Amex Prepaid cards for foreign travel

In the post “One card to rule them all” I introduced the idea of buying Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot and using them to load money onto American Express Prepaid cards.  For Ink Bold cardholders, this is a great option for earning extra points with your credit card.  One of the lesser known features of the Amex card, though, may be of interest to almost all cardholders: the Amex Prepaid card has no foreign transaction fees.

These days, there are many good options for credit cards with no foreign transaction fees (e.g. Ink Bold, Sapphire Preferred, Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, etc.).  So why would anyone be interested in using the American Express Prepaid card?  Here are a few great reasons:

You want to increase spend on a card that does have foreign transaction fees.  Suppose, for example, you are working on meeting a credit card’s minimum spend in order qualify for its sign-up bonus.  Or, maybe you’re trying to earn elite status with your Delta Reserve card or your Hilton Surpass.  There are many reasons why you might want to pump up spend on a variety of cards.

You want to take out cash at ATM machines.  With most credit cards, you will be charged for a cash advance if you take out money at an ATM.  And, with most ATM cards, you will be charged a foreign transaction fee for withdrawing money outside of the United States.  The American Express Prepaid card simply charges a flat $2 fee after the first withdrawal each month.  Of course, the ATM owner may (and usually will) impose a fee as well.  One great thing about using the American Express Prepaid card is that you will have earned points on your credit card for loading it (because you used your credit card to buy Vanilla Reload cards).

If either of the reasons given above appeal to you, then do the following before your trip:

  1. Use your credit card of choice to buy Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot (or elsewhere if you can find them).
  2. Use the Vanilla Reload cards to load money onto your American Express Prepaid card(s). 


Reader Experiences

Have you used the Amex Prepaid card outside of the United States?  What has your experience been?  Has it been widely accepted?  Have you had success in using it at ATMs?

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. I would never use one of these AX prepaid cards overseas. If your card is hacked and your account run dry, you will be 100% SOL, with absolutely no recourse.

  2. Do they have currency conversion fees if using n ATM overseas? This could be the one extra perk that would make me consider getting one of these cards.

  3. I used the cards all over France and Spain in hotels, restaurants and stores. The only times I had problems was at public transport self serve machines.

  4. Problem is overseas less people use amex then even here. So the no foreign transaction fee is kinda useless on an amex

  5. I used my card in Canada at the Costco and bought Master Card Gift Cards ($5.95 fee) at Shoppers Drug Mart fot the one vender that did not accept Amex. Had no issues using it at Costco in Canada.
    Presently in Grand Caymans and using my husbands Amex Prepaid to pay for our expenses here:)

  6. I’ve had my AMEX prepaid cards for months, but just now finally was able to have someone grab me some vanilla reload cards at Office Depot yesterday with my Ink Bold. No problems using it in Japan. I will probably try to make an ATM withdrawal in Japan by this weekend.

    Does the Amex Open give a discount at Office Depot? If so it’s a forex fee way of earning SPG points which is of interest to me as well.

  7. Went into office depot in midtown manhattan yesterday and they had no reload able gift cards. The sales rep said that they would not be ordering more.

  8. These reloads are getting hard to find. Went to 3 OD stores in Maple Grove, Eden Prairie and by Richdale mall in MN and they were out. Plenty of the Amex cards though….Anyone from MN that has had any luck finding any lately? thanks!

  9. I’d like to see a post about where these magical no-fee ATMs are, because I haven’t found any in my neighborhood.

  10. @bexho2000, you may want to call and ask the stores next time before you drive around town, some have them and some dont 🙁

  11. We are going to Vietnam at the end of the year. I want to get the Amex pre paid card to withdraw money from ATM machines. anyone has experience doing this in developing countries with luck? I think it will be cheaper (and more profitable miles-wise for me) than paying bank withdrawal fees + foreign transaction fees for currency conversion. Countries like Vietnam take cash more often than CCs.

  12. @Mark T: Sheetz and Wawas gas stations are two locations with no-fee ATMs. The Allpoint network also appears to be fee-free. They have a convenient ATM locator on their site.

  13. @ Chris,

    Allpoint ATMs claim to be surcharge free, but when used, they still add the $3 convenience fee, so not technically free.

    I am still trying to find any local surcharge free atms and have been unsuccessful so far.

  14. I tried using my AMEX prepaid at an ATM on a recent trip. In australia, I was able to withdraw money fine. but in Bali, I tried several ATMs and could never get it to work. I might’ve been messing up the PIN, but I also tried multiple PINs and never got it to work.

  15. Mariana – I tried using the Amex Prepaid at ATMs in Vietnam with no success. Very few ATMs in southeast Asia take American Express. Plus, keep in mind that you can only take out $400/day.

  16. @ Bikeguy

    That is not true. It is only surcharge free if the bank associated to the card belong in the Allpoints network. This amex card does not, therefore the amex prepaid cannot be used to withdraw money for free using allpoint atms.

  17. Indeed, Allpoint is not always free. I used their website to search for local locations and Target was listed. Since Target offers its own prepaid Amex product, I thought my odds of no fees was good. Machine was labeled Allpoint, but I was still charged $3.

  18. Used the ATMs in Stockholm and Copenhagen. Didn’t work on the machines in airport but worked on the ones in train stations, which had Amex sign displayed on the machine. One thing to watch out is that some hotels will put a hold of certain $ amount on your card and you won’t have access to it when u need it. Think the funds can take up to 8 days to get released. We had to use a third card because we only loaded ~ $1k on the 1st 2 cards.

  19. @Grant Thomas – Thanks! Called and found the last 2 in Coon Rapids…that store is out too! The only one left is the OD in downtown MLPS.

  20. @bexho2000, I swung by the Ridgedale OD on Sunday and they were also out. Did you call the downtown one to check? It surprises me that they’re all out of stock. Obviously the product is moving well.

  21. I could not use the initial Prepaid Amex in Italy. This was the initial card you buy from OD, not the permanent card you get in mail and reload. After I couldn’t use it oversees, I didn’t buy the permanent card.

  22. Just got back from a Baltic cruise, with train rides before, after and during. Had mixed results using the Amex prepaid card. The first problem, as noted by Daniel P., is that a great many places in europe don’t accept American Express. Visa is always accepted, and I wish I had bought a Visa prepaid as a backup. The second problem is absence of a chip on the Amex cards. Even though you have a pin number, the chip seems to be required in many ATMs and/or train kiosks.
    Overall, I was successful in using the Amex prepaid card just under half of the time, sometimes by going to the human being at the ticket window as opposed to the kiosk. Could often use my (chipless) bank VISA debit card in about another third of the cases.
    My bottom line: If you want a hassle-free experience, definitely get a card with a chip (and a pin number) before going to Europe. I didn’t have one, and while that wasn’t disastrous, it was a nuisance.

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