Best virtual debit cards for UK users in 2024
We’re all pretty used to using a physical debit card to make cash withdrawals, and to spend in person and online whenever we shop. And of course, debit cards can be far more convenient and secure than carrying large amounts of cash around. But what if there was a safer alternative where you could ditch your wallet entirely when you hit the shops?
The best virtual cards in 2024 are:
What is a virtual debit card?
A virtual debit card works much like your regular physical debit card does, but instead of having to carry a physical card, you can usually use your virtual card right from your phone or laptop when you shop in person or spend in online stores.
Not all banks and account providers offer virtual cards - and exactly what’s available does vary. In some cases you’ll be able to generate one or more free virtual debit cards instantly when you sign up for an account, sometimes you’ll have to apply for a physical card to get virtual card access, and sometimes you’ll need to pay an account fee to get this service.
Virtual debit card comparison: at a glance
Let’s start with a comparison table looking at top virtual debit card providers in the UK. We’ll dive into each in more detail later.
|Typical wait time
|Overdraft availability and cost
|Order a physical debit card for 5 GBP to access up to 3 virtual cards
|Use your virtual card as soon as you order a physical card
|Hold and exchange 50+ currencies with the mid-market exchange rate
|Free for permanent virtual cards
Upgrade to a paid account plan for a disposable virtual card
|Card available upon signup
|0.75% to 1.67% AER based on account plan
|Free or fee paying account plans, to hold and exchange 30 currencies, budget, save and invest
|Available to Plus or Premium customers - plans cost 5 GBP to 15 GBP/month
|Card available upon signup
|Apply separately for an overdraft, to view the terms offered
|Up to 1.5% AER depending on account and balance
|Full banking service including credit, loans and more
|You’ll need to wait for your physical card to be delivered to get a virtual card
|Variable overdraft rate 19% - 39% depending on situation
|Apply separately for a Raisin savings pot through Monese to earn interest
|Account details for GBP, EUR and RON, plus a range of banking features
|First card free, 2.5 EUR fee for any subsequent cards
|Card available upon signup
|Prepaid virtual card - top up only the amount you want to spend to help with budgeting
Best Online Bank Accounts With Instant Virtual Debit Cards
Open a Wise personal account for free online, and order a physical debit card for a one time fee of 5 GBP. You’ll instantly be able to generate up to 3 replaceable virtual cards for spending, which can be added to wallets like Google Pay and Apple Pay for mobile transactions.
Wise virtual cards can be used anywhere contactless payments are accepted. And because the Wise account has full multi-currency functionality, you’ll be able to hold, exchange and spend 50+ currencies with the real mid-market exchange rate every time - perfect for when you travel or shop internationally. Switch the currency you need within your Wise account, or let the card’s auto convert function do it for you, with the lowest available fees every time.
You can set up one Monese virtual card per currency account for free. Note: your Monese virtual card is permanent. You can 'lock' it - preventing any transactions from going through - but you cannot replace it, as is possible with a Wise or Revolut virtual card. Therefore it is not "disposable" in the same way as Wise and Revolut's offering.
Monese lets you open an account to hold British pounds, euros or Romanian lei, or all three if you’d like to. You’ll get a linked debit card and some handy features to budget and manage your money, including international payments to 19 currencies. There’s a 2% fee if you use your card for international spending in a currency you don’t hold.
You can sign up for a free Standard Revolut account, or choose to pay a monthly fee for a higher tier account with more features. Depending on the account you have, you may be able to generate a permanent virtual card, and one or more disposable virtual cards.
You can get a free permanent virtual card with all Revolut account plans, which can be added to a digital wallet like Apple Pay for mobile payments. If you’re a higher tier account holder you may also be able to generate a disposable card which is for online shopping only, and which can increase security when you spend with new merchants.
Revolut accounts offer currency exchange with the mid-market rate up to plan limits, with 30 currencies available. That can make spending internationally far cheaper when compared to your normal bank.
Monzo is a fully licensed UK bank which offers a range of account products and linked financial services. If you have a Plus or Premium account you can generate up to 5 virtual cards at a time for online and in person spending. A Plus account has a 5 GBP a month fee, while for Premium you’ll pay 15 GBP a month for additional features.
As a full bank you can get overdrafts, loans and other services from Monzo, which require a separate application process. Monzo doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee so if you use your virtual or physical card when spending internationally you’ll get the network exchange rate with no extra charges.
Technically, Skrill is a prepaid card rather than a debit card. You’ll have to top up your account before you can spend - but that does have the benefit that you can’t accidentally blow your budget as you’ll only ever be able to spend the balance on the card.
It’s free to get your first virtual card, but then you’ll pay a 2 EUR fee for each subsequent card. There’s also a fee for spending internationally which can be up to 3.99%.
How do virtual cards work?
Virtual cards are convenient, but they can also add an extra layer of security when you’re spending online.
On a virtual card, the 16-digit card number is randomly generated and - in many cases - it can be re-generated in an instant.
