Small Business Advice

‍Guide to international gift cards

Learn all about which gift cards you can use internationally in this handy guide.

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People use gift cards for many different reasons. You can purchase one, load it with money, and use it to pay for purchases at retail stores, restaurants, gas stations etc. Alternatively, you can gift it to a family member, friend or someone else and they’ll spend the loaded money at accepted locations.

Whatever the case, gift cards bring convenience and enhance security by eliminating the need to carry cash around. For that reason, they make great alternatives to cash payments as well as debit and credit cards. Perhaps that’s why Americans spend over $98.6 billion on gift cards per year.

But which gift cards can be used internationally? If you’re planning to travel abroad and don’t want to carry load of cash around, or maybe you want to gift someone who’s overseas, then gift cards for international use may come in handy. In this article, we round up physical and virtual gift cards that can be used internationally.

Key takeaways

  • There are a number of gift cards that can be used internationally. Their biggest draw is that they remove the need to carry cash around.
  • Mastercard and Visa lead the way in supplying gift cards that can be used internationally. Other brands – including American Express, Discover and Walmart – have gift cards that can only be used domestically.
  • While gift cards can easily be bought from racks at gas stations and retail stores, you can order them from your bank if you want additional security features.
  • If you fail to get a gift card that works internationally, you can consider buying a prepaid card instead.
  • Virtual gift cards are options, too, particularly if you want to send the gift card to someone who is overseas.

Can gift cards be used for international purchases?

In short, yes. There are gift cards that can be used internationally. Many of them are issued by retail merchants, credit card companies and financial institutions. These are typically brands that are recognized globally – like Visa and Mastercard – and can be accepted in overseas locations.

However, gift cards for international use often come with restrictions such as expiration dates and a limit on online purchases. Additionally, currency transfer rates, international fees and activation rates may alter the value of a gift card. This can make the card either too hard to transfer, or not worth the effort you’ll use to transfer.

The bottom line is, if you’re looking for gift cards for international use, then make sure to choose cards whose value won’t drop significantly once you do currency transfer and pay international fees.

Which gift cards work internationally?

The two major gift cards that work internationally are Visa and Mastercard, with Visa being the most common. However, the card you’re buying must clearly state that you can use it internationally. Otherwise, you may find that it’s meant strictly for use within U.S. locations, even if it’s a Visa or Mastercard. In addition to that, you’ll want to check the fees and other regulations listed on the card to see if it’s worth transferring and using abroad.

Most of the other mainstream gift card brands, including Discover and American Express are never accepted outside of the U.S. You can’t even use them in Canada. Here’s a look at how the most common gift cards work:

  • American Express gift card – American Express gift cards are only accepted in U.S. locations. You can’t use them internationally.
  • Best Buy gift card – similar to American Express, Best Buy gift cards are only accepted in U.S. stores. Whether you’re using it online or in a brick-and-mortar location, you can spend the card in America but not outside the country.
  • Discover gift card – while you can use a Discover gift card at multiple U.S.-based merchants who accept it, you can’t use the card internationally.
  • iTunes gift card – even though Apple and iTunes are global brands, the iTunes gift card is usable in the U.S. only.
  • Walmart gift card – it may be an international brand with operations in over 24 countries, but Walmart doesn’t have international gift cards. You can only spend a Walmart gift card within the U.S.
  • Whole Foods gift card – despite being an Amazon subsidiary, Whole Foods gift cards are only accepted in the U.S. There are no gift cards available for international markets.

Gift cards that work internationally

Having looked at cards that you can use within borders, the begging question is: which gift cards can be used internationally? In addition to Visa and Mastercard, you can also use Amazon and Home Depot gift cards in a few countries outside of the U.S. But there are considerations to keep in mind. Here’s a lowdown on some gift cards for international use.

Amazon gift card

Although you can use an Amazon gift card in every country that Amazon serves, the gift cards are not interchangeable by country. For example, if you buy an Amazon gift card for the U.S., you can’t use it in the U.K. Thus, if you’re travelling to the U.K, you have to buy U.K-specific Amazon gift cards. That’s because Amazon has different sites and platforms for different countries where it operates. So, an Amazon.com gift card can’t serve you in Britain, but an amazon.co.uk card can. Similarly, you can’t use an amazon.com gift card in Canada. You’ll have to get an amazon.ca card for that.

Home Depot gift card

Home Depot may accept gift cards in their physical locations as well as online on Canadian, Mexican and U.S. stores. Make sure to check this FAQ for more information on how and where you can use your Home Depot gift card.

Mastercard gift card

You can generally use a Mastercard gift card anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted. However, your Mastercard gift card must be labeled as usable internationally because some are designed for the American market only. A few specific Mastercard gift cards for international use include the following:

  • PayPal Prepaid Mastercard
  • Green Dot Prepaid Mastercard
  • Netspend Mastercard Prepaid Card
  • Travelex Money Card

Visa gift card

Much like Mastercard, Visa offers gift cards for international use in locations where Visa is accepted. But again, they have to be labeled as such for you to use them overseas. So, should you opt for Visa, which gift cards can be used internationally? Here’s a list:

  • Visa Travel Money
  • Green Dot Prepaid Visa Card
  • AAA MemberPay Visa Prepaid Card
  • Netspend Visa Prepaid Card
  • TD Connect Reloadable Prepaid Card

Where can you buy international gift cards?

