What is a Virtual Terminal?

What is a Virtual Terminal?

The way we pay for goods and services has changed dramatically over the last few decades.

Good old fashioned cash is rapidly approaching death’s door in the UK. Those old £1 coins hidden down the side of the couch are now rendered useless, and it’s not too far fetched to think that all physical cash will soon be worthless, too. 

In fact, it’s never been easier to spend. All our cards are already contactless, letting you make a purchase in seconds. Even that’s being replaced by simpler methods, like Apple/Google Pay.

So in this fast-moving age of instant payments, it’s safe to say we’re all familiar with card terminals – but what on earth is a virtual terminal? 

While you might not know the term, you’ve most definitely used one. Ever bought something from eBay, Amazon, or made virtually any payment online? Then you’ve used a virtual terminal. 

We’re going to fill you in on exactly what a virtual terminal is, before letting you know the advantages and disadvantages of having one, and finally letting you know our top 5 favourite virtual terminals. 


So what is a virtual terminal?  

A virtual terminal is a web page that lets you process card payments online. Yep, it’s that simple.

Think of it as a ‘virtual’ method of credit card processing, using software instead of a physical card terminal. While your customers will obviously need to know their credit card information, they don’t need to have the physical Visa or Mastercard in their hands.  

For businesses that operate exclusively online, a virtual terminal is an absolute necessity. Even for merchants that only occasionally process online/phone payments, it might still be worth getting one. 


What are the advantages/disadvantages of getting a virtual terminal? 


Don’t get it twisted – a virtual terminal isn’t necessarily worth it for every business. If you process the vast majority of transactions in-store, or you don’t want to offer online payment, a virtual terminal probably isn’t worth it for you. 

For instance, if you own a small business, like a cafe, you’re probably never going to need to accept virtual payments, as all of your customers will be paying in-store. While you’ll want a physical card terminal for debit card and credit card transactions, you don’t need a virtual terminal. 

What if you run an online business selling personalised pillows and you distribute them to customers via mail order? You don’t have a physical store, so you’re going to need a virtual terminal to let customers all around the world buy from you. 

Here are the main advantages and disadvantages: 



  • You can take payments really quickly without even having to be there. 
  • For many businesses who only take transactions online, it saves them having to pay up for an expensive physical card machine. 
  • Transactions can be made from anywhere and at any time (as long as you have an internet connection). Your customers can make a transaction when they’re in the back of a taxi, or back at home on their laptop. The easier it is for a customer to buy from you, the more likely they will! 


  • There’s a higher risk of fraud on a virtual terminal compared to in-person. If someone’s paying on a physical terminal, the customer has to enter their personal PIN. On a virtual terminal, anyone could have found the customer’s card payment details and fired them into a payment gateway to bag themselves a new TV. 
  • Arguably requires more effort from your customer than a terminal. In-person, a customer can easily make an impulse purchase by merely tapping their contactless card, or smartphone, at the point of sale. Too easy. With virtual terminal payments, there’s a little bit more time involved, as your customer stumbles around the house looking for their wallet, trying to find the right card, remember their security questions…and so on. More time to change their mind!
  • Fees are usually higher for virtual transactions because the customer isn’t present (due to the higher risk of fraud).

What should I look for in a Virtual Terminal?


So you’re convinced. It’s nearly 2020 and you want to get your business on-board with one of those ‘virtual terminal’ things – but what should you be looking for? 

Obviously, you’re going to need a merchant account that offers a virtual terminal as part of their payment solutions package. This can be confusing, as there are a lot of different options available. 

While it’s easy to just go for the account that has the lowest transaction fees, it’s worth having a read of their features and reviews. 

We’ve compiled a quick list of 5 great merchant accounts that offer virtual terminals at a decent price. 

All of our recommended merchant accounts are PCI compliant and offer 3D Secure payments. This offers you and your customers some much-needed fraud protection. 

Each of these suggestions has a link to our review for the account, so make sure to check them out if you want to find out more about each virtual terminal. 


Our top 5: 


3.4% + 20p per transaction (and a £9.99 flat monthly fee). 

We like: User-friendly website and account options. 

We don’t like: Reports of slow withdrawal times.


WorldPay (CardSave):

 2.75% + 20p per transaction (and a £9.95 flat monthly fee).

We like: 24/7 customer support. 

We don’t like: The process of setting up is tedious. 


BrainTree (A PayPal company): 

2.5% for all cards.

We like: Mobile app is great. 

We don’t like: Reports of long wait times to solve a chargeback dispute. 


2.5% for all cards.

 We like:  No annoying monthly fees.

We don’t like: Not for bigger businesses, who could easily get lower fees elsewhere. 


2.95% + 25p per transaction. 

We like: No contract. 

We don’t like: SumUp requires you to complete a tedious online form to get approved for a virtual terminal. 



A virtual terminal is essential if you want to open up your business to the rest of the world.

They allow you to accept payments from customers, no matter where they are. 

If you operate a brick and mortar store, such as a restaurant, you might not need a virtual terminal. For the vast majority of businesses though, we’d recommend you look into a merchant account that offers a virtual terminal, as the more ways customers can pay, the better! 

For more merchant account reviews and informative blog posts, stay on CardSwitcher.

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