The best virtual debit cards in Canada for 2023
Considering getting a virtual debit or credit card to allow you to make simple payments online and using just your phone? Several global providers offer virtual card services for Canada customers, across both debit and credit cards, which means you’ve got a choice to make. This guide walks through all you need to know about virtual debit cards, why they’re used and how to get one. Let’s dive right in.
What is a virtual debit card?
A virtual debit or credit card works like your regular physical card, but instead of being a piece of plastic, it’s available through your phone or smart device.
That has the advantage that you won’t need to carry a physical card around with you, but also the drawback that you can’t usually use a virtual card where a physical payment is required - so when you make an ATM withdrawal for example. Virtual cards come in handy for any contactless payments though - just tap your phone to pay instead of your physical card.
Virtual cards are available as both debit and credit cards, and can often be instantly generated once you’ve got an approved account with a bank or provider. In most cases you’ll need to add your virtual card to a wallet app like Apple Pay or Google Pay for easy spending.
Usually getting a virtual card is a free service, and because your virtual card won’t have the same card number as any physical card you hold, it can add a layer of security too. If you’re spending online with a new merchant, for example, you can often generate a virtual card, use it to pay, and then cancel it immediately, so you’ll know the details can’t be used again fraudulently.
Virtual debit card comparison: At a glance
Let’s take a look at some of the main providers of virtual debit and credit cards here in Canada. We’ve featured a couple of digital providers, alongside a couple of more traditional companies, so you can compare and decide which might suit you best.
|Provider||Card type||Wait time||Card fee||AER||Benefits|
|Virtual Wise Card||Debit card||Instant once physical card is ordered||No fee||Not applicable||50+ currencies, spend globally, get paid for free from 30+ countries|
|Virtual Stack Card||Debit card||Instant||7.99 CAD/month - fees can be waived on certain conditions||Not applicable||Earn rewards as you spend, access budgeting features and make it easy to split bills|
|Virtual Wealthsimple Card||Debit Card||Once account is verified||No fee||Not applicable||Wealthsimple offers a range of interest earning opportunities and ways to invest|
|Virtual RBC Card||Debit Card||Once account is verified||Varies*||Not applicable||Available for a range of supported cards|
*based on the physical card you hold
Open a Wise account online or in the Wise app, and get an instant virtual card you can use to spend in 170+ countries. Wise accounts can hold 50+ currencies, and there’s no fee to spend any currency you hold in your account. If you need to switch from dollars to another currency for spending, your card can do this automatically, with low fees from 0.41%.
You have to order a physical Wise card to get a virtual Wise card, but as soon as your physical card order is processed you can spend on your virtual card, so there’s no need to wait. You’ll also always have your physical card too for those times when you need to withdraw cash. You can open up to 3 Wise virtual cards at a time.
Stack accounts come with physical and virtual cards for easy spending and withdrawals, plus handy budgeting features. There are a few Stack fees, including a 7.99 CAD monthly charge and 2.5% foreign transaction fees - but these costs can be refunded in part or full if you use your card for transactions worth 350 CAD or more every month. Cards are issued on the Mastercard network for global acceptance.
Wealthsimple offers an everyday spending account which comes with a physical and virtual card. You’ll earn 1% on card spending, plus you can also get interest on your balance, including a 4% interest offer at the time of writing, which applies as long as you hold 100,000 CAD or more across Wealthsimple investment products. The Wealthsimple virtual debit card is on the Mastercard network which is very popular globally.
RBC has a virtual debit card you can use securely online. It’s a Visa card which is globally accepted, and has different numbers to any physical RBC card you hold, which can add an additional layer of security when you spend. The fees you’ll pay with RBC depend on your account type - there’s no extra charge to get a virtual card, you’ll just need to log into the RBC online banking service to get started.
How do international virtual cards work?
Virtual cards are just like physical cards but in a digital format. Once you have your virtual card you can use it to pay online, transfer money, or link it to a wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay. By adding your card to a wallet app you can make contactless payments in physical stores by holding your phone to the card reader.
