Virtual debit cards you can open in the UK

Zorica Lončar

Interested in using a virtual debit card? This kind of mobile payment technology is rocketing in popularity right now, so the traditional plastic debit card could soon be a thing of the past.

But what exactly are virtual debit cards and how do they work? Where you can use them and crucially - why should you use them? We’ll answer all of these questions and more here in our handy guide to virtual cards for UK users.

We’ll even show you some virtual debit cards available in the UK right now, including Wise. The Wise digital card offers all the same benefits of the Wise debit card, including great exchange rates and low fees on multi-currency spending. The only difference is that it’s stored on your phone.

But more on that later. First, let’s cover some of the basics you need to know.

What is a virtual card?

A virtual card works in just the same way as an ordinary debit card, but without the plastic. The card is stored in a digital wallet on your phone, instead of the actual wallet in your pocket. You can also get virtual cards when you sign up with digital banks, or get one linked to a prepaid account.

You’ll get a card number, verification number and expiry date, but everything is created completely online.

Virtual cards are similar to digital and disposable cards. A digital card is just a copy of your physical bank card stored on your phone, while a disposable card is a single-use virtual card.

Where can I use a virtual card?

Virtual cards are usually issued by one of the main debit/credit card providers, such as Mastercard, Visa or American Express. This means you can usually use it anywhere that debit or credit card payments are accepted.

You can use a virtual card for all online purchases where debit/credit cards are accepted. However, you’ll only be able to use it in shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and transport hubs if contactless payments are accepted.

What are the benefits of a virtual card?

There are lots of benefits to using a virtual debit card. These include:

  • Convenience - you can leave your wallet at home and pay for anything you need using the virtual card stored on your phone
  • Greater security - virtual cards can’t be stolen or cloned, and benefit from advanced security technology such as two-factor authentication and encrypted storage of card details.
  • Full control - you can lock, unlock and manage your virtual card on your phone at any time
  • Instant access - you don’t need to wait for a debit card to arrive in the post. With virtual cards, you can usually activate your card and start using it immediately.

Who offers virtual debit cards in the UK?

Virtual debit cards are widely available these days, but leading the charge are digital and mobile-only banks. We’ll look at a few of these here, including Revolut, Monese, Monzo and Skrill. Each offers a kind of virtual debit card, with some also having pre-paid and single-use cards available.

Revolut¹

Digital bank account provider Revolut offers a couple of different virtual cards. The first is a digital card, which you’ll get when you open an account with Revolut. Rather than having to wait for your physical debit card to arrive, a digital version can be added to your Apple Pay or Google Pay wallet right away. This means you can start paying for things using your phone immediately.

Revolut also offers single-use cards. These are virtual debit cards that can be used for one purchase only. Handily though, you don’t need to apply for a new virtual card once you’ve used it. The details refresh once the purchase is complete, so you can shop again.

All Revolut’s cards, virtual or physical, can be managed in the Revolut mobile banking app.

Monese

Alongside the option to have a digital version of your ordinary debit card, Monese also offers standalone virtual cards. These have a different 16-digit number to your standard card, so you’ll have extra security when spending.

You can use your virtual card to make payments online and shop in physical stores using Google Pay or Apple Pay. You can manage your transactions and lock/unlock the card in the Monese app, and get instant notifications when you make a payment².

If you’re already a customer with the mobile-only Monese, you can set up a new virtual card in the app. Head to the ‘Card’ tab and swipe left to the ‘virtual card’ option. You can create one virtual card per currency account. You will need to have a physical card from Monese first though³.

Monzo

The popular online bank Monzo also offers virtual cards, but only to Monzo Plus and Premium account holders⁴. Monzo Business Plus customers can also create and use virtual cards.

This unfortunately means that you can’t create any virtual cards with the Monzo free current account.

Each Monzo virtual card has its own unique details, separate to your ordinary debit card that comes with your bank account. You can have up to 5 virtual cards at any time⁴, using them to manage ‘Pots’. This is where you set a Pot of money within your account for a specific purpose (i.e. savings, or everyday spending). You can link a virtual card to each Pot, and to Apple and Google Pay⁵.

You can create and manage virtual cards within the Monzo app.

Skrill

Digital wallet provider Skrill offers a Skrill Virtual Prepaid Mastercard. It works the same as other virtual cards. It will be added to your Skrill digital wallet or other mobile wallet, and will have its own unique 16-digit number. You can use it to spend anywhere that Mastercard and contactless payments are accepted, including online. You can’t make ATM withdrawals with it though.

The name of the card would suggest that you need to add funds to your card balance before you can use it, and top up when you run out. However, you can simply use your Skrill balance to fund your payments⁶.

Applying for a Skrill Virtual Prepaid Mastercard should be pretty straightforward. It’s free to apply for your first card⁷ and there shouldn’t be any credit checks⁶.

Going abroad? Get fair FX rates with the Wise virtual multi-currency card

While you’re comparing virtual debit cards, make sure to check out Wise.

Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can get an international debit card for contactless spending and ATM withdrawals in 175 countries. You can also get a virtual card which offers the same great features, but with added security and convenience.

With your Wise digital card, you can spend using Apple Pay or Google Pay around the world in the local currency. The card automatically converts currency at the mid-market exchange rate. There’s only a tiny currency conversion fee to pay, and no foreign transaction fees.

And if you already have the currency in your account, there’s no conversion fee to pay. This means it’s up to you whether you load currencies into your account (you can manage 50+ at once) before your trip - or keep things flexible and let your card handle the currency conversions.

If you’re travelling, working or studying abroad, the Wise digital card is another easy and cheap alternative to spend abroad.

Get started now by opening your Wise account online - it’s quick and easy - with no subscription fees to worry about.

Join Wise today


After reading this guide, you should have a better idea of what virtual debit cards are and whether it’d be a good option for you. You’ll also have a few providers to compare.

Remember that if you’re travelling abroad, the Wise digital card could be the ideal solution for convenience, security and of course, saving money.


Sources used for this article:

  1. Revolut - cards
  2. Monese - what is a virtual card
  3. Monese - create virtual card
  4. Monzo - how to create a virtual card
  5. Monzo - google pay
  6. Skrill - virtual prepaid card
  7. Skrill - skrill virtual card

Sources checked on 12-Aug-2022.


Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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