Why I tried Revolut on my trip to New York – but should you?

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EDIT May 2020:  The free card offer is currently suspended due to coronavirus.  You will NOT receive a free card if you use the link in this article.

This is my review of the Revolut payment card.  Is it worth getting to save money on FX fees when you spend money abroad?

My purse does not contain any credit or debit cards that charge no foreign exchange fees.  I know that I should have tackled this issue way sooner as I’ve wasted money on unnecessary FX fees in the past. Last month, with my New York trip coming up, I needed a quick solution.

Why did I try Revolut?  Well, the honest answer to this question is that a friend, who works as cabin crew for British Airways, told me over a bottle of wine that it was a payment card (a reloadable Mastercard debit card) without any foreign exchange fees and she had been using one very successfully.

Revolut review

That said, Rob isn’t a fan of pre-paid cards such as Revolut (and Monzo, and Starling, and WeSwap), which is why he’s never covered it in the past.  As he wrote in the HFP comments section to a reader a few weeks ago:

“I don’t want to be fiddling around topping up a card and worrying about my balance every time I want to buy something.  You might as well get a free credit card with 0% foreign exchange fees – such as the Virgin Money Travel Credit Card – which would get you up to 56 days credit and lets you pay the bill for your foreign spend with your normal credit card bill. Why make life hard for yourself?”

But what does he know?! Here is what I found:

What is Revolut?

Revolut is an app that works as a digital wallet for British Pounds, Euros and US Dollars (amongst other currencies) letting you transfer money for free to friends or businesses.

An app isn’t any use in a shop, however.  To use it in the real world, you need to order a physical card – branded as a Mastercard – which will give you 0% FX fees on your spending and money withdrawals abroad.

Revolut quotes a number of different figures about the currencies it uses.  This is how I understand it:

You can physically hold a balance on the app in 16 currencies – USD, GBP, EUR, PLN, CHF, DKK, NOK, SEK, RON, SGD, HKD, AUD, NZD, TRY, ILS or ZAR.  These are the only currencies you can pre-purchase and lock in an exchange rate in advance of your trip.

You can transfer money electronically in 26 different currencies.  If the currency isn’t on the list above, it will be exchanged at the spot rate from another balance.

You can spend money in 120 currencies.  If the currency isn’t on the list above, eg Thai Baht, Revolut converts it at spot rate and deducts it from another balance.

The company was founded in 2015 and has just raised $66m in a Series B funding allowing for more features to be added, with the goal of turning it into a fully fledged bank.  If you were wondering how it makes money charging 0% FX fees, the answer is “it doesn’t”.  The company announced a pre-tax loss of £7.1 in 2016 on just £2m of revenue.

Revolut card reviews

How do I open a Revolut account?

You must be at least 18 years old to apply.

Firstly you need to open App Store or Google Play and download the Revolut app. You can also sign up on the Revolut website here.

You need to verify the account with your phone number and can start adding money from your bank account or using a credit card (Mastercard or VISA).

If you want a physical card, and if you’re planning to use Revolut for payments abroad you will need the card, you can order one via the app. This usually costs £5 but we have a special deal with Revolut for our readers.

If you order via our Revolut link here, you will get the physical card free of charge.

Insert your mobile number and click on the URL Revolut will send to your phone. This will open the Google Play or Apple App Store.  Download the app, open it and create an account, which takes 30 seconds.

You need to top up £10 before you can select and order your free card (standard delivery).  Verify your identity (tap more -> profile -> verify identity) and your card will be with you in a few days.   If you want express delivery you do need to pay for this (£12) so stick with standard delivery, which saves you £5 via our link.

You need to verify your identity with your passport, driving licence or ID card if you want to spend more than a total of £500 with your Revolut card.

As well as the UK, you can also get a Revolut card if you live in:  Aland Islands, Austria, Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Réunion, Romania, Saint Helena, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, St. Martin or Sweden.

How does Revolut work?

You can top up your Revolut account by bank transfer, debit or credit card.  There is a 1% fee for credit card top ups.

My TSB credit card treats Revolut top-ups as a ‘purchase’.  Comment online suggest that some credit cards treat Revolut as a cash advance (no points, cash fee) and others as a purchase (would earn points, no fee).  There could be potential here for ‘purchasing’ frequent flyer miles relatively cheaply if you had a very high earning Visa or Mastercard such as the Virgin Atlantic Rewards card although I haven’t tested Revolut with one of those.

The money will sit in your Revolut account in the currency you’ve topped up but you can move it in between your different currency accounts at the current spot exchange rate.  If you have a bank account in the UK, are travelling to the US in a couple of weeks and the current exchange rate feels exceptionally good, you could exchange your money in advance to avoid a possibly worse exchange rate later.  This works for the 16 currencies I listed above.

What does the Revolut app look like?

Below is a screenshot of the home screen.

Revolut screenshot

As well as showing your British Pounds, Euro and US Dollar balances, the home screen shows your last transactions.  Remember that Revolut can hold a balance in 16 currencies in total, not just these three.

At the bottom are further options: Accounts, Analytics, Transfer Options and Cards.

Spending money on Revolut

The main reason I decided to try Revolut was to use it in stores and restaurants in New York without paying FX fees.

Let’s get the annoying bit out of the way first:  you pretty much need to know how much you will be spending before leaving the house / hotel / wifi zone, in order to ensure your Revolut card has a high enough balance.  Outside Europe, you could be hit with a hefty mobile bill if you had to turn on data roaming just to top up your card.