How to request an international virtual card
The exact process to get your virtual card might vary depending on the provider. If you’re choosing a virtual card from a major bank you’ll need to have an account set up and verified, and get online banking services activated to get your virtual card. This might mean a visit to a branch.
Digital providers like Wise and Stack have online onboarding processes for convenience. As an example, here’s how to request a virtual debit card with Wise:
Open a Wise account online or in the Wise app
Complete the verification step by uploading your documents
Log into your account in the Wise app and open a currency balance of your choice
Go to the Cards tab and tap the option to order a card
Verify your personal details
Your Wise virtual card will be available instantly in the Wise app
How to use an international virtual card
Once you have a virtual debit or credit card set up you can use it to make purchases online or to add to a wallet for mobile payments. You can link your card to a wallet like Google Pay or Apple Pay easily - either by opening the provider’s app and tapping the option to add to a wallet, or by opening the wallet you prefer and linking from there.
Some banks and providers also offer temporary cards. These are virtual single-use cards to shop at any prepaid card-accepting online stores, and can be handy when you’re shopping with a new retailer and want to protect your regular card details as much as possible.
What are the transaction fees applies to an international virtual card
Virtual cards can be used to spend more or less anywhere that contactless payments and the card’s network is supported, globally. However, it’s important to note that foreign transaction fees or exchange rate markups might be applied when you spend in a foreign currency with your virtual card. That can push up the costs overall.
To build a picture let’s look at the foreign transaction fees applied by the cards we’ve profiled above.
|Provider||Foreign transaction fees|
|Wise||No fee to spend currencies in your account, currency conversion from 0.41%|
|Stack||2.5%, reimbursed for up to 1,000 CAD of spending overseas if you spend 350 CAD/month with your card|
|Wealthsimple||1% (Mastercard fee)|
Here’s a roundup of the fees you need to know about for these providers:
Wise: 9 CAD fee to get a physical card, no additional fee to get a virtual card, no foreign transaction fee and currency conversion from 0.41%
- Stack: 7.99 CAD monthly fee, and 2.5% currency conversion fee - these could be reimbursed in part or full if you spend 350 CAD/month with your card
Wealthsimple: 1% foreign transaction fee charged by Mastercard
RBC: Fees vary based on your account, there’s no additional charge for a virtual card. 2.5% foreign transaction fee applies
Are virtual debit cards safe to use?
Virtual cards often have different card numbers compared to your physical debit or credit card, which can provide additional security. In this case, if a virtual credit card number is compromised, you can easily cancel the virtual number and keep your actual card number the same.
Conclusion: Are international virtual cards worth it?
Virtual credit and debit cards are useful as you won’t need to carry a physical card with you, but you can still make mobile payments, and shop online easily. They can also add extra security to your credit or debit card account, as you’ll easily be able to generate and cancel virtual cards, even for one time use only. Different cards have their own features and fees - and virtual cards can often be issued as both debit or credit cards depending on your preferences.
Use this guide to pick the right virtual card for you, and remember to check out options like the Wise virtual card if you like to travel or shop online with international retailers. Wise accounts let you hold 50+ currencies, with mid-market exchange rate currency conversions and low fees, which can mean your foreign currency purchases cost less, compared to using a card with a high foreign transaction fee.
FAQs on Best Virtual Cards in Canada
PayPal does not have a virtual card option available in Canada at the time of writing.
If you’re looking for a virtual card to link to your regular current account it’s worth checking if your bank offers this service. RBC has virtual debit cards for example, and other banks can also offer virtual card services for some cards.
A virtual debit card may be linked to a bank account, or an ongoing account from a specialist provider. You can then add or withdraw funds, and make payments from your account. A virtual prepaid card on the other hand has to be topped up before you can use it, and can often come with a more limited range of services compared to a virtual debit card.
With a virtual debit card you have instant access to spending power on your phone, with no need to carry your physical card with you. Virtual cards can also have different card numbers compared to your regular card which can increase security.
The main downside with a virtual card is that you can’t withdraw cash or make a payment where contactless isn’t supported. Also not all cards can be used with all wallets, so you’ll need to check that your preferred wallet is supported by the card you pick.