not on the line for fraudulent charges. Not so with most debit and prepaid cards, which cap liability at $50 if the card is reported lost within two business days or $500 if the loss is reported within 60 days of the monthly statement being sent out. Anyone who misses that window could be held liable for any fraudulent charges made before the loss was reported.
Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at email@example.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.