23

As said in the question, is it safe to only have a prepaid Mastercard as a mean of financing my travel? The amount on the card is not a problem since it is linked to my bank account and can be recharged easily through the banking app.

I don't have a credit card, only this and a debit card (Mastercard too) that I use daily and I would like to avoid bringing with me.

I will also bring some cash and most of the expenses are already covered. Any advice in general?

For the record, I'm Italian and I'm traveling to India.

  • 3
    Prepaid cards often don't work outside of the country they were issued in. – Doc Jan 30 at 15:30
  • 3
    @Doc Really? never heard such a thing. That's for sure something I can verify with my bank I guess. – bracco23 Jan 30 at 15:37
  • 6
    This is a comment for several of the answers. Before you leave on your trip, call the number on the back of the card and let the card issuer know you are leaving the country. Tell them dates and destinations. Then, when you start using the card in the foreign countries they shouldn't suspect fraud. Also note that the US does not use a Chip and pin system, they use Chip and sign. I've had non-US POS systems (point of sale) not work with my US card. I suspect that some US POS systems may have issues with non-US cards – Flydog57 Jan 30 at 22:42
  • 5
    @bracco23 what risk are you talking about? If a credit card is stolen you are not responsible for the fraudulent transactions. Prepaid cards are far more risky, your concerns are backwards. – eps Jan 31 at 18:01
  • 3
    @eps while I tend to agree in this regard, I'm still lacking a credit card (and will continue to do so, I'm not fond of them), so they are not an option. – bracco23 Jan 31 at 21:03
43

It's always a good idea to have at least two completely different and separate cards if you are travelling far from home:

  • Some issuers will overzealously block your card "for security reasons" as soon as you hit a foreign country, and it may take a little while to get them to unblock it (just due to matters of timezone differences and limited customer service opening times).

  • In some cases, it might be more subtle, and they may block certain merchants but not others, and so on. Always good to have another option.

  • There used to be rare cases where you could find merchants or ATMs that would only accept Visa or Mastercard, but not both. It's not happened to me in a long time, but there may still be such instances.

  • You could lose your card or get it stolen. Of course, having a second card only really helps if you keep them separate in this case. But not all cards are equal in terms of time to get them replaced (especially abroad) and/or providing emergency cash in such situations. Credit cards are usually better of this than debit cards, but the line is not necessarily very clear.

  • In some places, there's a risk you could have your card "skimmed", which would then force you to ask for the card to be blocked. Always good to have a spare.

  • Don't forget that many issuers have daily and/or weekly and/or monthly spend limits. You could have all the cash you want on your account, they won't let you spend more than those limits. The limits are often different for purchases and withdrawals, and for foreign v. domestic transactions.

Of course, if you're in a situation where most of your costs have been prepaid before leaving, you only need a card for day-to-day expenses, and someone can send you cash in an emergency, then it may all be unnecessary. But if you plan to have significant amounts (hotels, restaurants) to pay, better safe than sorry.

| improve this answer | |
  • 7
    This is excellent advice. Another possibility is an ATM not returning a card to the user. Happened to me (for the first time) last week at an airport in Mexico. – DavidSupportsMonica Jan 30 at 15:29
  • 2
    What's overzealous about flagging a card when unusual activity occurs? Also can't you avoid this simply by letting your card issuer know about your travel plans? – Nacht Jan 30 at 22:41
  • 9
    @Nacht-ReinstateMonica Some card issuers have very easy and practical procedures to let them know you're travelling. For others, you can try to call them, but it often won't even work until the card is blocked in the first place. Also, blocking risky transactions (online for instance) is once thing. Blocking a card-present transaction where the PIN was actually used is probably stupid. – jcaron Jan 30 at 22:46
  • 4
    @Nacht-ReinstateMonica I have given banks my whereabouts on a weekly basis plus itineraries plus permanent notes on my cards and still had them flagged. Even things like app store transactions in the wrong regions can set off their monitoring. If you travel for long enough it will probably happen, then you will wish you had a backup card. – user107892 Jan 31 at 4:19
  • 3
    @Fattie and then they block your card :-) – jcaron Feb 1 at 0:12
14

Always carry at least 2 cards, if not more!

