James Stanley

Bitcoin debit cards: Xapo vs Cryptopay

Mon 31 October 2016
Tagged: bitcoin

I've written before about my Cryptopay Bitcoin debit card. A number of people on reddit recommended some other company's offerings that hadn't come up in my searches. Xapo was most recommended, so I bought a Xapo card shortly after and have been using it on-and-off ever since.

I earn Bitcoin through SMS Privacy, my anonymous bitcoin phone number service and through running a high-frequency trading algorithm across various Bitcoin exchanges (which I intend to write about, but only after it stops being profitable).


The Xapo card turns out to be cheaper than the Cryptopay card in every way. The card is £13 from Xapo, compared to £15 from Cryptopay. The card costs £7/year from Xapo, compared to £1/mo from Cryptopay. There is a 1% card loading fee at Cryptopay, and none at Xapo. And looking just now, Cryptopay's buy price (i.e. the amount of pounds you get to spend per BTC) was a full 1.1% lower than Xapo's, and that's before the Cryptopay card loading fee takes another 1%.

The card

The first thing that struck me about the Xapo card ordering process was that they displayed a picture of what the card would look like. This excited me as it was a cool-looking black card, and is a large part of what made me place the order. Unfortunately, when the card arrived, it was a generic-looking grey one. In fact, it looked completely identical to the Cryptopay card, even down to being issued by the same company (WaveCrest Holdings).

The card debacle

I emailed Xapo support to complain. "Hillary" informed me that they would be coming out with a branded card in a few weeks. So I waited for the new card, which Hillary agreed to send me free of charge. When the new card arrived, I was surprised to discover that it too was a generic-looking grey card. This process repeated multiple times. At one point I had received 3 identical grey cards from Xapo. Hillary and I developed some rapport during this time; she seemed even more frustrated than I was.

My theory is that WaveCrest Holdings automatically reuse the old card design when re-issuing a card, so as not to confuse the customer.

Anyway, Hillary eventually managed to ship me a cool-looking black card! It doesn't actually have "Xapo" written on it (probably some regulation prevents that as they are not actually the card issuer), but it is clearly Xapo's branding, and looks a lot cooler than the grey ones.

It actually looks like this

Their website

In spite of using fancy new web 3.0 Javascript technologies (or perhaps because of?), I consider Xapo's website to be worse than Cryptopay's:

The login process uses a PIN instead of a password. I don't know why. And even if (like me) you consider your mobile phone to be a borderline-untrusted device, there is no way to disable 2 factor authentication. So instead of allowing users to choose strong passwords, Xapo require users to place their security in the hands of a 4-digit number and an insecure device that they carry around everywhere.

Cryptopay support 2 factor authentication, but do not require it. And they allow strong passwords.

If you refresh the page on Xapo, you are immediately logged out and must jump through the "go to your phone, load up 2FA, type in this number" hoops to get back in. I think this is something to do with the fancy new web 3.0 Javascript technologies.

On Cryptopay, if you refresh a page, it refreshes the contents of the page.

Handling Bitcoin

Cryptopay use a "flex wallet" system, where you have a BTC wallet, a GBP wallet, and then also a GBP balance on the card. To get Bitcoin on to the card you have to first send the Bitcoin to one of the flex wallets. Once the payment is confirmed, you can then move the funds to the card. This means you can't just send some Bitcoin and leave it at that: you have to send the money, wait for the payment to confirm, and then log back in and move the funds to the card.

With Xapo there is only one balance, and it is always in BTC. This is converted to GBP only when you spend money on the card. I think this is a much better system.


In my opinion, the Xapo offering is better than the Cryptopay offering in every way apart from the website. Fortunately, everyday use of the card does not involve use of the website so this is not too big a deal. However, friction in the login process has prevented me from depositing funds at least once.

I will probably switch to using the Xapo card exclusively.

Neither Xapo nor Cryptopay have compensated me for writing about them. All opinions are my own.

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