There’s a much wider choice of card machines today than just a few years ago. While before, you had to do with a chunky chip and PIN machine stationed at a counter, small businesses can now take advantage of mobile card readers that work just as well.

Unlike traditional options, these app-based card machines are usually contract-free, affordable and without complicated fees – making it much easier for new or small businesses to start accepting cards.

In this shortlist, we look at contactless payment machines suitable for businesses with card transactions of less than £20k per month.

All the below options work in conjunction with an app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device connected to the internet through WiFi, 3G or 4G. Although portable, they work well on a counter too.

How it works

  • The portable card machine connects to a mobile phone or tablet via Bluetooth
  • An app on the mobile device operates the card machine
  • Enter PIN or tap card on the reader just like a normal card machine

None of them have fixed monthly fees or require a contract (though some have subscription options). You just purchase the mobile card machine and pay a transaction fee on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Best card payment machines for small businesses:

Card machine Price* Best for Offer
1. iZettle Reader £19 (full: £59) All-round safe choice for small businesses
2. SumUp Air £29 Very simple, low fixed card rate
3. Square Reader £19 Best free POS and payment features
4. PayPal Here £45 PayPal integration and online payouts
5. Worldpay Reader £69 Round-the-clock phone support

*Prices exclude VAT.

*Prices exclude VAT.

iZettle Reader – all-round safe choice

Our rating
  • Widest range of accepted cards

  • White or black card machine

  • Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction

  • Payment links from app for 2.5%

The UK market leader, iZettle Reader, is the most versatile card machine on our list. Its PIN pad machine is stylish, tamper-proof and comes in white or black – and there’s no setup or shipping fee.

iZettle Reader 2 on Dock 2, next to the Go app on Apple devices

Signing up is straightforward: on iZettle’s website, you just fill in some details about your business and bank account. They will verify your identity and perform a credit check to ensure everything is in order.

In most cases, you are accepted straight away and can order the contactless payment machine immediately.

iZettle accepts contactless, chip and PIN (or signature), all costing the same fixed percentage even for foreign and premium cards. Visa, V Pay, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express, JCB, Diners Club, UnionPay, Discover, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are all accepted.

The newest iZettle Reader 2 has a simple keypad and display asking the customer to enter their PIN, or add a tip if tipping is switched on. You have to keep the card machine connected via Bluetooth to the mobile device to take payments.

The iZettle app is user-friendly and feature-rich, with options to subscribe to ecommerce and more advanced features for your business.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressDiners ClubJCBUnion PayDiscoverContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

If you need to bill clients remotely, you can send a payment link via text or email invoice so the customer can pay on their phone without being close to a card payment machine. These key-in transactions cost 2.5% each.

Payments are credited to your bank account within 1-2 working days, minus the transaction fee. Refunds are easy and free to process through the app – and you get the transaction fee back.

Learn more: iZettle review – UK’s favourite choice of card reader with app

SumUp Air – easy and economical

Our rating
  • Accepts the major card brands

  • Available in white

  • Fixed rate: 1.69% per transaction

  • Payment links from app for 2.5%

SumUp Air is the most economical app-based card machine in the UK. It has the lowest card fee, and the free SumUp app has the basic functions needed to take credit and debit card payments. There is no setup fee or shipping charge. You just pay the one-off price for the card machine, then only a fixed percentage for card payments.

SumUp with Bixolon receipt printer

It’s quick to sign up on SumUp’s website, after which you can order the card machine. Shipping takes up to a week, which is a bit longer than the other options on this list.

SumUp accepts contactless, chip and PIN, and chip and signature cards.

The card payment machine is elegant and sturdy, with a shiny, flat surface over its keypad and display. It is user-friendly with the simplified keys for PINs, and contactless cards can be tapped over the card machine display.

SumUp’s free payment app is intuitive to use. You enter a custom amount or tap to add an item from your product library. At checkout, you can choose to pay by card or cash.

The app automatically connects with the card machine via Bluetooth when you pick card as payment method, whereafter the terminal shows the appropriate payment instruction on its display.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressDiners ClubUnion PayDiscoverContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay

It takes 1-3 days for payments to reach your bank account, minus the transaction fee. SumUp charges you the card fee for refunds, if the payment has been paid out already.

