Best Free Cards for Travel. No fees and the best exchange rates

Do you use your standard/main/everyday credit or debit cards when you are abroad? Or when you buy online on foreign websites? You are losing money, or you could be saving a lot.

Everyday cards (from standard banks) have a lot of hidden charges, such as foreign transaction fees (“non-sterling”, if your account is from the UK), cash withdrawal fees and interest charges even if you pay off in full your credit card bill. Moreover, banks and credit cards normally give you very bad exchange rates.

For instance, the image below shows a transaction paid by American Express (UK) in Italy. You can see a “non-sterling” transaction fee of £2.72 plus a poor exchange rate of 1.09.

Although some standard banks (e.g. Barclays) offer special cards with less or no fees, there are now digital, mobile-only banks and online money transfer services that offer far more benefits and let you save real money with no effort.

Transfer Wise

TransferWise

TransferWise is a British online money transfer service founded in 2011 in London. It was the first company which started this kind of service in the UK and Europe. The company now supports more than 750 currency routes across the world including GBP, USD, EUR, AUD and CAD, and provides multi-currency accounts.

The idea behind is simple, and consist of linking local bank accounts in countries all over the world. Detailed explanations on how this all work and how it can be cheaper than banks can be found here.

Some other great features, mostly cover in all the cards in the list, are:

  • Hold 40+ currencies for free (see all supported currencies here).
  • Instant sign up and use.
  • Freeze and unfreeze your card instantly.
  • Spend on your card in any currency.
  • Easy to use mobile app.
  • Split bills with friends.
  • Set savings goals, budgets, recurring payments and more.

Key features:

Admin feeTransaction FeeCash withdrawal FeeCard IssuerUK residents only
00None up to £200 per 30-day period, 3% aboveMastercardNo (See below)

The Mastercard debit card is only available in these countries:

  • Europe: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France (only Metropolitan), Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Gibraltar (British Overseas Territory) and the UK Crown Dependencies: Guernsey, Isle of Man, and Jersey.
  • Asia: Singapore.
  • Oceania: Australia and New Zealand.
  • North America: The US

However; with their fee-free transfer service (without a plastic card) you can transfer money from and to all these countries/currencies.

Revolut

Revolut

Revolut is also a British company that offers a prepaid debit card (MasterCard or Visa), fee-free currency exchange, commission-free stock trading, cryptocurrency exchange and peer-to-peer payments. 

The Revolut mobile app supports spending and ATM withdrawals in 120 currencies and sending in 29 currencies directly from the app. It also provides customers access to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), and XRP by exchanging to or from 25 currencies.

Revolut currently charges no fees for the majority of its services (but for a capped usage), and uses interbank exchange rates for its currency exchange on weekdays, and charges a markup from 0.5% to 1.5% on weekends (to cover rate fluctuations).

In July 2019 Revolut launched commission-free NYSE & NASDAQ stocks trading within its app for customers in its “Metal” plan (not free).

Key features:

Admin feeTransaction FeeCash withdrawal FeeCard IssuerUK residents only
00None up to £200 per 30-day period, 2% aboveMastercard or VisaNo (see supported countries below)

It is supported only in the European Economic Area (EEA), Australia, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States (check their official website).

Referral offer! Get £15 once you open an account and add any amount of money using this link. (valid until Dec 9th, 2019). Steps:

  1. Install the app.
  2. Verify your identity.
  3. Add money (you can easily do it from your smartphone without extra fees).
  4. Order a physical card from the app.

Monzo

Monzo

Monzo is another very popular UK-based mobile-only bank. Originally operating through a mobile app and a prepaid debit card, in April 2017 their UK banking licence restrictions were lifted, enabling them to offer a current account.

Behind the scenes, Monzo uses TransferWise (find more about its partnership here), so rates are normally the same.

Monzo app keeps gaining popularity in the UK, and it is adding additional services regularly. Some of these are:

  • Open joint accounts.
  • Energy provider switch service.
  • Loans (3.7% APR Representative on loans of £7500 to £15000, and 19.5% on loans up to £7500).
  • Earn loyalty points.
  • Pay interest on savings (in ‘Savings Pots’ above £1,000).
  • Cash ISA (UK).

Key features:

Admin feeTransaction FeeCash withdrawal FeeCard IssuerUK residents only
00None up to £200 per 30-day period, 3% aboveMastercard or VisaYes

Starling

Starling Bank

Starling Bank is another popular digital, mobile-only bank based in the United Kingdom, operating current and business accounts, money transfers and loans.

It is a fully registered bank and a member of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), so any money you keep with them will be fully protected, up to £85,000. They also have a partnership with the Post Office, in order to allow cash to be deposited.

They pay interest rates on current account balances: 0.5% AER up to £2,000 and 0.25% up to £85,000.

Key features:

Admin feeTransaction FeeCash withdrawal FeeCard IssuerUK residents only
00None up to £200 per 30-day period, 2% aboveMastercardYes

N26

N26

N26 is a digital, mobile-only bank based in Berlin, Germany. It operates throughout most of the Eurozone, UK, Switzerland and the US, and it is expected to start operating in Brazil soon.

N26 provides a free basic current account and a debit Mastercard card to all its customers, as well as a Maestro card for their customers in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. Additionally, customers can request overdraft and investment products. N26 also offers premium accounts (N26 You and N26 Metal) which offer additional features for a monthly fee.

In the Eurozone (except Austria and Italy) ATM withdrawals are limited to five per month for primary account holders and three per month for others. N26 charges a €2 fee for any additional withdrawal. In the UK, free ATM withdrawals are unlimited.

ATM withdrawals in foreign currencies are also subject to a 1.70% fee for a basic account and are free for N26 You and Metal account holders.

Key features:

Admin feeTransaction FeeCash withdrawal FeeCard IssuerUK residents only
001.7% MastercardNo

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