Guide to International Gift Cards

Giving a gift nowadays is easier than ever, thanks to the availability and variety of gift cards on the market. After all, where else can you score that “perfect” surprise ranging from $10 to $200 for everyone from a reclusive coworker or your child’s substitute math teacher to your spouse or close family member? 

The right gift card can do wonders for building or reinforcing a relationship as well as help pad your budget while traveling. Unfortunately, over $1 billion of these little plastic treasures go unspent annually, so it’s essential to know which ones to buy, send, and use whether traveling abroad or sending them Internationally. 

Which Gift Cards Work Internationally? How Do They Work?

The major credit card companies offer blanket protection and almost instant access to purchases via debit and gift cards throughout the United States. After all, what commercial business is going to refuse a purchase made with an American Express, Mastercard, Discover, or Visa card in any form as long as the monetary value is up to par? Here’s the rub: while those brand logos are recognized globally, the spending rates aren’t in most cases. 

International fees and currency transfer rates can significantly change the value of an existing gift card, making it either too hard to transfer or simply not worth the effort. That’s not to say all gift cards are worthless outside of America because that’s a ridiculous notion in the technology-driven 21st century. But you have to make sure the chosen gift card is recognized Internationally prior to checkout. 

American Express and Discover cards are never accepted outside of the United States, even in Canada. However, some gift cards, such as Visa and Mastercard gift cards, can be used in other countries–as long as they clearly state that. Fees and regulations should also be listed on the packaging when and wherever you buy gift cards. 

Are Prepaid Cards Good for International Travel?

Prepaid cards may also be sold where you’d get your favorite gift card, but they are not the same thing. Prepaid cards differ in one specific way: they can and are meant to be reloaded. However, while they can be used internationally, that’s not a given. A prepaid card has rules and regulations just like gift cards, although often far fewer rules. If you can get a reloadable gift card, note the restrictions as most labeled gift cards are only spendable within the United States. Prepaid cards, specifically, are not guaranteed to have any protection, regardless of which logo is on the card. Fortunately, each prepaid card or company will list those protective clauses. 

Prepaid cards for specific stores or businesses can rarely be used internationally. But even a Visa or Mastercard prepaid card may have domestic limits. Reloadables are meant to be purchased once and then have additional funds added as the initial value is spent. For that reason, they’re often safer and smarter budgeting solutions for domestic travelers than debit or traditional credit cards. If you do want an international prepaid card, you’ll need to opt for a specific travel card such as Visa Travel Money which is intended for such needs. 

Can Amazon, Walmart, Mastercard, Visa Gift Cards Be Used Internationally?

Most travelers don’t worry about whether their favorite gift card will be honored on their adventure. They simply pack the gift card (or cards) and expect a well-known business name will be accepted without question. Unfortunately, many travelers are disappointed due to blind faith and lack of pre-planning. Regardless of the card logo, most gift cards are issued by a specific bank or business and are therefore restricted to domestic use. Some common brand rules are as follows: 

Amazon – Amazon has a different site for each country it serves, and each site requires an Amazon gift card be bought and spent in that region; i.e.: an card cannot be used in Canada, but an card can. 

Best Buy – While a Best Buy gift card is easily spent at Best Buy, it is only accepted at stores and online in the United States. 

Home Depot – Home Depot is one store that may accept a Home Depot gift card in any of its stores or online throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Check the FAQ online before checkout or on the gift card packaging for current rules. 

iTunes – While Apple is a global name, an iTunes gift card can only be used in the United States. 

Walmart – Walmart operates in over 55 countries globally, but the company still doesn’t sell international gift cards. Any Walmart gift card bought in the U.S. can only be spent domestically.

Whole Foods – Whole Foods may now be a subsidiary of Amazon, but it’s still considered an American company and its gift cards are only accepted in the United States. 

American Express – An American Express gift card is only accepted throughout the United States. 

Mastercard and Visa – Mastercard and Visa play by similar and different rules. Because the company logos are recognized globally, Visa gift cards are easier to find for international use. However, they have to be marked as such. The same goes for a Mastercard gift card. 

Do International Prepaid Cards Have Foreign Transaction Fees/Where Can You Find Them?

Prepaid cards and gift cards can be a great alternative to ATM cards or a wallet full of credit cards while traveling. It’s essential to be aware of potential transaction fees, though. Most specific stores or businesses are pretty lax on that, but prepaid cards that are tied to banks can come with a lot of extra fees. These can include monthly usage or inactivity fees up to $10, loading or ATM fees up to $6 per transaction, and a foreign transaction fee of up to 3% every time it’s used. Always, always, always check the fine print prior to buying any prepaid or gift card. 

While most gift cards can only be used domestically, Mastercard and Visa debit cards, prepaid or otherwise, can usually be used anywhere. Some of the best International travel card solutions include: 

AAA MemberPay Visa Prepaid Card

Green Dot Prepaid Mastercard or Visa Card

TD Connect Reloadable Prepaid Card (fewer fees if you’re already a TD cardholder)

Netspend® Visa® or Mastercard Prepaid Card

PayPal Prepaid Mastercard 

Travelex Money Card – promoted by Mastercard International Incorporated

Visa Travel Money 

At the very minimum, always read the fine print and FAQs to make sure you’re not taken unaware by unnecessary or expensive surprises when out of the country due to your chosen prepaid or gift card limitations. And safe travels! 

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