While many gift cards are only redeemable in the United States, some cards can be used internationally. Find out which ones.
As of April 1, 2012, federal regulations made it difficult for gift cards sold within the United States to be used elsewhere. For GiftCards.com, that means our Visa® Gift Cards may be used in the U.S. and District of Columbia wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, but they cannot be used at any merchant (including Internet, mail order or telephone order) outside of the country. Additionally, we will not accept foreign payment for a gift card (even if it is only to be used domestically) nor will we ship a gift card to someone outside of the country (though you want to pay for it with U.S. currency).
However, there are some alternatives. You could buy a closed-loop gift card, meaning one that is only redeemable at the issuing store or restaurant. Or you could buy an international prepaid card instead of a domestic Visa gift card. (The main difference between the two financial products is that a prepaid card must be registered with a financial institution where as gift cards are purchased and redeemed anonymously. With a prepaid card, banks can link a card to a person, track spending and monitor transactions–all of which are essential in the fight against fraud and money laundering.)
Gift Cards for Use in Canada and Other Countries
I am finding an increasing number of popular U.S. store and restaurant gift cards can be redeemed at locations in Canada and a few that can be redeemed in the United Kingdom and other countries as well. Amazon has several options, of course. But some brick and mortar stores like Gap, Banana Republic, Aerie, Costco and more will also allow you to purchase a gift card in the U.S. and use it across the border (and vice versa). Be careful to check the terms and conditions of an international card before you purchase it to understand how the exchange rate will be calculated (most often at the time of redemption, not when the gift card is sold) and to see if there are any shipping charges that impact how usable the gift card will be for the recipient. Click to find my growing list of gift cards that work in Canada and other countries.
Gift Cards for Domestic Travel
If you are traveling within the United States, a gift card is a great alternative to cash and travelers’ checks. Cash can easily get lost or stolen with no hope for recovery and traveler’s checks are somewhat inconvenient to use. But gift cards, on the other hand, are flexible, easy to use, and can be replaced if lost or stolen. Additionally, Visa gift cards that can be redeemed wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, offer the flexibility of a credit card without some of the concerns typically associated with carrying plastic. For example, if the card is lost or stolen, your exposure is limited since the value of a gift card cannot be overspent. And since the card isn’t tied to your bank account, you don’t have to worry that your account will be overdrawn, your identity compromised or your credit rating jeopardized should the card falls into the wrong hands. In essence, our Visa gift cards are an excellent choice for your next road trip–use them almost anywhere, as long as you don’t cross the border.
If you still want an alternative to cash and travelers’ checks for a trip abroad, however, read below for more information on Visa gift cards that work internationally.
Gift Cards for Foreign Travel
If you’re planning to travel abroad and want to buy a gift card in lieu of bringing cash or buying travelers’ checks, you have several prepaid options–each from various financial institutions. Below are two gift cards that work internationally:
Visa TravelMoney is a prepaid card that can be used to “make purchases at 25 million merchants worldwide that accept Visa debit cards.” Like a gift card, you pay for this card in advance, meaning you load money onto the card in your home currency then spend the money as needed according to the exchange rate of the day. Additional benefits include being able to reload the card, use it at an ATM to get local currency and obtain an emergency card replacement if it is lost or stolen.
MasterCard Travel Card
MasterCard® Travel Card is also a prepaid card that is a safer alternative to cash and travelers’ checks. Redeemable worldwide wherever MasterCard debit cards are accepted, you can “get your choice of currency and cash back at participating merchants”–so you’ll never have to stand in line at the currency exchange counter when you could be out sightseeing.
Better than a Credit Card
If either one of these gift cards is lost or stolen, you won’t be responsible for unauthorized purchases. Though credit cards often come with that same guarantee, the nice thing about using a prepaid card when you’re traveling is that the amount of financial damage that can be done to you as a result of losing the card is limited. A thief can only use the value of the card (gift cards cannot be overspent), your bank account won’t be touched because the card isn’t linked to one and your credit rating won’t be impacted.
Check for Fees
Before you choose a prepaid travel card, however, check the specific terms and conditions to be sure the card will work for your needs. Pay particular attention to fees. Most issuers will charge to activate the card and some will charge additional fees to reload the card, use it to get cash back at a merchant or swipe it at an ATM. While the convenience, flexibility and safety of using a Visa gift card that works internationally is worth paying for, read the fine print to be sure you don’t pay more than is necessary.
Let me know if you have other gift card questions. You can leave a note in the comments or reach me at @GCGirlfriend on Twitter.
Happy Gift Carding!
~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend