Are there any inherent differences between a Visa credit card and a Mastercard credit card?

Obviously, there can be huge differences between one Visa card and another. And between one Mastercard and another. But I am wondering about any significant categorical differences between the two major types of credit card.

Perhaps, hypothetically, Mastercard always charges merchants an extra percentage point? Perhaps Mastercard travel reward cards are always better than Visa travel reward cards? Or perhaps there's no real categorical difference.


3 Answers 3


For the most part, they're pretty similar. I have never noticed any differences related to MC vs. VISA, most differences are from the banks offering the cards.

It does seem that there is a greater acceptance rate for VISA cards internationally.

I have also heard that the MC warranty program (where they extend the manufacturers' warranty on anything purchased on a MC) is outstanding. I think VISA has a similar offering though, for their Signature cardholders.

  • 2
    The acceptance for VISA internationally is more because of tie-up with Banks and Merchants. Some years back in India one could to train bookings online only using Mastercard as Mastercard gave a better deal so that it can get more customers to use the card. However today both Master and Visa are equally accepted in India.
    – Dheer
    Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 13:58

I can't say for any country, but at least for several banks in Russia, the difference is how transactions are processed if they are nominated in different currency than the card [and both are different from the local currency of your bank's country]. E.g. when you pay for something in GBP (and the shop charges in GBP), while your card is in CHF.

For Mastercard, if currencies differ, MC first converts transaction amount (eg GBP) into EUR (using its own exchange rate), then MC charges your bank in EUR -- and your bank converts amount in EUR into currency of the card (eg CHF) using your bank's exchange rate.

For Visa, the scenario is the same except transaction amount is converted by Visa into USD, and USD amount is charged from your bank (which converts USD to currency of the card).

This typically translates into the following recommendation from a bank: "if your card is not in USD and EUR, and you are going to spend more money in Europe, choose MC; if in US, choose Visa".

Some remarks:

  1. In my experience, MC and Visa exchange rates typically have much smaller spread ("we buy" / "we sell" ratio) than a typical retail bank--but your mileage may vary. However, the payment system exchange rates are rarely applied on their own, most of the time (if not always) they are followed by bank's exchange.

  2. Bank's conversion rate for card transactions may be different from the rate it uses for other conversion operations (eg for conversion between your accounts, or for exchanging cash at the counter).

  3. For withdrawal at ATM (when currency asked for is different from the card's currency), scenario is not necessarily different between MC and Visa. Eg. for one of the banks in Russia, the amount asked at ATM is first converted into USD by Visa or MC, and then they charge your bank in USD, which converts the amount using bank's own exchange rate.

Update: Here is an answer from another bank again in Russia. Not sure if it contradicts what is said above, or we can just consider it inclusive for above as well (and can remove the answer above).

If transaction currency is different from card currency, AND the currency pair is not what the bank normally performs conversion using its own exchange rates, then:

  • for Visa:

    • transaction amount is sent to your bank "as is" if it's in USD
    • otherwise transaction currency is converted into USD using Visa conversion rates, and(!) Visa charges extra commission for conversion (0.5% for one bank, 0.65% for another, YMMV)
  • for Mastercard:

    • transaction amount is sent to your bank "as is" if it's in USD or in EUR
    • otherwise transaction currency is converted into USD using Mastercard conversion rates
  • the resulting amount is sent to your bank that issued the card, and your bank converts its into the currency of your card using the bank's exchange rate

And if the currency pair is what your bank normally performs conversion for, your bank's exchange rate is applied; no Visa/MC conversion takes place at all.

It still translates into: "if you are going to spend more money in Europe, choose MC; if in US, choose Visa"--but bring more nuances for the rest of situations.

  • Where do you get the info from that amounts are converted to USD/EUR first? In the US, there are a number of companies that offer 0% conversion rates for both Visa and MasterCard; moreover, you can even make money if you buy stuff in a foreign currency on one day where US dollar is worth less and return it on another day where US dollar is worth more.
    – cnst
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 4:50
  • The card issuing bank told me, of course.
    – yurkennis
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 8:57
  • Did you at all got it in writing from them? ;-)
    – cnst
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 20:57
  • No, but it wasn't required for my purposes.
    – yurkennis
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 21:42
  • +1 it'd be nice to have a link to a source confirming this valuable info. This does ring a bell actually, I think someone mentioned this process to me & remember wonder "how weird!?" hehe
    – Adriano
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 3:36

Visa and MasterCard offer very similar benefits, depending on what you are using it for.

I have both at the moment. With one I get short term interest free and the other has low long term interest.

They act as third party's to the banks, so they have to make money somehow. Interest, annual fees, etc. As far as rewards go, the difference between the companies would be like comparing 2 Visa or 2 MasterCards. (However, American Express has some differences.)

You need to decide what it is your using it for. I would say to not have a preference between companies, but between specific cards.

  • 4
    I still have a hard time believing that people do use their card to borrow money.
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 12:05

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