Loads of travel blogs advise on which is the best travel debit card. But I’ve found many of them to be inaccurate, no good and in need of input from someone who gets finance. That’s why I wrote this blog on the best travel debit card. It took shed loads of comprehensive research, so I hope you find it useful.
The Ultimate Travel Money Guide
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What are the best travel credit cards? How do I avoid money changer scams? What are these bank fees I keep getting on my card whilst travelling? We are here to help.
Best Travel Debit Cards
Move Out The Way… Most Banks
Okay, lets get this out of the way early. Standard banks are pretty crap.
They usually will charge you to use YOUR money when you are abroad. When it comes to standard bank accounts, with the traditional old school banks that have branches, you’ll likely always have to pay fees unless one brings out a game changer. Some have tried but they have never lasted long.
There is one exception. Metro Bank where you will not pay fees in Europe. You will pay fees for travelling elsewhere though. And let’s face it, Metro Bank is hardly a traditional bricks and mortar bank. It is a young (well, adolescent now) upstart challenger to the old boys network that has been around forever – smoking their pipes and wearing their tweed.
Metro is one of the only banks, opening rather than shutting branches. It’s got later opening hours, including Sundays and cards can be printed on the spot rather than having to wait a week. Metro are a pretty good alternative and worth considering for your everyday needs.
But, there are FAR better options for travel debit cards out there than the standard banks. In fact the old school standard banks probably need to up their game. There are some new kids on the block.
Best Travel Debit Cards in the UK
The Rise of The New Kids
New kids = challenger banks. What the heck is a challenger bank? In all of the above, the banks or providers have no physical branches. And apart from TransferWise, none of them have a website for internet banking.
These are the challenger banks and they are here to shake things up.
Limitations of Challenger Banks
Being purely app based has some limitations of course.
There are less typical banking services and products on offer, such as financial advice, mortgages, savings and investment products. You can’t go in and talk to someone face-to-face. So I’m not suggesting to give up on and burn your debit cards for the high street banks JUST yet.
They still have their uses… for now.
These ‘challenger banks’ are working towards offering what they see as the most useful services. Some already offer overdrafts, loans, business and joint accounts.
It’s super easy to switch to these as your main account if you want. You can just use their ‘Switch’ services.
Right now, I use them as cash cards. Topping up from my more traditional bank current accounts.
Welcome To The Future
Instead of having branches or websites, these banks and providers are app-based. So you will need to take your phone or device travelling with you.
Help, I Am A Dinosaur!
Now whilst I am just about in the age bracket to class as a millennial, I still don’t know who Taylor Swift is and I’m usually a reluctant adopter of new technology. I had the same phone for 8 years. So as you can imagine I was quite sceptical as to how useful these newfangled banking apps would be whilst travelling.
What if you lose or break your phone? Is that ALL your money gone as well? What if I want to buy a local sim? Can I still use the app as it is registered to my UK phone number?
And a load of other similar questions.
The more I looked into it, the more comfort I got:
- There is usually 24/7 support
- You don’t have to tell them where you are travelling
- And you don’t usually need to pay fees to top-up like with some shoddy cash cards
- You get instant notifications of any spend in both your home currency and the local currency
- The apps have budgeting tools, telling you what you have spent, where and will categorise it for you. Helping you keep track of how much you spend.
I Can’t Be Bothered To Sign Up
These things are usually so tedious. I get it. BUT, applying for an account is usually very simple.
Download the app, register it with your phone number (usually via a text message), fill out your personal details and use the app to snap a pic of your ID (passport or driving licence).
Then record a video message saying a scripted line about how you want a bank account with blah blah, so that they can verify it is you. Bish bash bosh!
Annnnnd wait a week. Your usually funky designed card should arrive in the post.
You can fund your new account by sending money via bank transfer to your new shiny account details, either as a one off or regular payment. With some of the apps, you can request or send money from your contacts, nearby users or from anyone else via your own web link.
I Wanna Get A Local Phone Sim
Not a bad idea! And no need to worry, the number you use to register is just a way of identifying your account at the start. The number is not needed for you to be able to use your card. If you buy a local sim, the app on your phone will still work. Just like with WhatsApp.
Also, you can download the app on different devices. Huzzah!
Security of Challenger Banks
Are they safe though?
You can set passcodes and fingerprint ID to access the apps. There are usually passwords for setting up new payees, changing details and more.
In-app there are plenty of other security features. Such as setting daily and monthly payment limits for different types of transactions (chip & pin, contactless, online, ATM withdrawals, bank transfers and more).
Freeze It Out
No this doesn’t mean putting your card in the freezer. There is the awesome ability to freeze and unfreeze your card whenever you want.
And no one can use it whilst it is frozen.
You can freeze it and leave it in your hotel room whilst you go out to sun yourself on the beach. Your card can be left frozen for as long as you want.
