Reader Hannah S. asked me a really good question via email:
Hi, I was wondering if you could please tell me the difference between a mastercard and visa.
I currently have a virgin mastercard but am going to the States soon and have been told I am better off with a visa card.
Is this correct? Very much appreciated thanks.
My Answer: For starters Visa and Mastercard don’t actually issue cards themselves. They operate the computer systems that process transactions on their network by people buying products/service or withdrawing money from ATM’s. Both make money by charging fees to banks that issue Mastercard/Visa branded cards.
All the actual features of the credit/debit card (interest rates, reward programs, interest free days etc) are set by the bank, credit union or building society that issued your card.
Both kinds of cards are widely accepted worldwide in retail outlets and cash machines. However in certain areas acceptance levels may vary.
My experience is that sometimes when travelling ATM’s won’t let you use your Mastercard/Visa card so it’s always handy to have another card from the other network which you can use instead. Specifically this happened to me a few times in Western Europe and also in Asia.
Also keep enough cash to pay for at one or two days expenses in case none of your cards work.
Reports from elsewhere on the net suggest that card acceptance is much more likely to be a problem in “non-Western” places like: Asia, Africa and South America eg: The Cuban banking system which does not recognise any financial instrument issued by a US bank.
Since you already have a Mastercard I suggest getting a Visa Debit card
In my experience the best Visa debit cards are usually offered by Credit Unions / building societies / small banks. These cards come with no annual fee and some even offer transaction fee rebates if you have savings/term deposit accounts with them as well.