SumUp users automatically have access to Mobile Payments (SMS, QR codes, payment links) at no monthly cost and a 2.5% transaction fee. Eligible merchants may also apply for SumUp Virtual Terminal, which requires SumUp’s approval.

Learn more: SumUp review – the easiest, low-cost card reader with app

Square Reader – worthy point of sale app

Our rating
  • Most comprehensive free app

  • Available in white

  • Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction

  • Link & phone payments for 2.5%

Square Reader is the smallest, most light-weight card machine on this list. Instead of a PIN pad on the card reader, PIN codes are entered on your mobile screen in the free Point of Sale app. The Reader is literally a square-shaped, plastic card machine that’s white all over, but the technology makes it just as reliable as standard POS machines.

Square card reader

To get it, you first fill in Square’s sign-up pages online, then order the Square Reader. It takes about four days to get your bank account verified, but you can start taking payments before that.

The mobile device will automatically connect to the card machine via Bluetooth – provided they are paired already – when ready to accept the card.

Square accepts contactless cards and mobile wallets, chip and PIN, and chip and signature cards. Included in the package is also a magstripe reader to plug into the earphone socket on your mobile device (for international magnetic stripe cards only).

A decent range of cards are accepted, including Visa, V Pay, Mastercard, Maestro, and American Express. The card machine also accepts Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

It’s simple to add items from your product library to the shopping cart or enter a custom amount at checkout, before choosing payment method.

Hands down, the Square POS app has the most features of all the free card machine apps. On top of the free app features relevant to retailers and food-and-drink businesses, you get email invoicing, an in-browser virtual terminal for phone payments and payment links at no extra monthly cost apart from a 2.5% transaction fee applicable to all keyed-in payments. Entering card details in the app is possible at checkout.

Payments are usually deposited in your bank account the day after each transaction, depending on your bank’s processing times. Immediate payouts are also possible for an added 1% fee per transaction. Refunds are free to process, i.e. both the transaction amount you received and Square’s fee are returned to the customer.

Learn more: Square Reader review: how does it work without a physical PIN pad?

PayPal Here – for PayPal diehards

Our rating
  • Accepts the major cards

  • Available in black

  • Card fees: 2.75%–1% + other charges

  • Fees depend on volume and card type

Note: PayPal Here is no longer offered to businesses, except for certain merchants like taxi drivers who need this model (in which case you should contact PayPal support). Instead, PayPal recommends iZettle Reader through their website. You can get a better price on iZettle through our link.

The PayPal Here card machine is integrated with your PayPal Business account for an overview of both face-to-face and online PayPal transactions. The machine accepts contactless, chip and PIN, chip and signature and swipe cards, and comes in black only.

PayPal Here app and card reader

All you need to get started is order the card machine from PayPal’s website and download the free PayPal Here app on your tablet or smartphone. If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you will be prompted to sign up for one. Verifying your bank account is usually quick, but some cases may require additional documentation.

While other card machines on our list automatically deposit payments to your bank account, PayPal Here transactions go directly in to your PayPal account.

Transfers are in most cases immediate, but you then have to manually withdraw the money to your linked bank account.

The card reader only accepts the major cards Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and Amex, but also Apple Pay and Google Pay.

The payment app has the most important features needed for a mobile point of sale.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay

You also have the option to send electronic invoices and take payments over the phone – both of which incur higher fees than contactless and chip payments.

The fee system is complicated, to say the least. PayPal Here operates on a sliding fee scale starting at 2.75% per transaction until you sell for over £1,500 per month where it goes down to 1.75%. Above £6,000 per month, you pay 1.5%, and 1% if you sell for over £15k. Because this is calculated on a per-month basis, you pay the fee qualified for the previous month. If you sell for less this month, your fee will be higher next month.

Chip and contactless Amex cards are always charged 2.75%, and manual entry and swipe cards 3.4% + 20p. Foreign cards have additional fees added on top.

In other words, PayPal has no “simple fixed rate”, so costs can vary month on month.

Learn more: PayPal Here UK review: is it competitive with SumUp and iZettle?

Worldpay Reader – best for phone support

Our rating