You can freeze it if you think you’ve lost it and it turns out it was in your bag all along when you finally empty it 3 days later…it happens okay, no judgement here.
If you’ve been a total noob and you lose your card altogether, just like a normal bank, you’re either screwed until you go home or pay some sort of replacement and shipping cost to get a new one to your hostel.
Up S*** Creek
It’s 3am, you’ve had too many cheap mojitos and you drunkenly jump in a pool forgetting your phone is in your pocket. Doh. Or through no fault of your own your phone gets stolen.
Once the morning after ‘shame waves’ subside, there is no need to fear. As long as your card is not frozen you will still be able to use it.
You need to buy a replacement device that is modern enough to download the app. You can pick up surprisingly cheap and decent phones abroad if you are willing to not go for the big names or get a refurbished phone.
Get a local sim, download the app and contact the bank as soon as possible to cancel your card. Do not register your new number until you do this so they can change your registered number and transfer your account. You will need your security details to do this. This will stop the app on your old phone from being linked to your account, preventing someone else from transferring out your money.
Our Top 4: Travel Debit Cards
Best Travel Debit Card Number 1: Starling
You might not have heard of Starling. It’s less well known and doesn’t have many of the snazzy extras that banks like Monzo or Revolut have, but Starling is my favourite for travelling.
It has useful features for travellers, but most importantly Starling is the top card for withdrawing cash when abroad. And that’s why it gets my vote as the best travel debit card.
Why It’s The Best Travel Debit Card: No Transaction Fees or Withdrawal Fees
Starling charge no transaction fees for cash withdrawals or purchases.
They use Mastercard’s rate of exchange. So technically there is a teeny weeny margin paid to Mastercard, but it’s literally the lowest rate you can get. Here are Starling’s rates.
And Starling don’t charge you for taking your money out or making payments abroad.
An Awesome Daily Limit
The best thing about Starling is that you can withdraw up to £300 A DAY. The other cards listed have a £200 A MONTH limit on free cash withdrawals. This is another reason why I think it is the best travel debit card.
I Used My Starling Card And Got Charged An ATM Fee?!
As with all UK cards, you may face ATM fees charged by the local ATM provider. Do your research on which ATMs charge and which ones don’t in EVERY blooming country you are going to. You don’t have to pay local ATM fees!
Starling Card Features:
On your Starling card you can earn blooming interest! This is paid monthly on your balance. A current account which pays interest is rarer than a panda in the wild.
At 0.5%/year on balances up to £2k and 0.25% on balances from £2k – £85k, it’s not going to break the bank but is certainly better than a kick in the teeth…or earning nothing from our current accounts like most of us do.
Overdrafts Aren’t Too Shabby Either
You can also get overdrafts of up to £2.5k, at a competitive rate of interest.
Let’s Get Together
Starling also offer joint accounts AND business accounts, for those who are travelling and working.
And Some More Features…
Other pretty nice additions include being able to deposit cash at Post Office branches, personal and tailored loans, and benefiting from protection by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) on balances up to £85,000.
Oh And More Features Such As…
- Real-time notifications (letting you know what’s going on in your account)
- 24/7 support (you can just chat via the app, no need for expensive calls)
- The ability to connect your card to digital wallets such as Google Pay and Apple Pay
- Functionality to split bills and settle up easily between friends
- Budgeting tools to work out what the heck you’ve spent and where
- Tools to create savings pots and automatically save when you spend by rounding up the difference to the nearest £1 and sticking it in your savings pot
- The ability to open a Euro account which will allow you to hold, receive and send money in Euros without fees. You can convert balances for free between your Euro and Pound accounts, up until September 2019. A nice feature if you get paid or pay out regularly in Euros
- Access to a marketplace of other financial services from other providers such as the robo-investor Wealthify, so you can sign up or see your accounts through the Starling app
Starling Debit Card Service:
Above and Beyond
Starling has won 3 awards at the 2019 British Bank Awards for Best British bank, Best Current Account and Best Business Account.
Personally, I can see why. I’ve found Starling’s customer service reliable, friendly and professional on the occasions I’ve needed to get in touch.
Traveller Nightmare, Losing Your Card
You don’t have to pay for your Starling card. And you can get a replacement card sent to your UK registered address totally for free.
If you loose your card, getting it sent abroad securely will set you back £60. Which is pretty steep, but understandable as Starling don’t really promote themselves as a travel card. They encourage use for shorter term travel, although it’s not quite clear why.
Starling don’t support non-EU phone numbers, so take a spare UK phone sim with you in case you lose your phone.
Save Money: Sign Up For A Starling Card
If you want to sign up to Starling, do check out my link. I don’t think you or I will earn anything apart from a gold star in the app and I get a warm, fuzzy feeling that I’ve recommended an awesome product. Or use this referral code TTF5P9YV.
