It turns out they do not accept prepaid cards when one wants to sign up for cloud computing services like Firebase! Further research showed that this is now a well-known issue. In fact, Google is also now rejecting prepaid cards when you want to sign up for a developer account too. The problem is that they are not the only ones. More and more companies seem to be taking this stance.
Zimbabwe, the land of things prepaid
In Zimbabwe when you want to make a foreign payment things are normally very simple. First, you find a way to get some foreign currency that usually means a trip to the black market for us mortals. Then you choose which prepaid card provider you want to go with. Usually, your options are among:
- BancABC’s prepaid Visa
- Steward’s prepaid Visa
- Or if you are feeling really rich you can go with FBC’s MasterCard their charges and conditions are very steep.
When you have made your choice it’s just a matter of opening WhatsApp or visiting your local branch with your ID, making the deposit and getting your card. If there are no hiccups, sometimes there are in my experience, your card should be active within 24 hours. Then you can make your payment.
Honestly, this is so easy anyone can do it. Or at least that was the case. For “security” reasons more and more companies have started to reject prepaid cards and if you are a Zimbabwean like me that’s a real cause for concern because the bulk of international cards out there are prepaid. What’s even more concerning is that Google has joined this bandwagon.
It’s possible to tell if a card is prepaid
You may not know this but when FBC, BancABC or Steward issues you with a prepaid card under the Visa or MasterCard banner, it’s possible for a merchant/payment processor to tell if a card is prepaid or not. It’s also possible to tell in which country a card was issued and by which bank. All a developer has to do is just check if a card is prepaid and reject it.
Devs usually do this for a reason though. While in Zimbabwe we are quite used to the prepayment way of doing things, for example:
- We prefund our Visa and MasterCards
- We have prepaid ZESA meters
- We have prepaid phones by default. In the U.S and other countries prepaid phones are associated with criminals at least in popular culture
- We even have prepaid water meters
- We prepay for our hosting
- We prepay our rentals
I could go on but you get the picture. Thanks to the absence of formal employment and the dearth of credit in the market we prepay for most things. In other countries, the rich ones, they do it the other way. They do things in arrears.
- You stay in a house/appartment and pay at the end of the month.
- You rake up a phone bill and pay it at the end of the month
- You use electricity and pay for what you used when the month ends
- You have a credit card or at the very least a bona fide debit card powered by Visa or MasterCard
In cloud computing companies like Scaleway, Azure, OVH, Digital Ocean, Google and Amazon tend to follow the same model too-unfortunately. You use their services for that month and then pay for what you have used. For that to happen the company needs to know that you have a credit card which they can then charge at the end of the period when they collect their money.
A prepaid card should work too all you need to do is make sure it has enough money to cover the bill at the end of the month when payment is due. Unfortunately more often than not a lot of people either end up forgetting to ensure there is money or are just broke resulting in the cloud company failing to collect and thus incurring a bad debt.
Think about it, would you rather have a bank guaranteeing you that they would pay you at the end of the month (what a credit company essentially does) or some guy from Mbare promising you that they will make sure that there is enough money in their card at the end of the month to cover a bill? There are so many countries you cover it’s impossible to judge the creditworthiness of a given individual from some third world country.
Ecocash’s VCN is next to useless these days too
While on the topic of prepaid cards, allow me to be very blunt about this. If your intention is to make various MasterCard payments on the internet you would do well to try not to use Ecocash’s VCN. Sooner or later you will hit a bump. Rather get something like Steward’s Prepaid Visa. Not only is the VCN a prepaid Mastercard, but it also comes with a very close expiry date that most merchants and card processing companies hate.
More often than not, that means your card will get rejected even by a company like Aliexpress that takes pretty much any card. So many online companies are rejecting VCN’s these days for reasons outlined above and because they are generally considered a security risk. I know Econet makes money when you generate a card but it would be nice if they increase the validity period to years instead of the current short period.
There is not much you can do about the prepaid card rejection
As things stand it is very little you can do except finding a way to get a genuine debit card if you want to use services like Firebase or if you want to open a Google developer account. You can even try begging friends and relatives in other countries for a card or help to make these payments. In the meantime, I am working on a guide. Personally, I am not affected as I have a foreign-issued debit card that I use especially on these occasions. You can also do that if you can.
You should also check out
- How and why you should open a South African FNB Non-Resident Account
- How do Zimbabwe’s prepaid US$ card fees stack up against one another?