I had my main card blocked many times while traveling. As @jcaron explained, it's common for card issuers to block your card as soon as you make a transaction in a new country. Then you need to get in touch with your bank to have it unblocked, which can be difficult if you're traveling to a country where you don't have data coverage and where public WiFi networks are rare.

A few month ago I even was in a situation were 2 of my cards were momentarily unavailable: the first one fell victim to skimming and the other one expired before I received the new card from my bank. Had I been abroad at the time, I could easily have had a third card blocked by an issuer. So if you can carry 3 or 4 cards, do it, that's not too many!

Since you're from Italy, you can get travel cards with no margin on exchange rates from N26 and bunq. You can also get cards that have a small margin on exchange rates from Revolut and TransferWise. All of these cards are free or cost only a small one-time fee, with no fees for inactivity, so they make good backup cards for your travels.


One of your cards should be a credit card

Your prepaid Mastercard should work for most transactions. I use my Revolut prepaid Visa all the time abroad.

However, some rental car companies and hotels only accept credit cards. Or accept debit cards and prepaid cards only in exchange for "debit card fees". I recommend you carry a credit card along with your prepaid card. I use bunq's Travel Card.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    the "bunq" card looks like a good tip, Ronan. (Though, btw it's extremely unlikely he'll be renting a car, I'd guess.) – Fattie Jan 31 at 13:19
  • 1
    There are many cases where Revolut does have some margin on exchange rates, e.g. on weekends or converting to/from THB. – Franck Dernoncourt Feb 1 at 1:54
  • I disagree that one of cards must necessary be a credit card. For example, I have my Australian debit card and I use it like a debit card while in Australia, but once I get overseas, it starts to get treated as a credit in the sense that you select 'credit account' when withdrawing money from ATMs and it works totally fine for car rental and all other stuff even in US, where it feels like not having a credit card is a social faux pas. Basically just as long as your debit card belongs to one of the major international companies, such as Visa or MasterCard. – pavel Feb 23 at 0:04
  • 2
    @pavel My understanding (I'm from NZ, so same process for debit cards as you), is that some places, such as hotels, may put a large hold on your funds. With credit, that doesn't matter as long as you have enough credit limit. But with debit, that restricts your actual money from being spent. – Programmdude Mar 11 at 6:53
8

Deposits for hotel rooms and rental cars are much easier with a credit card, and some may not accept anything else than a credit card. Check before you go. https://travel-dealz.eu/blog/book-hotel-without-credit-card/

Prepaid usually won't work offline. It have happened to me twice in two-three years that the merchant's terminal didn't have any contact with the outside. At both times prepaid cards weren't accepted but credit cards were accepted. Cash is of course accepted on most destinations in this case but not all.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Becuase the credit card system is built on store-and-forward, as in those old slips from the chi-chunk machines. We used to send dozens of them a day by mail into our bank. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 at 19:50
  • 2
    "Would you like to keep your carbons, Mr. @Harper-ReinstateMonica?" – FreeMan Jan 31 at 21:03
  • 1
    Ahh, the memories @FreeMan – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 at 21:19
  • Offline use can be disabled right in the chip, and it makes sense to do it for prepaid cards where the bank might not have any hope of recovering money from the user if they were to spend more than they had loaded on the card account. – Michael Hampton Feb 2 at 8:06
  • I have never had an issue with a debit card in a hotel, not even in USA, but I do not go there too often. I do not book directly, though. Cars are more difficult. – Vladimir F Feb 2 at 9:14
5

In answer to your actual specific question,

  1. I am not from Italy but

  2. I have frequently travelled to India from Europe, both short and long trips

  3. I have never used, or taken, a credit card to India. Only debit cards.

Some thoughts,

  • It's incredibly unlikely you'll be renting a car there.

  • India is super-high-tech and mobile-oriented, so I've never had any problem using any sort of card at even smaller merchants. If you're coming from backwards Europe, or more-backwards USA, it's like stepping in to the future in terms of mobile use, connectivity etc. Think Indian programmers etc etc.

  • You'll surely want some cash, and the best/only way to get that is very easily at the ATMs which are everywhere.

  • For uber/similar (everyone uses those constantly), as I say I have only ever used/had debit cards.

  • At more "Western" hotels, no issue. If you stay in a more "local" hotel (where local businesspeople stay) it's possible they simply only take cash, but, if they do take cards there is no difference between debit/credit. (I've never encountered one that only takes cash, not cards.)