Best Travel Debit Card Number 2: Monzo
You know of Monzo, right? Monzo is probably one of the best known challenger banks. They have debit cards that are so brightly coloured you might need to wear a pair of sunglasses.
In the spirit of being transparent, I am actually an investor in Monzo. Well done me! Despite this, they are still not the best travel debit card. However, they come a very close second.
Monzo offer really good accounts, with features that don’t over complicate things and melt your brain.
If you don’t need to hold multiple currencies at one time they are a good option.
Monzo are pretty innovative, and are always looking to improve and add new services. This can be great on one hand, but sometimes a little confusing (but not too much) if all you want to use them for is a debit card.
Monzo’s big selling point is it’s more widespread in the UK than other challenger banks, meaning it is easier to send and receive money from your friends and contacts.
Monzo Is Effectively Fee Free
Cash withdrawals are the same, effectively fee free apart from the Mastercard rate for the first £200 on a 30 day rolling basis. There was originally no limit, but now there is and if you go over £200, the cost is 3% on the extra.
This is fine for shorter trips and for going to places where cards are widely accepted for purchases and cash use is dying out. But for longer trips and countries where cash is king, meh not so good!
The limit was put in place because it was costing Monzo heap loads, which goes to show that Starling (above) could change their terms at any time.
Still Less Than Your Standard Bank Is Charging You
Whilst 3% sounds like a lot for a challenger bank, if you took out £1,000 in a month, with the first £200 free it would cost £24 or 2.4% in total, you’d still be paying way less than a traditional bank. Remember that there is no limit to fee-free purchases using your card, again this is far better than a traditional bank!
You could still be hit with local ATM fees. I have said it before and I will say it again. Google free ATMs in every country you visit!
Monzo has lots of similar features to Starling, these include:
- Real-time notifications (you get a pop up on your phone when you spend your money or even better when you get some money)
- Google Pay and Apple Pay support
- Budgeting tools and savings pots
- It also has joint accounts (business account options are currently being developed by Monzo)
- Overdrafts up to £1k (currently no loans but hopefully sooooon)
- You can earn interest on money you put in your savings pots. You need to put in a minimum of £500. There are normal pots (1.12% interest), Cash ISAs (1.14% interest) and fixed term pots (6 months = 1.36%, 9 months = 1.46% and 12 months = 1.55%),
- Like all UK regulated banks, Monzo benefits from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) £85,000 protection
Become Smart With Your Money
You can also get helpful reports on how much money you have spent in each country. A pretty useful budgeting tool whilst away I’d say. Monzo has started doing annual reports on how you spend your money as well, which can make for useful (or horrifying) reading at the end of the year.
Loads Of Money When You Need It
Another thing that Monzo has over Starling is a £400 vs £300 per day withdrawal limit. Although if you take out more than £200 in a month you will have to pay fees. It’s not free, but it’s a good option if you need it.
A Pretty Good Partnership
Monzo also partners with TransferWise allowing you to send the most widely used foreign currencies. This saves you a boat load compared to the usual bank fees you pay to send money. Starling used to do this too, but is developing its own offering.
Monzo Asks You What You Want
Monzo is pretty innovative and asks its community of users what they want to see developed. As a result Monzo are looking at developing things like the ability to switch energy providers via its app, as well as considering becoming insurance and mortgage service providers.
This is all great if you need or want these additional features. However, these are just nice-to-have features when considering the best travel cards.
If you are interested in these types of features then you may want to consider switching to Monzo for your everyday use back in the UK.
Customer support for us has typically been good. We haven’t had to use them in an emergency but they are available 24/7 via the app.
Wherever You Are In the World
Monzo will courier out replacement cards to you abroad at no extra cost. Pretty damn amazing I’d say!
A Little Extra Peace Of Mind
Another great thing that Monzo has implemented is that whilst it is predominantly an app-based bank, they do have a limited functionality website where you can access your account in an emergency.
So if you lose your phone and card after a wild night, you just need to find an internet cafe.
These features are both way better than the Starling options in an emergency.
Monzo has also just won the 2019 British Bank Awards for best banking app!
Verdict: Starling vs Monzo
In the battle for the best travel bank debit card Starling wins, for now.
This is because of its super high fee-free cash withdrawals. Which is exactly what you want and need on your travels. For Starling it’s unlimited, whereas Monzo is £200 per month. If this were to change, Monzo may come out on top though.
Sign Up For Monzo
If you want to sign up to Monzo, feel free to use my referral link. Once you sign up and make a transaction, you and I will both receive £5 (hurrah, we’re in the money!): https://join.monzo.com/r/y19ydgl
Best Travel Debit Card Number 3: Revolut
Monzo is number 3 in our best travel debit card competition. Revolut has lots of things in common with Monzo and Starling, along with a few extras that could make it useful for some travellers.
