Currency cards are debit card-style payment cards designed to be used while you are on holiday or travelling outside the UK to pay for goods and services, usually anywhere you see the Visa or Mastercard symbol.
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Some currency cards are provided by banks, like Starling and Monzo, and are linked to the current account you have with them.
Other currency cards use Open Banking to connect to your main current account at whichever bank you use, so you don’t need to open a fresh account. Currensea and Revolut offer these types of cards.
Currency cards typically offer lower fees and better foreign exchange rates than your standard bank account debit card.
The key benefits of using a currency card
- Ease: Currency cards are easy to apply for and usually arrive within a few days. If your bank already offers a travel card service as part of your account you may not even need to apply for a new card. Plus you don’t need to worry about changing up loads of cash before you go away.
- Safety: If you lose cash, it’s usually gone forever. If you lose your currency card you can cancel or freeze it in the app that comes with it to prevent anyone else using your holiday money.
- Virtual wallet: You can add most currency travel cards to your phone’s virtual wallet, so you can still pay if you only have your phone with you.
Keep an eye out for the cons too
- Charges: Fees and charges to use your currency card abroad can vary significantly so it’s a good idea to compare different providers before you choose which one to go with. Be aware the card provider – typically either Visa or Mastercard – can add its own fees of 1% to 3% on top of transactions.
- ATM limits: Some card providers limit how much you can withdraw from an ATM in another currency, after which point more charges will kick in.
- No section 75 protection: Debit card payments and purchases are not covered by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. But you might be able to make a claim for a refund under a voluntary scheme called ‘chargeback’.
James Lynn, co-founder of Currensea, said: “People historically took cash abroad for peace of mind, but post pandemic, the acceptance of cards is now ubiquitous.
“So there’s now limited upside to cash, and endless downsides: theft risk, lack of protection on spend, generally appalling exchange rates, particularly at airports, and of course being left with a handful of unusable currency at the end of a trip.
“By comparison, cards offer protection, security, better rates, and for the savvy traveller using a card which doesn’t need loading, like Currensea, no balances left at the end of a trip.”
Some of the best currency card deals
We have reviewed some of the cheapest and most popular currency cards for spending money abroad and compared their costs, exchange rates, special offers and what else you can use them for.
- Card cost: Essential card – Free,Premium card – £25 per year
- USD $ fx rate*: Essential card – 0.5% markup, Premium card – 0% markup
- Euro € fx rate*: Essential card – 0.5% markup, Premium card – 0% markup
- Special offers: Essential card – fee-free ATM withdrawals up to £500 (2% over). Premium card – fee-free ATM withdrawals up to £500 (1% over). Can convert FX commission savings into Singapore Airlines air miles. Hertz Gold Plus Rewards with free Five Star Status and a 20% discount with Avis, plus benefits with certain hotels and resorts. Refer a friend scheme.
- Other services: Currensea doesn’t actually hold customers’ funds (the card acts as a layer over an existing bank account). Also enables money transfers for a small number of currencies using the customer’s card rate + a 0.5% fee.
*Over the interbank rate
- Card cost: Free
- USD $ fx rate: Mastercard’s standard rate — 0.45% markup over the European Central Bank rate, with nothing added on by Starling.
- Euro € fx rate: Mastercard’s standard rate – 0.16% markup over the European Central Bank rate, with nothing added on by Starling
- Special offers: Pay on the card or withdraw cash abroad anywhere, with no fees from Starling.
- Other services: Fully-licensed and regulated bank. Offers personal, business, joint, euro and dollar current accounts and a children’s card.
- Card cost: Free
- USD $ fx rate: Mastercard’s standard rate — 0.45% mark up over the European Central Bank rate, with nothing added on by Monzo
- Euro € fx rate: Mastercard’s standard rate – 0.16% mark up over the European Central Bank rate, with nothing added on by Monzo
- Special offers: UK/EEA: Free account: Withdraw £250 for free every 30 days, 3% charge over. Upgrade to unlimited free withdrawals if certain criteria are met. UK/EEA: Monzo Plus: Unlimited free withdrawals. UK/EEA: Monzo Premium: unlimited fee-free cash withdrawals. Rest of world: Free account/account with higher allowances: Withdraw £200 for free every 30 days, 3% charge over. Monzo Plus: Withdraw £400 for free every 30 days, 3% charge over. Monzo Premium: Withdraw £600 for free every 30 days, 3% charge over.
- Other services: Monzo is a fully licensed bank, offering current accounts and savings accounts. You can earn up to 4.32% interest on a 12-month Fixed Pot with a £500 minimum deposit. (No access for 12 months). Easy access savings accounts are available too. Monzo Flex will spread the cost of purchases interest free over 3 instalments. Or 6 or 12 at 24% APR.
- Card cost: Standard – Free (delivery fee applies for the physical card). Plus card – £2.99 per month. Premium card – £6.99 per month. Metal card – £12.99 per month.
- USD $ fx rate: 0.3% mark up (This is an estimate based on published fees, Revolut failed to provide an actual rate despite repeated requests, saying only that ‘it is variable’).
- Euro € fx rate: 0.01% – 0.03% worse exchange rate than the European Central Bank rate.
- Special offers: Exchange up to £1,000 per month in 29 currencies, with no fees, Monday to Friday. (After that, a fee of 1.0% applies for Standard and 0.5% for Plus plans. Premium and Metal plans don’t have any exchange fair usage limits). Earn up to 3% annual interest. It also offers discounts and cashback on certain brands, outlets and hotels.
- Other services: Revolut is not a bank. But you can send and request money with anyone in 200+ countries. Trade 1500+ shares commission free (up to a limit), also trade gold and silver, and crypto
Currency Card FAQs
Can you withdraw money using a currency card?
Yes, you can withdraw money while you’re abroad using a currency card at an ATM, as well as paying for things using your card and PIN number. Fees and charges may apply.
Do I have to open a new bank account to get a currency card?
No. Some non-bank currency card providers, like Currensea and Revolut, will give you a card without the need to open a new bank account. If you are with a bank that is already a currency card provider you will also not need to open a new account with them.
How can I avoid bank charges abroad?
Choose a currency card with no fees for using it outside the UK. Where your card has a limit on withdrawals from ATMs, take out enough to get you through your time away within that number of transactions, and use your card to pay where possible.
Be aware the card provider – typically either Visa or Mastercard – can add its own fees of 1% to 3% on top of transactions.
Is it better to pay in local currency or pounds sterling?
In almost all cases the best (cheapest) thing to do when paying by card is to pay in the local currency. This would mean paying in dollars in the United States, or in euros in Greece, for example.
You may also be interested in:
Which bank card is best for abroad? ›
- Chase – fee-free spending & withdrawals + 1% cashback.
- Starling – fee-free spending & cash withdrawals.
- Virgin Money – fee-free spending & withdrawals.
- Currensea – links to your existing bank account.
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted throughout the world. If a business accepts credit cards, your Visa or Mastercard will likely work fine. The other two — American Express and Discover — do have a global footprint, but they are accepted at far fewer merchants.Should you pay by card abroad? ›
While you'll always need some cash, using a credit card for your spending needs can significantly simplify overseas travel. You won't really have to deal with converting currency and, armed with the right credit card, you won't pay unnecessary foreign transaction fees.Which currency to choose when paying with credit card? ›
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