Looking for a credit card in Singapore and can’t decide which to get? Banks aside, you also need to decide on which payment network, otherwise known as credit card associations, to go for. In Singapore, popular choices include Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
Is any one of these better than the others? Do they offer different types of benefits? Wait, is there even a difference between all 3? What is real?
Before you get overwhelmed, here is all you ever wanted to know (and more) about Visa, Mastercard and American Express in Singapore.
First of all, an important distinction needs to be made between the payment network and the issuer (usually a bank) of a credit card.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express are payment networks. They maintain global networks of merchants that accept their forms of payment and govern all the technical back end stuff that comes with it, like transmitting data and authorizing the movement of money.
Visa and Mastercard do not issue credit cards or even handle the merchants’ or cardholders’ accounts. They just make sure the card networks are well-maintained so that consumers like us can transact smoothly.
To get a Visa or Mastercard credit or debit card, you’ll have to go through a bank or some other institution. For example, you have to get a DBS Visa Debit Card from DBS and a UOB PRVI Miles Mastercard from UOB. In some cases you can even get a credit card from a non-financial institution – e.g. the M1 Prepaid Mastercard.
On the other hand, both banks and American Express itself issue Amex credit cards. Only a handful of banks in Singapore issue American Express credit cards, and you’ll have to apply directly with Amex for the more coveted ones like American Express Platinum and American Express KrisFlyer credit cards.
Let’s compare the most widely offered credit card types in Singapore: Visa and Mastercard.
Acceptance rate of Visa vs Mastercard credit cards
Generally you won’t have a problem with acceptance and usage. Most brick-and-mortar retailers who accept credit cards will accept both Visa and Mastercard.
Both companies have contactless payment systems – Visa payWave and Mastercard Contactless (formerly Paypass) – that are widely implemented in Singapore.
And both Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted for online shopping.
Benefits of Visa cards vs Mastercard cards
For local usage at least, the key difference between Visa and Mastercard lie in their benefits.
Most credit card benefits are set up by the issuing banks, but Mastercard tends to offer more payment network-wide promotions. That means you can enjoy the promotion as long as you have a Mastercard – it doesn’t matter which bank you got it from or whether it’s a debit or credit card.
… But that doesn’t mean there are no promotions for Visa cardholders! On the contrary, it just means that Visa rewards, rebates and promotions come from the issuing banks, which are pretty on the ball as well.
Security and consumer protection
As major global credit card companies, Visa and Mastercard are about equally secure to use.
They also have payment platforms that allow you to transact online more safely – but you have to opt in for them. Visa Checkout is Visa’s payment platform by to process sensitive data without letting the online retailer “see” your credit card details, while Mastercard has the similar Masterpass for minimizing online fraud risks.
Some US sources also mention extended warranties and/or price matching – but the jury is out on whether these consumer protection measures are available in Singapore. If so, it is likely that they’re offered only to the higher credit card tiers.
Should you bring a Visa or Mastercard with you on your next trip? Again, there’s not much to distinguish the two in this respect. Both Visa and Mastercard have extended global ATM networks.
If you have to pick one, it should be Visa, which is very slightly more widely accepted and can replace a lost credit card in 1 business day.
Acceptance of AMEX cards in Singapore
Is American Express, or AMEX, widely accepted in Singapore? You might think that they aren’t, But in fact, most large retailers (supermarkets, department stores, hotels, chain restaurants, etc.) accept American Express. The only times you might encounter issues with acceptance is at smaller, independent shops.
Most major online retailers also accept American Express.
Benefits of AMEX cards in Singapore
This is where American Express really shines. American Express credit cards offer the best benefits of the 3 credit card companies, especially if you qualify for more premium membership.
As a credit card issuer, Amex can negotiate deals with merchants and partner them for excellent benefits, particularly in dining and airlines. So even though cardholders “lose out” slightly when it comes to ubiquity of use, American Express credit cards are still in high demand.
Consumer protection of AMEX card
American Express fares a little better than Visa or Mastercard when it comes to consumer protection measures. They offer 90-day accident and theft guarantee and 90-day return guarantee (where Amex refunds your purchase – even if the retailer does not!).
In the US, American Express even offers extended warranty on purchases, but it’s unclear whether this perk is offered in Singapore.
Overseas usage of American Express cards
Should you bring your Amex with you while travelling? It depends on where you’re flying to. American Express is only accepted (to varying degrees) in some 140 countries in contrast to Visa and Mastercard’s 200+.
If it’s accepted in your destination, there’s a very good case for using an American Express-issued card as your travel card.
One, overseas card fees. These pesky little hidden fees range from 2.5% to 3.3% on top of the purchase price when you make foreign currency transactions.
There’s no difference between Visa and Mastercard (the fee varies only from bank to bank), but American Express-issued cards charge a flat overseas card fee of 2.5%, one of the lowest in the market.
We must stress that this is ONLY the case for American Express-issued cards. A bank-issued (e.g. Citibank or DBS) American Express card can charge much more than 2.5%.
Second, American Express is renowned for its 24-hour international concierge Global Assist. Should you lose your credit card or encounter any problems while travelling, they will help you with travel arrangements, referrals (e.g. to a doctor or lawyer) and of course emergency credit card replacement.
Banks are starting to offer UnionPay credit cards. UnionPay is the main credit card company in China and is gaining ground in Singapore, especially among those who do business in China.
Another one you might come across is JCB, Japan’s main credit card network, which is represented by the UOB JCB Card. Usage in Singapore is very limited, but you may want to get one if you plan to travel to Japan.
Finally, there’s Diners Club, which issues its own cards. Like UnionPay (at the moment) and JCB, Diners Card is not widely accepted in Singapore.
In terms of local acceptance, benefits and consumer protection (or lack thereof) there is virtually no difference between the two giants, Visa and Mastercard.
Instead, it’s the bank that counts when it comes to Visa and Mastercard. Choose a credit card based on the benefits offered by the bank – whichever credit card company you go for, you’ll be fine.
If you qualify for the premium tiers, consider complementing a basic Visa or Mastercard with an American Express credit card, especially if you dine out and/or travel (to countries that accept Amex!) a lot as that’s where the benefits are concentrated.
This article was first published in MoneySmart.