However, Revolut has the craziest foreign transaction fee structure, which I’d say is it’s biggest problem.
Not Just UK Focused
Revolut is available to residents from the European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland and Australia. So it isn’t just UK focused. They are looking at rolling out across the world with the USA soon to come.
Lots Of Types Of Accounts
There is a:
- Standard account
- Premium account (£6.99/month)
- Metal account (£12.99/month)
I’ll talk below about the standard account costs and features and let you know what extra the paid-for accounts give you where relevant (in the UK). However, you can read a comprehensive summary here.
Revolut’s Crazy Fees:
What’s pretty awesome is Revolut uses something called the “interbank rate“, and doesn’t pass on the Mastercard, Visa or Amex exchange rate. This means with Revolut you should get an even better rate than the already amazing rate you get with Starling and Monzo.
There is a BUT though. For the standard account you can spend, transfer and exchange up to £5,000 rolling month for free, BUT only on weekdays.
After £5,000 a fee of 0.5% will apply. £5,000 should be more than adequate for most people travelling. Unless you are really into travelling by yachts or drinking really expensive bottles of wine, you should be able to avoid this 0.5% fee.
Normal money transfers with Revolut have NO fees, but turbo (super fast) transfers cost £5. The paid-for Revolut accounts have no limit and have free turbo transfers.
However, some currencies face an extra charge on top as they are more costly for Revolut to exchange. During the week Thai Baht, Russian Rubles and Ukrainian Hryvnia will incur a 1% mark-up, with the rest of the 140 supported currencies receiving no mark-up.
The Trouble With Weekends
Most of us can’t wait for the weekend right? However, with Revolut weekends can spell trouble.
Weekends for Revolut are Friday 23:59 to Sunday 23:59 UK time, not the country you are travelling in. Any transaction during this period will use the Friday closing rate plus a mark-up to protect Revolut against adverse currency movements.
For the most commonly transacted currencies (USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, CAD, NZD, CHF, JPY, SEK, HKD, NOK, SGD, DKK, PLN and MXN) the mark-up is 0.5%.
For all other currencies, it is 1%. Except THB, RUB and UAH the mark-up is 2%.
So spending money using your Revolut card at the weekend can end up being quite costly, especially if opening exchange rates on Monday go against you.
Personally I don’t much like having to pre-plan ALL my spending and cash withdrawals around the weekend back home. It limits flexibility. What about those unavoidable times where you run out of cash? Who keeps track of what day it is when you’re travelling anyway? Everyday feels like a weekend!
To avoid this crazy weekend mark up with Revolut, you can change your money on the app into the currency of the place you are visiting (if it’s included in the 24 allowable currencies within Revolut) on a Thursday (UK time).
This means if you withdraw money in that currency or pay using your card during the weekend, you avoid the mark up as you’ve already exchanged the money. Blooming complicated, I know!
Only £200 For Cash Withdrawals
On the Revolut standard account, you get £200 of cash withdrawals for free per rolling month. But after this you will have to pay 2% on any cash withdrawals. The limits are £400 and £600 for the premium and metal accounts respectively.
The Results Of Paying And Not Thinking
You are in Thailand, you’ve used up your £5,000 free transaction limit (you bought a boat) and £200 withdrawal limit for the month (you bought expensive wine and a tattoo) and you need £100 cash at the weekend. This would cost you 4.5% plus the local ATM withdrawal fee (most are over £5), costing you a total of more than £10 just to take £100 out.
Whilst this is an extreme, hypothetical situation, it shows the potential issues you have to be aware of when using Revolut. You need to engage your brain when using this card, and we all know that can be hard sometimes.
Like Starling and Monzo, Revolut has the usual host of features that an app-based account has:
- Real-time notifications (to let you know what’s going on with your account)
- Select money to go into a rainy day savings pot
- Some budgeting tools but not as clear as Starling or Monzo
- Google Pay support, Apple Pay is coming soon
- You can also get a business account, but not a joint account
- You can get loans of £500-£25,000 for 1-5 years but not an overdraft
Not Quite A Bank Though
It is worth noting that unlike Starling and Monzo, Revolut is not actually a bank and so deposits are NOT Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protected on balances up to £85,000.
It Only Takes A Minute
Unlike Starling and Monzo (and most banks), the rate of exchange at the point of your transaction is fixed with Revolut. What does that mean in English? You don’t have to wait a few days to see what actual exchange rate you got when you bought something or withdrew cash.
With Revolut you won’t get little surprises when the currency exchange rates change significantly (e.g. Boris Johnson says something). This level of certainty is pretty damn good!
You Can Hold Other Currencies
With Revolut you can hold up to 24 different currencies in your account.
