Prepaid cards don’t get much attention on here, mainly because I rarely use them myself (unless they can be loaded with a credit card of course 😉). But there’s one new prepaid product that’s caught my eye recently that I think would be hugely beneficial to travellers who spend significant amounts of time abroad, and that’s the Stack Prepaid MasterCard.
Having just come on the market in late August, Stack is an innovative product that’s seeking to transform the way people spend money. In addition to a suite of exciting features, one of their core principles is that they don’t charge any fees for the service.
Many prepaid cards out there come with a litany of fees that quickly add up once you start using them, but not Stack. They’ve completely done away with monthly fees, card replacement fees, money transfer fees, and – crucially – ATM withdrawal fees and foreign exchange fees.
Earn a free $20 credit when you download the Stack app today and activate your card! See details below.
The Foreign Cash Conundrum
Here’s why this is a real breath of fresh air: for as long as I’ve been travelling, one of the biggest conundrums I’ve faced is how to most effectively obtain foreign cash.
Now, to be clear, there are many solutions out there for foreign spending – the simplest solution is often to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Back in its heyday, the Chase Canada cards (the Amazon.ca Visa and the Chase Marriott Visa) were some of the most popular cards for this purpose.
Even after the demise of those credit cards, there are several other cards in the market that offer 0% FX fees rather than the industry standard of 2.5% – the Scotia Passport Visa and the HSBC World Elite MasterCard are two examples. (Side note: I really ought to cover these cards in more detail sometime soon.)
If you have access to USD at a fair exchange rate, you can also put your foreign credit card charges on US-issued credit cards, which typically offer better rewards as well. That’s what I’ve been doing lately, with most of my spending on my recent travels going on my trusty Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Nevertheless, it’s pretty rare to visit a place where you can 100% get by using a credit card. Not only do many countries not have as widespread of a payments infrastructure as we’re used to here in North America (and not necessarily due to a lack of development – for example, credit cards are surprisingly underutilized in Japan), but there are many activities and points of interest that simply don’t deal well with non-cash payments, such as outdoor markets or street fairs.
Getting foreign cash is therefore a necessary step to fully immersing oneself in a new country, and that poses more of a challenge than simply swiping your no-fee credit card. What I’ve typically done in the past is to bring some US Dollars on my trip and visit a currency exchange. However, it’s difficult to ensure that you’re getting the best rate unless you spend time shopping around from multiple exchange houses, which is a truly thankless task when you’d much rather be exploring your new surroundings. I’ve lost count of how much time I’ve spent hunting for currency exchange shops just to be able to pay the subway fare and get to my destination.
The other alternative is to withdraw money straight from a local ATM, but that isn’t straightforward either, unless you’re okay with hemorrhaging money to bank fees. Withdrawing from a Canadian bank’s debit card would subject you to the inferior exchange rate that the banks use, as well as an ATM fee of between $5 and $10 that’s levied by your bank account (unless you’ve shelled out for a premium bank account).
Many ATMs impose withdrawal limits, so you can’t withdraw a large amount of money to cover your whole stay in the country either – you’ll have to make multiple withdrawals and absorb the ATM fee multiple times.
A more advanced method of cash withdrawals has been to pre-pay a credit card that has no foreign exchange fees, and then obtain a cash advance from said credit card. You won’t be charged any interest on the cash advance since you’ve prepaid the card beyond its credit limit, and you get a fair exchange rate because the credit card has no FX fees. The only thing you’ll pay is a one-time cash advance fee, usually about $5.
This method can work pretty well; however, it’s still a rather involved process that might not be worth the hassle to get set up.
After all, when I’m travelling and looking for foreign cash, I’m trying to find the quickest and easiest solution and will begrudgingly absorb a few fees here and there in order to get going with my day. It’d be great if there were a solution that was both cheap and easy, but I haven’t been able to find it…
Use Stack for Foreign Cash
…until now that Stack has arrived.
The Stack Prepaid MasterCard charges no foreign exchange fees, meaning that the exchange rate you get on foreign purchases is the same as the MasterCard rate, which comes awfully close to the mid-market rate. Indeed, I just ran a quick comparison between the MasterCard rate and the mid-market rate via Google, and the spread is a negligible $2 on $1000 (0.2%).
