Multi-Currency Accounts And Cards
Until now you’ve probably been using your Spanish bank issued card when abroad and when buying online from a website outside the eurozone. But with a multi-currency account and card you could considerably reduce the commission you currently pay to your bank, keeping your hard-earned euros in your pocket.
How Much Commission Are You Paying Now?
Have you actually checked the commission rate levied every time you use your credit/debit card outside the eurozone?
Some banks charge a fixed rate for the most common currencies plus a percentage on top. With rates at around 2.5%-3.5%, or higher, it soon adds up when you make several purchases, such as during holidays.
A payment of only 100 GBP/USD could come with a charge of between 3€ to 4€. And even if the commission rate seems low, the small print often includes a minimum amount. For example, some major banks in Spain levy a minimum charge of 9€!
If you’re not sure what the rate is for your card, check online or get in touch with your bank. Then you can compare with a multi-currency card.
You Don’t Need To Change Bank
Multi-currency cards don’t mean having to change bank, you can still carry out all your day-to-day banking with your current provider if you wish.
What About The Security Aspects?
As you have to load a multi-currency card, your money is theoretically safer than with a “traditional” credit/debit card. If your multi-currency card is stolen or hacked, you’ll only lose up to the amount currently on the card.
Cards come with chip and pin technology, this minimises the possibility for fraudulent use. If it’s stolen you can block it by calling the company.
Before signing up for any financial service, check that the business is registered, for example by the UK FCA (Financial Conduct Authority). This guarantees that customer funds are kept separately to company funds; if the company goes bankrupt, customer funds should be safe.
How To Load And Use Your Card
Normally you should load your card with the required currencies before travelling, with most providers applying the mid-market rate on the day of loading. If you run low on funds, you can top-up the balance on the card during your travel.
Some companies charge a one-time initial card activation fee and/or a fee for withdrawing cash at an ATM abroad.
When using the card in another country, if you have loaded it with several currencies it automatically detects which currency should be used.
Advantages Of Multi-Currency Cards
If on a typical holiday you pay by your usual bank card for meals, trips, car hire and more, commission soon adds up.
A multi-currency card gives a better exchange rate than exchanging for cash and favourable rates when paying by card as most multi-currency card providers do not charge commission for use abroad. Some also allow for free cash withdrawals at ATMs.
Disadvantages Of Multi-Currency Cards
The main disadvantages are small fees and charges, which sometimes makes comparing between providers difficult. As more players have entered the field, charges have reduced considerably in the past few years.
Watch out for any inactivity fee that may be charged on loaded cards unused for a long period.
The amount you can load on a card may be limited, although in most cases the amount is sufficient for normal holiday usage.
Although many currencies can be loaded, if you’re travelling to a smaller country you may find that a specific currency is not offered.
Who Are The Main Providers?
Take a look at any of the following main providers of multi-currency accounts and cards:
- Create a Borderless Account (free multi-currency account).
- Receive a multi-currency Mastercard, accepted worldwide.
- Conversion fee when loading currency, between 0.35% to 2% (currency converted at real exchange rate).
- Free ATM withdrawals (up to 200 GBP or equivalent per month).
- No commission when paying with currencies loaded on card.
Find out more at TransferWise.
- Create a free personal account (paid options offer more services, however basic account should be enough for most people).
- Once you’ve topped up your account, request your physical Visa card via the app. The card comes with a cost of £4.99/5.99€/$8.99 plus postage. Contactless payments are activated after a first chip and pin use.
- Exchange currency on the app before travelling, see the amount you will receive before selecting “exchange”. Exchanges of up to £5000 or currency equivalent per month are free on weekdays (at weekends a small surcharge is applied).
- ATM withdrawals of up to £200 or equivalent per month are free.
- A virtual card (free) is available via the app for online purchases only. One-time use disposable virtual cards are only available to Premium users.
Find out more at Revolut.
- Basic (free) app-based account includes a free Mastercard.
- Free ATM withdrawals in euros.
- No commission on payments in other currencies. Currency is exchanged at mid-market rate.
- More benefits with monthly plans including travel insurance.
Find out more online at N26.com.
For more options (and lots of small print!) take a look at:
Monese (free Starter account charges 2% currency exchange with min. 2€ charge).
Evo Banco, “Tarjeta Inteligente”. Evo does not charge commission for ATM withdrawals worldwide
Conclusions and Tips
On the one hand these new banking apps and cards mean spending less when you travel, however they’re not a substitute for “traditional” banks for everyone, so weigh up the pros and cons.
If you only travel once a year (or less) outside the eurozone and don’t spend a lot in other currencies (either when travelling or online), then the saving in commission may not be worth opening a multi-currency account.
Tip: When using your card in another country, make sure you check if the POS terminal asks whether you want to complete the transaction “with conversion” or “without conversion”. Always choose “without conversion” to pay in local currency and avoid the merchant making a profit on your transaction.