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A virtual debit card is a form of digital payment, linked to your bank account, that is accessed through a smartphone.

When you apply for a bank account you’ll usually be issued with a physical debit card which can be used to pay online, in stores and to withdraw cash, for example. You can also choose to upload this to your smartphone’s wallet where the same card will be stored in digital format.

However, in addition, some providers also offer a virtual debit card. The virtual card carries its own unique 16-digit long card number and expiry date and CVV security number, which will be different to the numbers on your physical bank card.

It is the unique payment details of virtual debit cards, which are different to any other debit cards linked to the account, that offer an extra layer of security and payment protection for account holders.

In contrast, when consumers add the details of their traditional or physical bank card onto the digital wallet in their phone (to pay using their phone instead of the card), the card numbers and details in the digital wallet will be the same as those on the physical card. This is not a unique virtual debit card.

Virtual cards tend to be offered by digital or app-based challenger banks and also money transfer specialists, where customers may want an extra layer of security for overseas payments.

Some virtual cards are known as ‘disposable’, which means you’ll get a long number and security codes for one transaction only. After this time the card expires – more on disposable cards below.

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