If you use your Revolut account to transfer, say for example, your currency into euros (let’s say you get €100). You’ll now have €100 euros in your account. Then if you buy something on your card in a country which uses euros, Revolut will recognise you’ve got euros and pay with those rather than changing it from your “default” currency (e.g the currency of your home country). If you run out of euros in your account, it will revert back to your default currency (again, e.g your home currency).
Cool Extra Revolut Features: Things You Travellers Might Find Interesting
- Spare cards. You can purchase extra cards for your account, meaning you always have a back-up.
- Virtual cards. You can use virtual cards for online payments on weird foreign websites. This adds a layer of security on your main account. Premium and metal Revolut accounts get disposable virtual cards that can be used for 1 transaction before the bank details are deleted, providing even further security.
- Travel insurance. You can purchase travel insurance through the Revolut app, paying on a daily basis. The app uses your GPS location to calculate the cost. It is capped for the year at just over a month’s cost. Max trip length is 40 days, so this is not going to be right for every trip. Make sure you read what you are covered for and consider more comprehensive cover if needed. In case you end up s**t creek!
- Worldwide phone insurance. Covered on a weekly basis for phones under 6 months old (for damage, not theft).
- The ability to set rate alerts. This can be used to notify you when you may want to exchange a currency. You can even set the tool to automatically do the exchange for you.
- For metal accounts you can get discounted access to airport lounges and concierge services for hotel and flight booking.
Not totally relevant for travellers, but Revolut offers Cryptocurrency exchange. They currently support 5 currencies. There is a 1.5% mark-up. The currencies are Bitcoin (BTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), and Ripple (XRP). Sadly rapper Akon’s cryptocurrency hasn’t quite made the list yet.
Revolut Customer Service
I haven’t had to use the Revolut support function, but it is available 24/7 in app. Paid for accounts get a priority service.
Pretty Good Forums
Revolut, like Monzo has a very big and helpful forum-based community where you can find answers to a lot of questions.
There seem to have been issues in the past with Revolut’s performance reliability and general support. There are a number of cases of people being locked out of their accounts whilst travelling.
Traveller Nightmare: What If I Lose My Revolut Card?
If you lose your card abroad, get in touch with Revolut via the app. If you lose your phone and card, or just your phone, get a new smartphone (often cheap abroad), log into Revolut, speak to customer service via the app and cancel your card.
For a standard account, physical and virtual cards are £4.99 each. Then on top of that £4.99 for standard delivery to the UK.
These costs applies to new, spare and replacement cards.
Delivery to the EU is €19.99 and €29.99 for the rest of the world.
Getting started with Revolut is more expensive than Starling and Monzo. Getting replacement cards abroad is cheaper than Starling but more expensive than Monzo. I managed to get my card for free in a promotion.
The Kind Of Person Who Gets Their Wallet Stolen By a Monkey
Paid-for accounts get free cards and free global delivery. So if you are the kind of person that ends up being the one who gets their wallet stolen by a monkey you may want to consider the Premium or Metal account.
Verdict: Starling vs Monzo vs Revolut
So, three cards have joined the fight for the best travel debit card. Who wins? Starling and Monzo beat Revolut purely based on the fee structure and the rates Revolut charge at weekends. With Revolut, you have to think way too much what day it is in the UK and what currency you are using.
I like Revoluts ability to change up and hold multiple currencies for free (for the majority of the week). You can lock in certain exchange rates for countries you may be going to a long time in advance. Useful if you think your home currency may be falling soon (ahem Brexit). It is also helpful if you receive and send multiple currencies a lot.
There are lots of potentially useful features, but these are likely to be unnecessary for the majority of bog standard travellers. And the various premium options add another layer of complexity to the mix.
We Carry A Revolut Card, Along With A Starling and Monzo Card
Revolut cards are a good backup. You also get another £200/month of free cash withdrawals to go with your other card limits. For our needs, the Revolut premium accounts do not justify the costs, but it is worth seeing if this is the same for your own needs.
Sign Up To Revolut
If you feel like you would benefit from Revolut’s features and can plan your transactions around weekends, or just want a decent back-up option then feel free to sign-up using my referral link below. I don’t think there is currently any rewards for me, but you can currently get a free card 🙂
Best Travel Debit Card Number 4: TransferWise
Kinda Like eBay, But For Currency Exchange
Number 4 in our best travel debit card is TransferWise. TransferWise started out as a service to exchange, send and receive money in multiple currencies, creating a market between normal people (buyers and sellers). Kinda like eBay but for currency exchange.
This meant the banks were cut out, and foreign exchange could be carried out at a fraction of the price (up to 8x cheaper according to the TransferWise website). Also international payments usually only take a day to clear, which is pretty damn fast.
The Borderless Account
Recently, TransferWise opened up their Borderless Account. You can get a Borderless Account debit card if you are an European Economic Area (EEA) resident.
