Shopping safely abroad using debit cards


VisaMost of us have friends and relatives who lost money and valuables either on their way to and back from South Africa. Despite our well stocked shops, there are still some economic reasons for embarking on this perilous journey to shop in towns like Musina and Johannesburg especially if you are looking to purchase some IT related equipment.


One my friends, for a trip down south, went to buy forex at Road Port but had to abort the journey after he had been sold thousands of Rands in fake notes. As usual the suspect had disappeared and the police, who are always half hearted at the best of times, simply informed him that he had himself to blame since the money exchange deal was illegal anyway. Another friend was followed and mugged whilst in South Africa and had to walk to a friend’s apartment to beg for bus fare back home.

Then there is the issue of exchange rates themselves: like everywhere else, street vendors’ exchange rates are affected by supply and demand but since theirs is a small market it is much more sensitive to changes in demand. As of this writing the exchange rate when buying Rands is $1:R9.09 which is much more expensive than the current official rate of $1/R9.862, especially when large amounts are involved.


Since it is often the case, that the street rate is higher, I am surprised that people do not opt to buy their foreign currency on the official market. I suspect that it has something to with convenience and today I will outline two convenient methods that will prevent you from being a robbery, fraud or scam target when you do decide to go shop in South Africa.

1. The FBC Prepaid Mastercard

The FBC Mastercard can be obtained from any FBC branch and instantly loaded with the amount that you intend to use whilst shopping. Obviously you need to leave a travel and emergency fund on your person as well as the bus fare. You could either use this card at ATMs to withdraw as much as you need when you get to your destination. The good news is your withdrawal is in Rands which you get at the official exchange rate. Try however to make as few withdrawals as possible to avoid incurring hefty exchange and ATM charges. This can be easily done by grouping your purchases and making the requisite withdrawals. You can use the Mastercard ATM locator here so that you use the ATM that is nearest to the place that you want to make your purchase and avoid carrying cash for any prolonged period of time.

Most reputable stores accept Mastercard so whenever possible use the card itself to make a purchase rather than making a withdrawal. An added benefit of using the card to make a direct purchase is that usually the transaction charges are lower when compared to a cash withdrawal. As a bonus the FBC Mastercard can be used to make online payments although currently you cannot link the card to PayPal.


Just walk into any FBC branch with a copy of your ID or Passport. The minimum initial deposit is $50 of which $10 is deducted as card fees and about $2.00 as card loading fees.

2. The Travelex Visa Cash Passport from MBCA

Whatever has been said about the FBC Mastercard is true also about the Cash Passport except that it is powered by Visa and cannot be used for online transactions. Visa, have significantly more ATMs however. You can use this page to find the nearest ATM.


Visit any MBCA branch with a photocopy of the back page of your Passport and a minimum deposit of $100. This is a prepaid card so it can be loaded instantly.

Whatever choice you make, make sure to keep your card number and/or username, PIN and/or password secret; and never use  Visa/ Mastercard cards that are linked to your account. You do not want to lose your rent money and Multichoice subscription money you left in your account as well in case some scammer gets hold of your card number details.

Be safe.

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24 thoughts on “Shopping safely abroad using debit cards

    1. Yes. You can use the Payoneer credit card. Go to and order yours for free. You can load it using your Zim Visa and Mastercard and link the card to Paypal

      1. Garikai?,I think the challenge stems from creating a Paypal account from Zim…without having to go/cheat with a SA or Zambian address?…any ideas on how to create an Paypal account from/using Zim address?

        1. You cannot use a Zim address at the moment but you can always obtain a genuine American address that you can link to your Zim address. I would recommend they have been in business since 1998. You should know this is beating the system and not breaking the rules. Think of it as avoiding an obstacle instead of evading it. Big difference between those two in business and of course law.

    2. Yes you can. If you have an BancABC account. I think the options are now wider but don’t know the specs

    3. Im not to sure about all these people coz Paypal banned Zimbabwe coz of sanctions. Check it out on their site. We are not even listed as country in their page. Zambia is the last. Its the Zidera act. Theres an article on techzim about this

  1. In South Africa no one is safe from robbers, people get robbed after withdrawing cash from ATM, I’m afraid to admit the growing extent of the crime of ATM robbery in S.A.

      1. The CBZ one requires the usual documents, Copy of ID, proof or residense, last pay slip. Surprising I would expect them to retrieve all this info from their system coz one would already be an ccount holder but ALAS


      1. My friend there are two types of laws one for the poor and the other one for the foreigner-none for the rich.

    1. If you didn’t declare that Forex they had a legal right. Most Zims don’t know that u have to declare all foreign money in any border post. Failure results 1. in immediate seizure 2. In illegal forex charges.

  3. There is also the BancABC Visa card. It is a prepaid card and works for online payments. It’s $20 Card processing fee to get the card and thereafter you can load any amount you want.

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