Even though the list of merchants that accept Bitcoin is continuously expanding, it’s still not possible to buy everything with Bitcoin. However, thanks to several companies in the Bitcoin ecosystem you can now order your own Bitcoin debit card. It’s as simple as it sounds – a debit card that is connected to your Bitcoin balance.
Pros of using a Bitcoin debit card
The pros are pretty obvious – you can now buy virtually anything with Bitcoin. Any place that accepts credit or debit cards would accept your Bitcoin debit card as well. The merchant gets paid in his own currency by the debit company and the charge will be deducted from your Bitcoin balance. This allows you to live purely on Bitcoin.
For example, when I travel abroad I always take my Bitcoin debit card as a backup card in case my money gets stolen. It’s like the traveller’s check of the digital age.
Cons of using a Bitcoin debit card
The major con of a Bitcoin debit card is centralization. In order to use the card you need to deposit money into your account at the debit card company – this means you’re giving control over your coins to a 3rd party. This risk is reduced by not depositing too many Bitcoins into your balance – basically deposit only an amount you can afford losing in case of a hack. Also since you are using the service of these companies it comes with a price – as you will see below you can’t ignore the fees that Bitcoin debit card companies charge.
At the moment there are 7 Bitcoin debit card companies available, here’s a short summary of each one and their pros and cons.
Bitpay Bitcoin debit card review
Pros: Well known company, card accepted worldwide
cons: Limited to US residents only, doesn’t have chip and pin, requires verification
Bitpay is a well known company in the BItcoin ecosystem which provides payment solutions for businesses and individuals. It allows you to get a prepaid Visa card that is loaded through your Bitpay account. The BitPay Prepaid Visa® Card is available to residents in all 50 US states. You must have a home address (no PO boxes), government-issued ID, and Social Security number to apply.
The card costs a flat fee of $9.95 and takes about 7 days to arrive in the mail. When traveling outside of the United States of America you will pay a fee of 3% to cover the cost of currency conversion. There is a $2.00 fee for ATM or cash-back withdrawals inside the US and a $3.00 fee for any ATM or cash-back withdrawals outside of the country. You can see a complete fee list here. There are no transaction fees for the Bitpay card.
Cryptopay Bitcoin debit card review
Pros: Available worldwide, supplies both physical and virtual cards
cons: Has maintenance and load fees
Cryptopay supplies a Bitcoin debit card that is available worldwide (unlike Bitpay). You can either order a physical card with a chip & pin, or a virtual debit card if you’re just into online shopping. Another great bonus of Cryptopay is that you do not have to supply full id verification if you don’t need high card limits.
The physical card costs $15 and is shipped for free worldwide. ATM withdrawal costs $2.5 and international currency change adds another 3% on each transaction. The things I don’t like about this card is that it has a monthly maintenance fee of $1 and a 1% commission for loading money. If you’re not verified you can load up to €2500 in your card but not more than that.
Xapo Bitcoin debit card review
Pros: Ships to most countries, established company reputation
cons: Redundant fees (IMO), no chip & pin
Xapo was one of the first companies to supply a Bitcoin debit card. Just like Bitpay it offer a “simple” credit card that does not have a chip & pin mechanism (edit: some users have gotten a chip & pin card, I personally did not). The cost of the card is $20 and it does have an annual fee of $12/year after the first year.
Xapo ships their card to a lot of countries around the world although not to all of them (a complete list can be found here). Also their card actually has a “change pin” fee which seems pretty odd IMO. You will be able to use the card without extensive verification but you will be limited to $2500.
Wirex Bitcoin debit card review
Pros: Chip & Pin card, virtual cards available, established company
cons: Redundant fees (IMO), relatively expensive card
Perviously known as E-coin, the company rebranded to Wirex in 2016. The company supplies a Chip & Pin visa debit card that can be loaded through your Wirex app (desktop or mobile). The fees are pretty similar to other cards – costing 3% for international transactions, $2.5 for ATM withdrawal and $17 to get your physical shipped to you. The company also supplies a virtual card if you don’t need the actual plastic. Like Xapo, Wirex also charges service fees, only they charge them on a monthly and not an annual basis ($1/month).
Shift Bitcoin debit card review
Pros: Easily connects to your Coinbase account, relatively low fees
cons: Available only in 45 states around the US, Coinbase is limited to certain countries as well
Shift position themselves as “the first US Bitcoin debit card”. The company supplies a debit card that is connected to your Coinbase account. However, even though it’s supposed to be the US debit card it’s available only in 45 out of 50 states at the moment.
The card costs a reasonable $10 to produce and has no ongoing fees. There is of course the standard 3% international transaction fee and $2.5 flat ATM withdrawal fee.
What card should you choose?
Most of these cards are more or less the same. They probably all use the same card supplier to run their business as well and the difference is only in their branding. Personally I’d advise to make sure the card you choose is available in your country and then use the one with the lowest fees. I’d definitely try to avoid the cards with the ongoing fees (i.e. Wirex, Xapo). For example, if you live in the US, using Shift is a reasonable option.
In addition to the cards reviewed in this post there are also ANXPRO and CoinsBank that supply Bitcoin debit card – you may want to take a look at them as well, they are listed in the table at the top of this page.