When it comes to those pesky international fees, TransferWise actually uses the mid-market rate. But what does this mean? It’s the rate you get when you google currency exchange rates.
This means there is no difference between the buying and selling rates, unlike at foreign exchange counters. There are also no implicit fees from Mastercard. Most banks charge you this so win.
Hold Your Horses, TransferWise Does Charge You Other Fees
It’s not all sunshine and lolly pops though, TransferWise does charge you some fees. These are conversion fees, and are whacked on when converting money to different currencies within your account, sending money and using your card.
The good news is, these are usually (but not always) cheaper than you’d get with those pesky standard banks.
But When Do The Fees Apply?
When you use your debit card to buy things, in a currency you already hold, there is no fee.
If you don’t already hold a currency in your account, TransferWise will automatically select the currency you do hold with the lowest conversion fee to cover the purchase.
What Conversion Fees Are Used?
Stay with me, this bit gets a little complicated. The conversion fees TransferWise use depend on the currency pair being converted. For example EUR to USD has a fee of 0.35% and USD to EUR has a fee of 0.6%. The Borderless Account has lower fees than using the normal transfer service.
There are fees to add money to your TransferWise account, if you do so using your debit card or credit card, or via SWIFT (e.g if you use your card within the website). However, if you do a bank transfer from your own bank account, that should be free.
If you want to add money to your account and convert it in the process, there are fees. These vary between different currencies, and whether you select Low Cost, Fast and Easy or Advanced Transfer.
There are fees to convert money to a different currency within your account or when paying using your TransferWise debit card in a different currency. Again, these vary depending on the currency.
If you have Argentinian Pesos, and you want to send money to your mate in Thailand and convert it to Thai Baht en route, you will be charged a fee. These are less then usual bank fees for transferring money though.
There is a fee to send money to a bank account in the same currency (50p). So don’t use TransferWise for this, just use your standard bank account like you would do normally.
If TransferWise doesn’t support the currency you want to use your debit card for, you can still make the transaction but will be charged the Mastercard rate for either GBP or USD depending on where you live.
You can withdraw cash fee-free up to £200 per rolling month, as long as you have an available balance in the currency you are trying to withdraw.
For example if you are trying to take out Colombian Pesos and have some already converted in your account, you can withdraw up to £200 worth for free. But if you only have Great British Pounds, you will have to pay a conversion fee. After £200 you will need to pay a 2% fee.
If you need to send US dollars to an account outside of the USA you will need to pay a SWIFT fee too. This is $3.20 vs up to $25 with other banks.
Why Do You Have To Go And Make Things So Complicated?
Yes, the TransferWise fee structure is really complicated, so check prices for what you want to use TransferWise for.
TransferWise: The Important Things You Need To Know About Fees
In a nutshell, TransferWise is good as it holds more currencies than Revolut.
It’s good to transfer money between people as it’s cheaper than standard banks (unless it’s in the same currency, use your standard bank for this).
It’s less good when it comes to using your card, so use Starling or Monzo for that.
Phew, okay we got through the complicated TransferWise fees and you are still with me. Now lets look at TransferWise features.
Overall there are less features than Starling, Monzo and Revolut, but it is aiming to provide a different service, so focuses on that.
No Financial Services Compensation Scheme
TransferWise is not a bank and so does not have the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) on deposits. As such it also does not provide overdrafts or loans and you won’t receive interest on your balances.
But, you can get a business account.
You can get bank account in 5 different regions (UK, USA, NZ, EU and AUS) so can receive money from other people in GBP, USD, NZD, EUR and AUD with NO fees (whooop). Although, the sender has to pay fees on it.
You can fund your account in 18 currencies; convert and hold over 40 different currencies; and send money to more than 50 different countries.
Whilst TransferWise has a decent app you can use, it is predominantly website-based, which has its advantages over the other accounts described above. So you can easily still access your account in the event that you break your phone by jumping into that pool drunk (Disclaimer: The World Is Your Lobster do not recommend this type of behavior!).
Cards and accounts are free, although you will need to top-up your account with £20 first for verification purposes before a card will be issued.
Replacement cards are free but will only be shipped to the European Economic Area (EEA). If you are travelling out of this area, you will need someone at home to send it on to you, preferably by tracked airmail, which will likely be expensive.
Verdict: Starling vs Monzo vs Revolut vs TransferWise
TransferWise is not my go to debit card when travelling, as the fees are higher than other options.
It’s good as a backup though, with another £200/month fee free cash withdrawal limit (after those conversion fees though).
A TransferWise account is pretty awesome when it comes to bank transfers for pricey things like diving, multi-day treks and boat trips that don’t accept cards. It’s wayyy cheaper than using a standard bank account and will save you money. You don’t have to take a load of cash out or transfer it using PayPal (which can charge 3%+).
