Credit Cards

Should you get a prepaid card?

Prepaid cards offer a safe, convenient way to pay for things, and give you control over your finances - but they can also come with hidden costs. Here’s everything you need to know about prepaid cards for spending at home and abroad.

What are prepaid cards?

It’s a type of payment card that you pre-load with money. Unlike a debit or credit card, it’s not linked to a bank account.

Once you’ve topped it up however, you can use your card in the same way you would spend with a debit or credit card.

You can use prepaid cards to:

  • Shop on the high street
  • Buy goods and services online
  • Pay in pubs and restaurants
  • Spend abroad
  • Withdraw cash from an ATM
  • Pay your bills

Prepaid cards are ideal if you don’t have a current account, and need a secure way to spend online. They’re also popular for spending abroad, budgeting and to help children and teenagers manage their money.

All prepaid card transactions in Ireland are processed by Mastercard so you can use your card anywhere you see the Mastercard Acceptance Mark.

What’s the difference between a prepaid card and a debit card?

The main difference is that a debit card is linked to a current account, and a prepaid card is not.

  • A debit card enables you to spend any available money in your bank account, whereas a prepaid card will only let you spend money that has been added to the card.
  • A debit card is linked to your current account, whereas you can get a prepaid card without a bank account or credit check.

How do prepaid cards work?

Once you’ve received your prepaid card, you can add money to it and use it as you would a debit or credit card. You are in control of when and how you spend your money, for example:

If you add €500 to your card, you can use it to shop online, at a restaurant, or to pay a utility bill at your own leisure. You can add more money to your card at any time, too.

Adding money

You can add money to your card in several ways:

  • With cash at one of 2,000 Payzone points across Ireland
  • By transferring money directly from your bank account
  • With your debit card on your prepaid card issuer website

Top up limits

How much money you can add to your card varies a lot, depending on the card provider. Typically:

  • The card provider will set a maximum limit per year and a cap on single top-ups
  • You can normally increase your limit over time or pay extra for greater top-up amounts.
  • Top up limits may also depend on whether they are cash deposits, bank transfers or card transactions.

Checking your balance

The simplest way to check your balance is via your card issuer’s linked smartphone app, where you can manage your prepaid card, view transactions, check your balance and top up. You can usually also check your balance on:

  • your card issuer’s website
  • at an ATM
  • by text.

How much do prepaid cards cost?

Prepaid card costs can be complex and card issuers have different fees and charges, so it’s worth shopping around to find the one that works out cheapest for you.

Here’s are some of the different charges you may encounter:

  • One-off/ Start-up fee
  • Delivery charges
  • Annual or monthly fees
  • Top up charges
  • Bank charges
  • Foreign transactions
  • Non-usage fees
  • Stamp duty

Where can you get a prepaid card?

There are lots of different prepaid card issuers in Ireland. New digital providers are popping up all the time, but not all of them are licensed by the Central Bank of Ireland.

Here’s a look at the main providers in Ireland and what they offer:

Name of card issuer What’s on offer? Best for…  
An Post A prepaid currency card, with locked-in exchange rates Spending abroad,  
Bunq A prepaid credit Mastercard - it has some benefits of a credit card, but you have to preload it Spending abroad  
Cheetah money App-based current account with prepaid Mastercard Payments worldwide, Businesses  
Neteller A Prepaid Mastercard (plastic & virtual) Transaction rewards  
Makes Cents Prepaid card for 8 to 18 year olds Children and teenagers learning about money management  
Skrill Online wallet with prepaid Mastercard Buying cryptocurrency, Transaction rewards  
Swirl A Prepaid Mastercard or Travel Cash Card Easy availability. Simple to buy, load & use worldwide  

Some prepaid card issuers also offer extra financial services, whilst others design their cards for specific purposes like currency cards for spending abroad or for children and teens to manage pocket money.

How do you apply for a prepaid card?

To get a prepaid card you don’t need a current account or a credit check. Just supply your basic personal and contact details to the card issuer and you’ll be sent a card in the post.

Some providers also offer the choice of a ‘virtual card’ that you use on your smartphone.

Do you have to be 18 to apply?

No, there are some prepaid cards that are designed especially for children and teens. The application will need parental consent if you’re under 18 years of age.

For example, The Makes Cents prepaid card for 8-18 year olds allows parents to manage and monitor their children’s expenses via an app.

Can you get a prepaid card with bad credit?

