Picture this: You’re taking a trip abroad with friends, after what you thought was some pretty thorough planning. You even let your bank know you were traveling, so that you could use your debit and credit cards with no issues. What you didn’t plan for, however, was your card not working at the majority of ATMs abroad. So you turn to your gift cards instead.

In cases like this, having gift cards or a prepaid card that you can transfer cash onto could be a quick way to ensure uninterrupted purchases. But, there are some limitations there, as well. Which gift cards can you use, internationally? Let’s take a look.

The international reach of some gift cards

Your level of success using gift cards abroad will depend on the card. Unlike credit cards, gift cards are usually issued by a retailer or bank. For this reason, most branded gift cards are US-bound. However, some gift cards can be used at select international locations.

Here are some gift cards that have limited use outside the US:

  • Gap: In-store and online – Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Mexico and the UK.
  • The Home Depot: In-store and online – currently operating stores in Canada and Mexico
  • Subway: Canada
  • Hyatt: participating hotels in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America

Cards that have a little more freedom of use are those issued by Visa or Mastercard. For example, the Akimbo gift prepaid Mastercard can be used anywhere that accepts Mastercard debit.

Visa and Mastercard giftcards

In addition to some strong rewards credit cards, Mastercard offers an international prepaid gift card and a prepaid travel card. You can also get gift cards and prepaid cards with the Mastercard logo at big box stores like Walmart, Target and Sam’s Club. You can also get a prepaid card at a post office.

Most Visa cards that you purchase are US-bound. However, Visa does offer some gifts cards that can be used abroad through banks, such as the PNC Bank Visa Gift card. You can find a variety of prepaid cards online that can be used internationally. Be sure to check the fine print to be aware of any transaction fees.

Here are a few of Visa prepaid cards, their fees and loading information:

Card Benefits Monthly Usage Fee Cost to load Foreign transaction fee Other details
AccountNow Gold Visa Prepaid No credit check, no overdraft fees $9.95 Up to $5.95 $3.00 (U.S.), $4.95 (international) 3% of the U.S. dollar amount spent per transaction
Cashpass Visa Prepaid No activation fee, Cashpass mobile app, Bill pay Plan fee: $6.95 Inactivity fee: $3.95/month $2.00 $2.00 (Out of network) None listed

Other options for international spending

If you’re going the prepaid and debit cards route to make purchases abroad, you won’t have to deal with credit checks and paying interest. Also, these cards can be reloaded, which means you can simply put more money on the card when needed.

Prepaid options are great, but you’ll likely be best prepared for international spending with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. You can spend, knowing you won’t be charged, and you can earn valuable rewards.

One of the best rewards cards for travelers is the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card. Not only will you be free of foreign transaction fees, this card also has no annual fee. You’ll also earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase. There’s no limit on how many miles you can earn, and your miles will never expire.

Bottom line

Most gift cards are meant to be used in the US, however some will allow for use abroad, according to their terms and conditions. While these can be helpful in a pinch, the safest international spending will be done through a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.