Additionally, a TransferWise account is a solid option if you want to hold multiple currencies and change them up when it suits you. It’s similar to the Revolut account, but you can hold more currencies and fund your account in more currencies. Although it does support less currencies than Revolut for transactions.
Sign Up For A TransferWise Account
Sign up to TransferWise and use my following referral code to get a free transfer to start you off:
Other Travel Debit Cards: Monese, Bunq and N26
Its not all about Starling, Monzo, Revolut and TransferWise. There are others…but they require you to pay a monthly fee, so thus don’t quite make my top picks.
However, they might be good for your personal situation.
As a disclaimer I do not have any of these cards (I have all of the ones above!). So cannot do the pros and cons of each full justice based on my own personal experience.
Bunq is a Dutch challenger bank that aims to provide as much transparency and freedom for its users as possible.
My pick of the best of the rest is Bunq. Of course, it offers the usual features you have come to expect from an app-based bank by now. Along with the following:
You Can Choose The Types Of Investments Bunq Will Make
You can select the types of investments the bank will make with their deposits (the money in your current account). This means unlike other banks you can choose that your money be used for ethical investments. Other banks just invest in whatever they want using your money.
Your Money Is Safe
It is an actual bank, so benefits from the Deposit Guarantee Scheme from the Dutch National Bank on balances up to €100k (the Dutch version of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme Protection that UK banks benefit from).
EU Bank Accounts
Bunq is Dutch and only provides EU bank accounts. UK folks will not be able to have UK salaries paid into it. But it is still available for UK residents and is open to all European Economic Area (EEA) residents.
The Free Account Is A Bit Pants
There is a free account but it doesn’t really offer anything for everyday use and you can’t get a debit card. So it’s probably not worth your time!
The Premium account is €7.99 a month.
There is also a option for multiple family members.
You can open multiple normal and joint accounts under one membership, holding up to 25 different accounts and you get up to 3 debit cards. In case you want a different bank account for….everything?!
Transferring Your Cold Hard Cash
Bunq uses TransferWise for sending money abroad, so TransferWise fees will apply.
Fees, Fees, Fees
Non-Euro purchases and cash withdrawals use the Mastercard rates with no additional fees. Whoop!
Limited Cash Withdrawals
You get 10 free cash withdrawals a month, after which each one costs €0.99.
Who Bunq Is Useful For
Bunq could be pretty useful for non-UK, European Economic Area (EEA) citizens when travelling if you need to withdraw more than Revolut’s £200 free withdrawal limit. AND want the flexibility of weekend spending without the worry of all those Revolut weekend fees adding up and breaking your bank account.
But Is It Worth €7.99 A Month?
It’s up to you. However, €7.99 a month for a Premium Bunq Account may not be worth the money if you will only use it for short trips abroad every now and then.
If You Are Based In The UK
There are better alternatives to Bunq, although the lack of foreign transaction fees mean that UK residents can still easily use this card in the UK.
Get A Bunq Account
If you are interested though, check out the Bunq Premium account.
N26 is a German bank that is quite similar to Bunq.
Who Can Get A N26 Account?
It is open to all European Economic Area (EEA) residents and provides EURO accounts.
Your Money Is Safe!
As N26 is a proper bank, it benefits from the protection of the Compensation Scheme of German Banks up to €100k. This is similar to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.
Free And Paid For Accounts
There are 2 N26 accounts, the standard account and the Black account. Standard is free and Black is €9.90 per month.
Fees For Transferring Money
Sending money abroad is powered by TransferWise and so there is a little mark-up on those fees.
Other Fees For N26
For both the free and the Black accounts, you can pay for things on your card in any currency for free.
There is a 1.7% fee for cash withdrawals in non-EURO currencies on the N26 standard free account. Cash withdrawals are free on the Black account.
However, it appears that you only get 5 free withdrawals for both accounts a month, before having to pay for each withdrawal. Hmmm. Not so good, particularly if you are paying €9.90 per month on the Black account!
The N26 Black account has travel insurance included within the monthly subscription. This includes cover for your mobile phone (including theft) if you bought it with your Black card.
But as ever, check the terms and conditions and coverage to see whether it suits your needs or whether you would be better off getting more personalised cover for your travels.
N26 or Bunq?!
Well, given N26 is €2 month more expensive than the Bunq card, Bunq maybe more suitable for your needs unless you really love the insurance offered by the N26 Black account. The N26 free standard account is not that useful for travelling due to the fee on cash withdrawals.
Get A N26 Account
If you are interested in finding out more, check out the N26 Black account.
A Bank For The Unbanked
Monese sells itself as the account that allows traditionally unbanked people to open an account without proof of address. Other bank accounts I’ve mentioned allow this to the some degree as well. Monese has the usual app-based account features.
Less Security For Your Money
Annoyingly, Monese is not actually a bank, so there is no Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protection.
