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What is a bitcoin debit card?

What is a bitcoin debit card?

19th December 2019
Updated: 27th June 2020

A bitcoin debit card is a card that is linked to a cryptocurrency account or wallet, allowing you to spend your bitcoins both online and in real shops and ATMs. When you make a purchase, the bitcoins in your account are converted to fiat currency based on the current market rates, and that currency is used for payment – just like when you spend money using your card on holiday. In other words, a Bitcoin debit card helps bridge the traditional banking and Bitcoin worlds.

There is a fundamental difference between a bitcoin ‘debit’ card and a bitcoin ‘prepaid’ card. With a bitcoin debit card you have an account with all the functions of a ‘normal’ bank account, and your card is connected to this account. Whereas a bitcoin prepaid card is just that: a card directly loaded with coins rather than being attached to an account.

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Bitcoin debit cards aren’t just cards any more – they are more like bitcoin bank accounts. Taking on the features of traditional banking, these cards allow you to spend your bitcoins just like you’d spend your money with a regular card. Usually, they also allow you to transfer between fiat currency and bitcoin within your account, acting as both an exchange and account.

How do bitcoin cards work?

Bitcoin cards are linked to a cryptocurrency account or wallet, and work much like normal credit/debit cards, which are linked to a bank account. When you make a purchase, the funds are deducted from your bitcoin balance at the current market rate. For instance, if you buy a product worth £10 (whether online or in a shop), the card exchanges £10 worth of bitcoin and transfers that £10 to the shop/person. The transaction happens in pounds, but you hold your money in bitcoin.

So, it’s like having a currency account?

Precisely. A bitcoin card is more like a currency account, only that the balance is kept in bitcoins rather than pounds. There are also providers who issue cards with fiat currency accounts attached, just like you can get a dollar account on a standard debit card.

Are Bitcoin debit cards accepted everywhere?

Yes, bitcoin debit cards are accepted across the world provided the ATM or merchant supports ‘normal’ cards. Bitcoin debit cards have similar restrictions to Amex, MasterCard, and Visa, depending on the sellers.

What if I lose my card?

No problem. Since bitcoin debit cards are linked to a cryptocurrency account, you can freeze or cancel a card easily if it gets lost and order a new card. All bitcoin debit cards are linked to apps, so this process is very easy. You also don’t even need to have a physical card if you don’t want one, as you can get a purely virtual card.

What’s all this about virtual cards?

There are two different types of bitcoin debit cards that you can get. These are:

  • Virtual. A bitcoin virtual debit card is one that exists only for online spending – you don’t have a physical card. Once you order your card, you receive it instantly and are expected to activate it via email. A bitcoin virtual debit card works the same way as a physical card when shopping online: all relevant details such as cardholder name, card number, CVV number, and expiry date are visible online, you just don’t have a physical plastic version to use in shops and ATMs.
  • Chip + pin (plastic). This is the physical plastic card that is delivered to your residential address via mail and comes with a chip and an ATM pin number. Unlike the virtual card which is used online, the Chip + pin (plastic) card can be used both online and in real shops.

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You will soon also be able to add a virtual or physical bitcoin debit card to your Apple or Samsung Pay account. Some providers such as Wirex allow you to hold multiple cards, which means that once you can integrate them with mobile wallets, you could have virtual GBP, USD, and EUR cards all stored on your phone to use in various countries and cut holiday spending fees. This would mean you would have contactless cards in three fiat currencies without needing to keep a single physical card in your wallet.

Are there fees?

Most providers will charge fees relating to the delivery and use of their bitcoin debit cards. We’ve made a list of all the possible fees here, but most providers will only charge some of these fees rather than all of them:

  • Card fee. Most card providers charge a flat fee of around £5 – £30 for production of the card.
  • Monthly fee. Some providers will charge a monthly account management fee, which typically ranges between £1 and £5. It’s usually possible in these circumstances to pay the fee on an annual basis if you wish, which can work out cheaper than paying monthly.
  • Online purchases. If you purchase goods or services online with your bitcoin debit card, you will usually not be charged a transaction fee. In the rare case a card charges a fee for this, it will typically be under £1.
  • Retail/store purchases. The fees for using a card in a shop are typically the same as those using the card online.
  • Declined transactions. If you attempt to make payments with insufficient funds, you will be charged a very small fee (around 5 pence) for the declined transaction.
  • Administration/support. If you are looking to recall or trace a payment, you will be required to pay administration/support fee for the operation. This is typically a flat fee of around £20 – £30. It’s possible to trace payments in this way because at the point of sale the card transacts in fiat currency – spending bitcoins directly is completely anonymous.
  • Currency exchange rates. In order to facilitate the conversion of your bitcoins to fiat currency, which the card then spends, card providers charge a currency exchange rate fee. This can range anywhere from 0.7% – 5% depending on the card provider.
  • Delivery fee. Usually, any delivery fee is combined with the card production fee, meaning that you only need to pay a one-time payment to have the card produced and delivered to your address. However, there are some service providers that charge a flat fee of around £5 – £20 extra for delivery of the card, particularly if getting it delivered overseas.
  • Foreign transaction fee. If you use your card internationally, you could be charged between 2% – 5% extra on transactions depending on the card.
  • ATM fees (domestic/international). If you use your card to withdraw money from an ATM domestically, you will be charged a flat fee of around £2 – £3. However, if you’re using an ATM outside the country where the service provider is based, you will usually be charged a higher amount. The ATM fees for international transactions can range anywhere from £3 – £5.

What verification steps are there?

When signing up for a bitcoin debit card, you’ll usually have to register with details such as your name, date of birth, and address. After this most providers will ask for extra verification in the form of proof of address and proof of identity (a passport and a driving license are most common).

You don’t always have to verify your account in this way, but unverified accounts have lower spending limits.

Are there card limits?

Depending on the service you use and your verification status, your card may have set limits on how much you can spend at a time (although verified accounts tend to have unlimited spending). It is also common for unverified cards to have lower maximum balances than verified ones. The possible limits on bitcoin debit cards are:

  •  Maximum/minimum balances. Depending on the card provider, there are maximum and minimum balances that you’re allowed to hold in your account at any time. Usually, the maximum balance can range anywhere from £5,000 to £10,000, whereas the minimum can range from £1 – £10. However, some services have no such limits and can hold and spend as many bitcoins as you want.
  • Spending limits (per transaction). The spending limits can also range depending on the service provider and your verification status. If your account is unverified, you might be limited to around £1000 per transaction, but if you go through the verification steps, spending limits are much higher or completely removed.
  • Load amount limits. Loading your cryptocurrency account is usually unlimited, but there are a few services that have a limit of around £2,500 for unverified accounts.
  • ATM withdrawal limits. The ATM withdraw limit also depends on your verification status. If you are unverified, you can usually withdraw up to £200 in a single transaction, but if you are verified this rises to around £1,000.

Should I get a bitcoin debit card?

It’s up to you. They’re a great way to start using your bitcoins in your day-to-day life, and there are now a wide range to choose from. If you’ve decided a bitcoin debit card is right for you, then our comparisons will help you find the best card out there.

How can I get a bitcoin card?

That’s the easy part. Use our reviews to find the best card for you, and then follow the link to sign up and get spending your bitcoin every day! We recommend either Wirex or Coinbase.

By Harry Atkins
Harry joined us in 2019 to lead our Editorial Team. Drawing on more than a decade writing, editing and managing high-profile content for blue chip companies, Harry’s considerable experience in the finance sector encompasses work for high street and investment banks, insurance companies and trading platforms.
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