Bitcoin debit cards – what are they and how do they work?

The world of Bitcoin can be a bit abstract at times.

For example, you’re likely to be met with blank looks if you get to the supermarket check-out and ask which cryptocurrencies they accept – and although there are some online merchants that accept Bitcoin – they’re still few and far between.

This is where Bitcoin debit cards come in and fill a gap. We’ll explain what they, how they work – and look at the best card issuers to work out who offers the best bitcoin debit card.

What is a Bitcoin debit card?

Effectively, a Bitcoin debit card is card that is loaded with Bitcoin and allows you to exchange the coin for your local currency by simply using the card.

For you, this takes an enormous amount of effort out of spending your Bitcoin. Rather than having to transmit security keys, wait for the transaction to authorise and hope for the best with your merchant – you’ve got real spending power that’s instantly credited to your chosen retailer’s system, meaning it’s perfectly reasonable to think you can spend your Bitcoin in high street shops.

How does a Bitcoin debit card work?

Now, in reality, you’re not spending Bitcoin with your chosen merchant, you’re actually spending the currency everyone else is – but the debit card creates a bridge between cryptocurrency and the more mainstream world.

So, when you load your card with Bitcoin you’re effectively pre-authorising a Visa debit card. You pre-load it so it can access however much Bitcoin you’ve loaded – and you’ve got whatever the current the cash equivalent of that to spend in a shop of your choice.

Typical card features

Not all Bitcoin debit cards are the same – but generally they’ll offer a range of features similar to one another. They include:

Virtual and physical cards

It’s not always necessary to have the physical card when you’re spending money – especially when you’re shopping online. Therefore, a virtual card means you’re supplied just with the card numbers that are required for transactions – generally, the long 16-digit card number – along with the expiry date and parts of the billing address.

Virtual cards are general issued instantly – whereas their physical counterparts take a little longer to be produced and sent to you, a process that normally takes between 1-4 weeks, depending on your location.

Several traditional currencies available

Most card issuers are happy to issue a card in the currency you desire – with almost all issuing GBP, EUR and USD cards.

This opens an interesting avenue for you explore when you’re making overseas purchases – or even going on holiday, as the exchange rate between currencies could be favourable versus traditional currency exchange services. If you’ve got a little bit of time to invest comparing rates, you could save some money.

Many digital currencies available

Although this is about Bitcoin cards – most card issuers will load their debit cards with a number of cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin is universally accepted – with most others accepting the big altcoins, such as Dash, Ethereum, LiteCoin – and so forth. Dig a little deeper into different card providers and you’ll find some of the less well-known currencies can be loaded onto the card too.

Instant loading

You’re probably aware that Bitcoin transactions in particular can take some time to be authorised – owing mostly to the verification process and international transfers of traditional currencies. This can make using Bitcoin for quick transactions somewhat preventative.

However, as many card issuers actually hold your currency in one of their online wallet systems, this delay is removed – meaning you can access the funds that are associated with your BTC balance as quickly as is required.

Low card fees

Generally, card issuers aren’t looking to make a great deal of money from you when it comes to creating and issuing the card, so getting a BTC card can usually be done cheaply. Costs vary a little, but a rarely much more than 10 GBP/14 USD/12 EUR – and more commonly around 6 GBP/9 USD/8 EUR.

Zero loading fees

Again, to remove barriers to your spending – loading currency (or its equivalent) onto the card is generally free of any charge.

Who offers Bitcoin/crypto debit cards?

There are a host of card providers out there – we’ll run you through some of the best known:

  • Spectrocoin

Spectrocoin offer prepaid Visa cards and they can be used at any ATM or shop – in exactly the same way you would use an ordinary Visa or MasterCard debit card. As an added bonus, the Spectrocoin card allows you to link a PayPal account – or a host of other online wallets – so keeping your spending power up is no problem, no matter when you’re money’s flowing in to.

  • Uquid

Uquid offer a Visa debit card that supports an impressive host of currencies – from Bitcoin, Ethereum, LiteCoin, Monera and DASH – to 76 less widely known others.

Uquid say they’ll provide their card to anyone in over 170 countries with no delivery charge – and since they don’t require ID or credit checks, it means you can spend your funds without unnecessary hassle or delay.

  • Shift/Coinbase

For those of you who’ve opted for the extremely popular Coinbase platform to make your crypto trades, there’s a card dedicated to you and your wallet.

The Shift card connects to your Coinbase account and withdraws the correct amount based on the current exchange rate. It’s free to use and doesn’t cost much to set up – although there could be transaction fees introduced going forward.

  • Xapo

Xapo were actually the very first provider to introduce a debit card linked to their online wallets – and while most others concentrate on the US market – Xapo is only available in Europe.

Delivery time is perhaps a little longer than some of the others on this list – at around 10-25 days – but assuming you’re not in a rush, it’s a great card backed up by a reliable wallet system from Xapo. Once again, you benefit from all the perks of having a Visa debit card – meaning it can be used exactly as you would a mainstream bank linked debit card – virtually all around the world.


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