Good For The UK And Europe Folk
Monese does provide both GBP and EUR account though, which may be of interest if you spend a lot of time in Europe and have income streams there. It also allows all European Economic Area (EEA) residents to open accounts.
3 Different Types Of Monese Account
They offer Free, Plus (£4.99 per month) and Premium (£14.99 per month) accounts.
Fees, Fees, Fees
Only the Premium account provides you with fee free foreign purchases, cash withdrawals and transfers (well, using the Mastercard rate anyway).
All accounts apart from the Premium account will charge you to put money in your account.
ATM withdrawals are free for the first 20 withdrawals on Premium, 6 on Plus and none on Free, after which they cost £1 each. Ouch!
Is Monese Any Good Then?
The fact that the Free and Plus accounts charge you for topping up your own bloody account and for ATM withdrawals is an instant no no for me.
The foreign transaction rates are more akin to traditional banks meaning these accounts will not be useful for travellers.
And finally (I will stop ranting soon), I think the monthly costs of the premium service are too high considering what you can get for free elsewhere.
Getting A Monese Account
But if you are interested and Monese suits your needs, you don’t have to listen to me, check out Monese.
So Bunq, N26 or Monese?
For UK residents there are way better options out there than Bunq, N26 and Monese.
For European Economic Area (EEA) residents the Bunq and N26 paid-for cards are only beneficial to you if you need to take out more cash than the Revolut (£200 per month) and TransferWise (£200) fee free limits.
In my view, both the Bunq and N26 paid-for accounts offer better value for money than the Monese accounts though.
Don’t Waste Money Whilst Travelling: The Best Travel Debit Card
I’ve gone on and on and on and on.
Call me crazy but I absolutely love researching this kind of thing and making sure I’ve got the best deals on cards whilst travelling. It can save you shed loads of money.
So for me, Starling wins on the best travel debit card for now due to its high fee-free cash withdrawal limits. It’s unlimited for Starling, whereas Monzo only allows £200 a month for free.
Both Starling and Monzo beat Revolut based on the fee structure and the crazy weekend rates Revolut charge.
However, saying this, if you want to change up and hold currencies for free (for the majority of the week) Revolut could be useful for you. This is useful if your home currency might fall soon (perhaps due to Brexit!).
I’d recommend getting a Starling card and using it as your main card whilst travelling, but also getting a couple of back-up cards (whichever ones are your favourites) in case something happens to your main card.
Avoid Finance Based Nightmares Whilst Travelling With These Top Tips
- Bring a few different cards away with you just in case of a emergency. I am not saying this because I am a total finance square. Your card could be eaten by an ATM, lost or the terms and conditions could change. It might seem a lot to manage, compared to the 1 debit and 1 credit card you use at home. But you get used to it quite quickly and find that the majority of the time you are only using 1 or 2 anyway and the rest are good back-ups.
- Don’t put it off! You should apply as soon as possible for all of the cards as it can take some time for approval and to get them sent out. Once you receive your cards you will want to personalise your PINs, check your cards work and authorise them.
- Most of the cards I have suggested will require apps and others will also have useful banking apps that are worth downloading and getting familiar with before you go.
- Don’t be a muppet! Make sure you enable all security features on your phone and the individual banking apps. Such as fingerprint ID, pass codes, facial recognition or whatever to secure your personal and financial information. Unfortunately nothing is 100% secure, but there is no sense in making it easy for thieves. You can even set monthly spending limits and limits on the amount that can be spent using chip and pin, contactless and online.
- Some more old school banks use physical or digital secure keys. If you have the option of switching to a digital secure key, I’d suggest doing this. Physical keys can be lost, damaged or even run out of battery, requiring a lengthy and ridiculously expensive call to your bank.
- Banks are currently rolling out a 3rd layer of security for online purchases. SMS codes sent to your registered number. So you’ll probably end up having to bring your UK sim travelling with you now and swap it in when you want to make online transactions. Some banks are providing the option to authorise online purchases within their app.
- Hey Wait A Minute Mr. Postman. You will likely receive post from your banks that can be pretty damn important. Whilst you are away make sure you get a Royal Mail redirection service and if possible have someone you trust to manage your post for you.
Okay Great, But What Is The Best Travel Credit Card?
Fear not, we’ve got your covered!
Explore More In Our Ultimate Travel Money Guide:
These posts are up to date as of June 2019 and will be updated periodically, but always check with the companies mentioned and keep an eye out for new ones I haven’t mentioned. I’ve mostly focused on all things UK based. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any tips from your country you would like me to include.
This is what I’ve found to be suitable for our needs. Yours may differ and so the Ultimate Travel Money Blogs can only be taken as a guide rather than constitute personalised financial advice. Please get in touch if you have any specific questions and I will do my best to answer them.
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