The free cart supports payments via PayPal Website Standard or PayPal Express checkout, Nochex, Skrill and Paymate. We do not process cards ourselves. Alternatively, upgrade to Premium and you can hook up the cart directly to your merchant account via one of the payment gateways we support.
PayPal, 2Checkout.com, Skrill, Internetsecure in Canada, Nochex in the UK, Paymate in Australia are all businesses which can accept card payments on your behalf. The customer is transfered over to the payment system's website, they charge the customer and then pass on the cash to you, after deducting their own fee.
These systems are a great for anyone starting out as they generally have little or no setup fees, in most cases they are supported by the free cart service too. The downside is that you generally pay a bit more than having your own merchant account and the checkout is branded by the payment service.
A merchant account is not a business checking account. It is a special facility that is arranged with a credit card clearing bank that allows you to process card transactions.
How you obtaining a merchant account varies from country to country. In the US merchant accounts are sold by third party vendors, in the same way as many other financial services. In the UK and many other parts of Europe a merchant account is provided by a high street clearing bank. Rates vary, the business of processing cards is competitive so shop around for the best deal.
A good place to start searching for a merchant account is at the websites of the payment gateways.
There a two basic ways of clearing a credit card through a merchant account. Either you do it manually by entering the details into a card swipe terminal (the type you see in shops) or you use a payment gateway such as Linkpoint or Authorizenet hooked up directly to the cart.
Whichever mechanism you use, the card terminal or payment gateway will make a call to your acquiring bank that has your merchant account and requesting authorization for the card. If approved then card is charged. The cash will then appear in your bank account some two or three days after capture (yep, bank computers are very slow).
You will need to price your products in the currency of your merchant account. So if you are a US business and have a US merchant account you will need to price in US Dollars. In a few countries you can also obtain multi-currency merchant account: notably the United Kingdom.
Any merchant account can be used to accept payment from foreigners.