Some folks have pointed out that, with cards, one sometimes gets that annoyance where the company will security ping you. Unfortunately, that is true anyway if you have 1, 10, 1000 cards on you - it's just one of the nuisances of life. (If you have more cards it's almost just more annoying.) I don't see it as anything to get worked up about; there's no solution to it. It sometimes happens, annoyingly, in your own country.

Tip: if arriving in Mumbai, do not take an uber from the airport. (It's perfectly ok to take an uber/whatever to the airport, but do not take one from the airport.) Just get some local paper currency from the many ATMs on arrival, and, walk downstairs and take a totally normal yellow taxi to town. You pay (cash) at a little desk and they put you in a yellow cab (the cost is a pittance). Otherwise, use ubers/whatever freely. Or indeed, just hail a cab on the street anytime, paying the small fares with cash.

caveat India is obviously enormous, and there is nobody existing who is familiar with all cities, or even regions, of India. I know zero about many whole "universes" of India. (Maybe question should be more region specific, IDK?)

Our Lady Lakshmi will bring you a prosperous trip!

enter image description here

(among other things she is the patron of the welfare & education of girls; so those who follow Lakshmi you may donate, say, books to a girl's school to honor Lakshmi. subsequently whenever I flew to India I'd donate 50 or 100 bucks to say a girl's orphanage. (easy to do online!) this has made me huge piles of money in Indian business, so, it works for me - thanks only to Lakshmi. Good luck!)

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks for the suggestions, really useful to get a more tailored answer. I am sure going to bring a good amount of cash, not sure how much yet. Luckily, transportation and hotels are already part of the organization so I don't have to worry about that. – bracco23 Jan 31 at 13:06
  • 1
    the good news is you need very little cash since everything is cheap! I have never even bothered trying to calculate "is the rate better at home or at an ATM there" ... I simply get, say, 10,000 rupees from an ATM when I get off the flight (like, 100 euros worth). bonn viaggio! – Fattie Jan 31 at 13:09
  • btw as an Italian you will LOVE the food - go simple, just enjoy the bread, etc. great – Fattie Jan 31 at 13:22
  • 3
    “India is super-high-tech and mobile-oriented, so I've never had any problem using any sort of card at even smaller merchants.” — this varies MASSIVELY depending on where you are and what kinds of places you’re spending money at. I’ve mostly only spent time in Bangalore, but even there (a big, highly-developed city) plenty of smaller more traditional shops/restaurants were cash-only, while lots more took cash and mobile payments but not cards. – PLL Jan 31 at 23:03
  • @PLL - perhaps that's true; notice my last paragraph. Then again, the US (say) varies wildly between Salt Lake and rural Arkansas. Just TBC, my assumption for the OP is the cost of street food, etc, is so low you'd surely just use some cash rupees in such situations. – Fattie Jan 31 at 23:56
2

As other answers have pointed out, a second means of payment is necessary since some places only accept one of the major cards and not the other.

If you're using pre-paid cards it's not difficult to purchase a popular competitor's card too, only inconvenient to tie up the funds, but being caught without money is worse.

Also noted in some answers is the you might get an occasional call asking if it's you using the card, or you'll want to have a means to load more money or report a stolen card; and that's where an additional payment method becomes available.

  • Contactless Payment

    Contactless payment systems are credit cards and debit cards, key fobs, smart cards, or other devices, including smartphones and other mobile devices, that use radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near field communication (NFC, e.g. Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Fitbit Pay, or any bank mobile application that supports contactless) for making secure payments.

    You'll want to bring a phone, and much like your cards be certain not to lose it. Turn on and setup NFC payment using your phone. You can tap with your phone much the same as with a card, and the fingerprint scanner makes it fairly secure.

    • Apple Pay - Not available in India

    • Google Pay and Samsung Pay work in India
      On phones dfferent credit, debit and loyalty cards can be loaded into the app, and selected by swiping between them on-screen. Then you tap your phone, if the payment is over the limit you need to enter a PIN too.

By bringing a phone and setting up payments before you go (and contacting your payment sources) you'll have a backup source of funds and means to conduct your finances when you travel. Be aware that you might want to rent / purchase a second phone for travel as your phone's private contents may be subject to search by Customs.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.