Yes, you can. You don’t need to be credit checked for a prepaid card as you would to apply for a current account or credit card.

You may still have to undergo identity and age checks though.

Prepaid card pros and cons

The greatest advantage of a prepaid card is the flexibility and control it gives you over your spending. You don’t need to apply for a current account and you can even get a prepaid card with bad credit.

Here are the main pros and cons of getting a prepaid card.

Pros

  • No credit check required
  • No bank account required
  • Manage your money easily
  • Control with your smart phone
  • Protects from theft and fraud
  • Convenient and simple

Cons

  • Fees and charges can become costly
  • Limits on top up and spending
  • May not work for certain transactions
  • No credit or overdraft facility

prepaid travel cards airport travel

Prepaid travel cards

Prepaid travel cards are a good alternative to using local currency or a debit or credit card abroad. You lock in the rate before you travel, so there are no surprise transaction fees on your account when you get home.

Benefits include:

  • Use them anywhere that accepts Mastercard or Visa payments including hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and ATMs.
  • Choose your currency and lock in an exchange rate before you travel
  • Zero liability protects you from fraud and unauthorised transactions
  • Emergency assistance if your card is lost or stolen
  • Check your balance, transaction history and info online or by phone
  • Can help you stay within your budget on holiday

Prepaid travel cards are available online and in branch from An Post. If you’d like to find out more about options when spending abroad, visit our guide Travel money & the best ways to spend abroad.

Should you get a prepaid card?

There are some clear advantages and disadvantages to prepaid cards and there are times when a prepaid card can be the best option for spending at home or abroad.

When you’re choosing your card, consider the following:

  • Opt for a card scheme that’s widely accepted, for example, Visa and Mastercard.
  • If you want a card to use on holiday, choose a prepaid card that’s specially designed for travel and foreign transactions.
  • Shop around and compare transaction fees for the methods of payment you’re most likely to use.
  • Check the cost of ATM withdrawals and maximum daily amounts; avoid withdrawing cash if possible.
  • Check top-up charges and maximum loading amounts and find the cheapest way of topping up.

Alternatives to prepaid cards

If prepaid cards aren’t right for you, then it’s worth checking out which banks provide a debit card with their current account or considering a credit card.

There are several digital finance companies in Ireland that offer a range of banking services:

  • N26 is a fully regulated digital bank. You get a free virtual debit Mastercard, and can make bank transfers and manage your money via the app. You can even connect Google or Apple Pay and use your smartphone in any location that accepts contactless payments.
  • Revolut in Ireland Revolut is recognised as an online bank that allows you transfer, spend and withdraw money easily via its mobile app. You can spend abroad with no foreign exchange fees in over 130 currencies.
  • Wise formerly Transferwise, is a ‘borderless account’ that makes international money transfer cheap, fair and simple. You can use your prepaid Wise Mastercard in Ireland and abroad without hidden fees and spend in multiple currencies, plus much more.

Virtual Debit Card with Online Bank Account

Open a free N26 online bank account & get a virtual Mastercard debit card to use in store & online, accepted worldwide. T&Cs apply.

Prepaid cards FAQs

Can I use a prepaid card for shopping on Amazon?

Yes, you can use a prepaid card for Amazon and other online shops.

Some people prefer to only use prepaid cards for online shopping because there is a lower chance of fraud occurring and it protects their credit card and current account from online scammers.

Is my money safe on a prepaid card?

Yes, your money is safe on a prepaid card. If your card is stolen or lost, you can ‘freeze’ the card via the app to prevent it from being used.

Some card issuers also provide consumer protection, which means if you buy faulty goods or your card is used fraudulently, you can reclaim the cost.

On balance, prepaid cards are safer than carrying around large amounts of cash and more secure than using a card linked to your bank account when shopping online.

Is Revolut a licensed bank in Ireland?

Revolut was granted a full banking license by the European Central Bank (ECB) in December 2021.

It previously operated here as an “Electronic Money Institution” but since March 2022, used its Lithuanian banking licence to offer fuller banking services. Up €100,000 of Irish customer’s funds are now covered by the Lithuanian Banking Guarantee.

In January 2023, Revolut announced they would also issue customers here Irish IBANs, after opening an Irish branch of their EU bank.

Typical Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is based on purchases of €1,500 and a credit limit of €1,500 plus annual Government Stamp Duty of €30. Data valid as of 07/06/2024