To give an example of how virtual cards work, let’s say you’re shopping online with a website you don’t fully trust. In this case you can complete the purchase, and as soon as the payment has gone through, dispose of the card you used and re-generate your card details. That way, anyone who got hold of the card number is left with a meaningless collection of numbers!
The card information generated to create a virtual card is stored securely and encrypted, so there’s no way it can be linked back to your physical card. That means that even if someone were to get hold of your virtual card number, you could simply cancel the virtual card without needing to go through the hassle of cancelling and replacing your physical card.
Virtual card vs disposable card vs digital card - what’s the difference?
When you’re talking about cards which exist on your phone or smart device, rather than being physical pieces of plastic, you might hear the terms virtual card, disposable card, and digital card used interchangeably. There’s a bit of difference between these card types, though, which makes it worth understanding so you can pick the right one for you.
As we’ve covered already, Virtual cards are cards which live only on your phone, and which have different card numbers to your physical card.
Virtual cards which can be instantly regenerated are often called disposable cards because they can be used once and then deleted, to be replaced by a new card next time the need arises.
If you hear someone talking about digital cards, the chances are that they mean using a physical card with a mobile wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay. This does mean you can make mobile payments with your phone - but it’s not quite the same as a virtual or disposable card as your physical card and your digital card have the same numbers. That means that your physical card numbers are stolen, your virtual card is compromised too, and you’ll need to cancel the physical card, and delete it from the mobile wallet to be safe.
How do I get a virtual debit card?
Virtual debit cards are available from some UK banks, neobanks, and specialist providers. If you’re hoping to add a virtual card to your existing bank account, you’ll need to check if your bank supports virtual cards yet.
Digital only banks - like Monzo and Starling - tend to have more options for virtual cards compared to high street banks. Alternative providers which operate digitally, like Wise, Revolut and Monese, are also leading the charge. We’ll look at our top picks from these virtual card options in more detail a little later, and can also often offer other perks like multi-currency holding accounts for dozens of currencies, and low cost international services.
How To Set Up Virtual Debit Card
There are a couple of ways you can set up a virtual or digital card, depending on the card you’ve picked and your personal preferences.
1. Open an account with a virtual debit card provider
Some banks and providers like Wise, Monzo and Revolut provide virtual debit cards as soon as you sign up online for an account, and get verified. You may need to order a physical card before your virtual card will be generated, but even if you’re waiting for your physical card to arrive in the post, your virtual card should be available for use right away.
2. Use a mobile wallet
The alternative, as we discussed earlier, is to use a mobile wallet to make your physical card a digital card. You can do this by adding your regular bank card to a mobile wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay. This can easily be done by opening your preferred mobile wallet app, and following the prompts to add your new card. You can even usually use your phone’s camera to scan the card so you don’t have to enter the card details manually.
Pros and Cons of virtual debit cards
Not sure if a virtual debit card is right for you? Here are a few pros and cons to consider to help you decide.
Make convenient payments with just your phone
Adds security as your virtual card has different details to your physical card
No need to carry a physical card when you’re out shopping
You’ll still usually earn any rewards or cashback that you’d get when using your physical card to pay
Not all banks and providers have virtual card options
ATM withdrawals are not usually available
Any fees that would apply when using your physical card to pay will still apply
Who is a virtual card for?
Virtual cards can be helpful for lots of different people.
If you’d simply prefer to leave the house with less to carry, a virtual card can mean all you need is your phone and your keys and you’re good to go.
If your priority is security, a virtual card might suit you as you’ll know your physical card details can’t be compromised when you spend.
If costs are on your mind, it’s good to know that using a virtual card should cost no more or less than using your physical card to tap and pay in a store.
Finally, Virtual cards can also be handy when paying for subscriptions - use a disposable card to pay, then you can’t be automatically billed again the following month or year. If you want to resubscribe you can - but you’ll need to use a different card, so you can’t just forget and then notice later that the payment had been debited without you realising.
Frequently Asked Questions
Unfortunately, PayPal does not have a virtual card. PayPal did have a virtual card option (Paypal Key), but it was discontinued in April 2022 for all customers worldwide.
Virtual debit cards aren’t usually offered by high street UK banks. However, they’re being rolled out in other countries like the US - so it’s worth watching out to see when your bank catches up. In the meantime, check out digital banks and online specialists for virtual cards you can use right away.
Usually virtual prepaid cards are intended for online shopping only, it needs to be topped up before spending. Virtual debit cards are directly linked to a debit bank account, such as the one you’d use to receive your salary from work. But de facto there isn't an awful lot of different.
Virtual debit cards have different numbers to your physical card, which can add an extra layer of security when shopping online. You can simply use your virtual card once, then re-generate your details to make sure they can’t be used fraudulently.
Plus, you can usually use your virtual card pretty much instantly once you apply for it - no waiting for the postman.
Virtual cards don’t always have the same functionality as a physical card - it’s not usually possible to withdraw cash from an ATM with one, for example. Depending on the provider you may also need to pay extra for a virtual card, or be limited in the number of cards you can access.