Some gas stations and major retail stores like Target Walmart, Sam’s Club and BJ’s often have a rack full of gift cards (or various brands) that you can buy. These range from general purpose gift cards to international gift cards like Visa and Mastercard. You can buy them in various denominations, but keep in mind that there are activation fees to consider.

Another good place to get gift cards for international use is at your bank. While not all banks sell then some do – typically to their existing customers. In fact, buying a gift card from your bank may be the better option than buying from gas stations and retail stores. That’s because some banks include additional security features like the same protection you get with a credit or debit card.

Finally, you can also go online and order gift cards for international use. The biggest advantage of this option is that you can personalize your gift card.

Regardless of where you choose to buy a gift card, make sure to read its fine print to ensure that it’s usable internationally. You’ll typically find this information on the card’s wrapper, complete with the international locations where you can use it as well as the applicable fees.

Prepaid cards that work internationally

In case you fail to find gift cards for international use, you can opt for prepaid cards instead. The biggest difference between the two is that while prepaid cards can be reloaded with cash and used indefinitely, gift cards can only be used until their dollar amount is exhausted. After that, you have to dispose the gift card and buy another.

One big advantage of prepaid cards over gift cards is that they have far fewer rules and regulations. On the other hand, you wouldn’t call them the safest cards out there – not as safe as credit cards anyway. For example, prepaid cards don’t have the same liability protection that you get with credit cards.

That said, using prepaid cards for your international travels can be a great way to keep your finances in check. Their reloadable nature means that you can only spend as much as you have in the card. This tends to put a limit on how much money you can use, which makes a good way to budget.

As is the case with gift cards for international use, Visa and Mastercard dominate the world of prepaid cards for international use. Below are some of the best prepaid cards that you can use overseas:

  • Brinks Prepaid Mastercard – you can use this card anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted. It comes with an optional mobile app for managing the card on the go.
  • PayPal Prepaid Mastercard – this card may be ideal for you if you frequently use PayPal. It lets you easily move money from your PayPal account to the prepaid card. You can use it at any location in the world where Mastercard is accepted.
  • NetSpend Visa Prepaid card – issued by MetaBank, this prepaid card is usable anywhere in the world where Visa cards are accepted. It, too, comes with a mobile app for managing your finances on the go.
  • Altra Visa International Prepaid Card – this EMV reloadable card is usable in all locations where Visa is accepted. With no annual fees and a cashback program, the card is a great choice for anyone looking to save on costs.

Do virtual gift cards work internationally?

While not all virtual gift cards work internationally, virtual Visa and Mastercard gift cards do. Also known as eGifts, these virtual gift cards make great alternatives to physical gift cards.

To send a virtual gift card, you will have to enter the recipient’s details, and they’ll receive an email with the eGift – usually in PDF format. They can then claim and activate it as they would a physical gift card. That said, you can also send yourself an eGift card. In which case, you’ll simply send the virtual gift card to your own email.

Virtual gift cards are used in the same way that physical gift cards are used. You or the recipient may walk into any outlet that accepts the gift card and use it for payment. Two virtual gift cards that can be used internationally are Visa and Mastercard. Those two are accepted in multiple countries, which makes them ideal if you want to send a virtual gift card overseas.

Something to keep in mind is that eGift cards are available in multiple currencies, including US dollars, Canadian dollars, British pounds and Euros. It would be ideal to buy the card in the recipient’s home currency. That way, they won’t have to do any currency conversion because it may affect the amount received due to exchange rates. For example, if you’re buying a virtual gift card for someone in Australia, you may want to buy it in Australian dollars rather than US dollars.

Furthermore, some international virtual gift cards have transaction fees, which may ultimately lower the amount received. Others have merchant limitations on how they can be used. For example, you can’t use some Visa gift cards to pay for telephone, mail order or online purchases because of a higher risk of fraud. And that explains why some gift cards that can be used internationally are only available in plastic form and not as eGifts.

In case you’re finding it hard to get virtual gift cards that can be used internationally, consider buying a country-specific gift card. Just make sure that it’s usable in the recipient’s country. For example, if the person lives in India, you can buy them an Amazon gift card from amazon.in.

Do international gift cards have foreign transaction fees?

While retailer gift cards don’t typically have transaction fees, bank-issued cards often do. These fees may include:

  • Activation fee – typically $4.95 to $6.00
  • Inactivity or monthly usage fee – up to $10.
  • ATM or loading fee, which is typical for prepaid cards – up to $6 for each transaction.
  • Foreign transaction fee – up to 3% per transaction.

Thus, if you get a Visa or Mastercard card with zero or low activation fee, chances are there will be additional charges post-sale or if you don’t use the card. Always make sure to read the fine print on gift cards for international use before buying them.

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