What Is an International Debit Card?

Grayson Millar

An international debit card is a prepaid debit card that can be used globally to withdraw money from automated teller machines (ATM) and to make purchases from most places that accept debit cards. Most of the cards are Visa® or MasterCard® brand, though for the most part they are handled by individual banks, and feature their hologram and logo for use anywhere that either of the two major companies' credit cards are accepted. The international debit card is known for its convenience and flexibility, and is often used by travelers or anyone else who needs a fast and easy way to electronically transfer funds.

International debit cards are popular due to their convenience and flexibility.
International debit cards are popular due to their convenience and flexibility.

As opposed to prepaid debit cards in the US, which are only available to US inhabitants, these debit cards can be issued to inhabitants of the majority of the world's nations and generally are not issued by US banks. Both cards, however, use the US Dollar as currency for exchange, which saves users from the US the hassle and fees of currency conversion. The cards usually can be purchased worldwide and are ready to use after activation. Unlike a traditional bank debit card, an international debit card does not require a checking account or any of the personal identification required for one and, unlike a credit card, does not require any sort of approval prior to use.

An international debit card allows an individual to withdraw money from ATM locations worldwide.
An international debit card allows an individual to withdraw money from ATM locations worldwide.

An international debit card, therefore, can be used by anyone; a person can also purchase a card and give it to someone else to use. It is also equipped for continuous use and a person can transfer money to the card as many times as desired, often from another card that has been linked to it. The ability to electronically transfer additional funds to the card makes the card a flexible alternative to traditional employee payrolls, as well as a fast way for parents to provide additional funds to their children traveling abroad.

The flexibility of these debit cards, however, has also led to many problems. Historically, the cards have been a source of debit card fraud due to the relative impossibility of determining whether or not a card has been stolen when it is used. Manufacturers have added numerous security features to ensure the safety of card use. Many cards now have the option of registration, where the user identifies him- or herself as the owner of the card and receives a personal identification number (PIN), and the possibility to use prepaid bank accounts that are linked to the international debit card.

An international debit card can be used by anyone.
An international debit card can be used by anyone.

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Discussion Comments


An international debit card looks just like a credit card and bears the logos of international card brands at the bottom right corner. It can be used in the same way and in the same places you use your credit card. The big difference is that debit cards draw funds from your bank account and do not access a line of credit. The funds are automatically deducted directly from your account.


How do I check whether my card is an international debit card or just a regular debit card?


I rarely use my international debit card because I find that my credit card works just as well. I can also access my checking and savings accounts through my Visa card, so I guess it really does function is a multipurpose card when I abroad.

One thing you need to make sure of when using your Visa card to access any other accounts is that the money is indeed coming from your checking or savings. For some reason my Visa card will say that the money is taken from my savings, then it will show up as a cash advance on my credit card. You really have to watch for those kinds of mistakes because they can get very expensive.


Before you go traveling you should make sure that you do indeed have an international debit card. For myself I had to actually get my bank to allow my regular debit card to be used abroad.

Be warned though, fees for withdrawing money from another country can get pretty high. On average a single withdrawal costs me about $5 and that isn't even counting the cash I loose with the exchange rate. Often the exchange rate through your international debit card isn't the best, and it is better just to get the cash in advance.

If you must use an international debit card it is a good idea to shop around and see if you can find one with minimal fees.

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