In addition to getting a fair exchange rate on all foreign transactions, Stack also charges no domestic or international ATM withdrawal fees, meaning that unlike most bank accounts, you can withdraw cash from any foreign ATM without getting hit with fees on the Stack side.
Keep in mind that the ATM itself might charge a fee for using it; when I travelled across Latin America, Russia, and Asia this summer, I found that about half of the foreign ATMs I used levied a fee on their end, and these fees tended to be mostly negligible.
Putting these two features together means that you can easily, quickly, and cheaply withdraw your own money whenever you need it on your travels, and you’ll only have to pay the small fee imposed by the ATM itself (which you’d have to pay anyway if you were withdrawing via any other means). That certainly beats taking the time out of your day to search for a currency exchange or finagling a prepayment on your credit card before your trip.
Stack is a prepaid card, so you need to load up the card with Canadian Dollar funds before withdrawing foreign cash abroad. Fortunately, loading the app is an easy process, and you have the options of direct payroll deposit, Interac e-Transfer, or Visa Debit.
I personally find Visa Debit to be the most convenient option, since TD, CIBC, RBC, and Scotiabank all issue Visa Debit-enabled bank cards, and you can easily load the funds while you’re out and about and withdraw them right away.
Lastly, keep in mind that while Stack’s no-fee approach makes it the standout option for cash withdrawals abroad, it might not be the optimal way to make foreign purchases with your card. That’s because the aforementioned credit cards with no FX fees can often be a better deal by virtue of the rewards you earn on your purchases. Therefore, combining a credit card with no FX fees (for purchases) with Stack (for cash) would represent an optimal solution for all your foreign spending needs.
From a traveller’s perspective, I find the ability to effectively obtain foreign cash to be Stack’s compelling most compelling feature; however, I’m also impressed by the suite of other features and offers that are available within the app.
Stack partners with many popular Canadian retailers to give you cash back whenever you use your Stack card to make a purchase. For example, you can enjoy small savings on Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Booster Juice, and Uber, and there’s also more significant discounts, such as the ongoing Foodora offer that gives you a $15 credit when you charge $15 in Foodora purchases to your Stack card – free food!
When they first launched in August, Stack was offering a unique promotion in which it would cover your Spotify, Netflix, or Tidal subscription for a whole year. You’d simply charge the subscription to your Stack card and the app would reimburse you the money for up to 12 billing cycles. While that specific promotion has now ended, it speaks to the ingenuity and creativity of the team behind Stack, and I’m looking forward to other innovative offers popping up in the future.
As with many of these fintech startups, Stack’s wider mission seems to be to disrupt the banking industry, and it therefore also possesses features such as a real-time budgeting tool and peer-to-peer money transfers in order to get you using the app more often.
Lastly, we all love a good referral program here at Prince of Travel, and Stack has made it easy to refer your friends and family to the card. You’ll earn up to $15 per referral, with no limits on how much in referral bonuses you can earn.
Best of all, the person whom you referred will get a free $20 credit upon activating the card! That’s right – you don’t even need to load any money; just by signing up and activating the card, you get a free $20 in your pocket, and can start to take advantage of the in-app offers immediately.
Get Stack Now
You can learn more about the Stack Prepaid MasterCard on their website, but you’ll have to download the app in order to sign up. The app will perform a soft credit check to verify your identity, and after that, it takes about a week for the physical Stack card to be shipped in the mail.
Feel free to sign up through my referral link below – if you click the link and then download the app, it should register. You’d be helping to support the site whilst also banking a quick-and-easy $20:
For too long I’ve been paying more than necessary when obtaining foreign cash, and even though I’m not fussy about these fees in the long run, it still annoys me every time that there isn’t a better way. That’s why I’m very much looking forward to using my Stack card for ATM withdrawals on my upcoming trip to Europe, and will report back on how it goes. Having signed up for Stack during their Spotify Premium promotion, I’m also eager to try out the card’s other features and maximize any other in-app offers that come along.