Every store and restaurant accepted my card and I had no issues paying.

Sending money with Revolut

After my New York trip I had £119.05 left on my Revolut card.  As it’s stupid to have money sitting on a card that doesn’t pay you interest – and probably helps the company make money with your money – I wanted to transfer the money back into my bank account.

I had to set myself up as a beneficiary by entering my bank details manually and was then able to select the amount of money I wanted to transfer. I got a notification that I’d receive my money the same day and within less than an hour the money was in my current account.

As well as paying money back into your own account you can also pay another person or a business with your Revolut app. Simply add the bank details and your money will be transferred.

Your Revolut account can also double as a regular UK and/or Euro bank account.  Your card has its own sort code and account number.  This is how the company sees the product developing.  They hope that you will pay your salary into your Revolut account, use the card for all of your spending at home or abroad and also pay your bills with it.

The travel benefits being used to sell the card now are a loss leader to get you on board in order to offer you full banking later on, backed by the $66m they just raised.  Revolut already offers personal loans at a high 9.9% APR, with the money dropped instantly onto your card.

What else should you know?

Revolut isn’t really free, although you are able to avoid all of the costs if you are savvy.

The £5 postage fee to order your plastic card is waived if you use our links on this page (which is a link that Revolut has made available to a lot of travel sites for their readers).

In theory all you need to do is top up your money and use Revolut as a normal payment card. It will exchange the currency automatically without adding fees.

At the weekend Revolut uses the exchange rate from Friday and adds a mark up depending on the currency, usually 0.5%.  If you want genuinely free transfers, make sure you do them between Monday and Friday.

Free cash withdrawals are limited to £200 per month.  After that you pay 2%.

For very heavy users, even spending on the card is not free.  There is fee of 0.5% when you spend over £5,000 in any one month.

Here is an overview of the charges:

A spare Revolut card costs £5 + £5 delivery fee

Transfers to friends or businesses take two business days – you must pay £5 to get the money across in one business day

Transactions of up to £5,000 per month are free, thereafter the fee is 0.5%

At the weekend Revolut uses the exchange rate from Friday 23:59 and adds, for most currencies, a 0.5% mark up

Three currencies DO incur a fee when spending – Thai Baht (1.5%), Russian Ruble (1.5%), Ukrainian Hryvnia (1%)

You can withdraw up to £200 per month from an ATM without paying a fee, but you pay 2% after that

To increase the ATM limit to £400 per month, you need to pay £6.99 fee each month to become a ‘Premium’ cardholder.  Premium cardholders also avoid the £5,000 per month cap on transactions.

Conclusion – is Revolut worth it?

My only alternative to Revolut on my New York trip would have been my American Express Preferred Rewards Gold charge card with a 3% FX fee.  Even though I would have earned 2 Membership Rewards points per £1 spent (foreign transactions earn double points) the Revolut option was still cheaper, assuming I value a Membership Rewards point at 1p.

(If you don’t know much about the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card, take a look at this article we wrote.  You get 10,000 Membership Rewards points – worth £50 of shopping vouchers or many other things – for spending £3000 within 90 days.  The card is free for the first year and you get two free airport lounge passes!  You can cancel at any point before the fee for the 2nd year comes around.)

Using Revolut instead of a credit card doesn’t hurt your credit record which is a good thing.  Taking out a 0% credit card purely to use abroad may make it harder to get other credit cards unless you ask for a very low limit.

Obviously the FX rates are great and if you don’t mind the hassle of having to top up your money via an app in order to use the card, Revolut is a good solution when travelling abroad.

However,there are other options.  Curve is a hybrid solution – you pay a 1% FX fee on purchases abroad but the transaction is recharged to any other Visa or Mastercard which could earn you up to 1% in rewards. (Curve is free and you will be paid £5 for trying it.)  There are also other online banking options such as N26 (our review of N26 is here).

I will definitely keep my Revolut card as it’s very useful if I have to send money back home to Germany (I had to pay a fee of £10 last time I did this thanks to Lloyds) and for now I will put up with the need to keep topping up and transferring money back.

Long term I think I will look into the Virgin Money Travel Credit Card or something similar which has 0% foreign exchange fees on purchases abroad.

The Revolut website is here.  This link will waive the £5 delivery fee for the plastic card if you follow the instructions above, topping it up with £10.

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Comments

  1. i guess Revolut makes money everytime the card is used and a fee is charged to the merchant, no ?

  2. AndyF says:

    OT: My partner cancelled her Lloyds Avios Card back in March. As the 0% interest offer finished. She wants to take the card out again as it’s got a 29 month 0% offer on currently (great when doing up a house and earning Avios)! Does anyone know how long it would be, until she is treated as a new customer again for this offer?

    • Never, if you want the refer a friend bonus. I know people refused a Lloyds bonus for having a different card 10 years ago.

      However, everyone would get a standard opening offer (if accepted) unless the rules specifically mention new customers.

      • Alex W says:

        I have had a Lloyds card twice and got the 0% interest deal both times. I also wangled getting the refer a friend bonus because first card was Premier and being a previous holder of that card wasn’t specifically mentioned in the T&C’s.

        • AndyF says:

          Thank you! I wasn’t sure if it was a strict time frame like having to wait 6 months then reapply to get the 0% offer again. I have tried looking through the documentation but I couldn’t find anything on it.

          • Wally1976 says:

            I got a second Lloyds Avios card recently and still got the refer-a-friend offer as well as all the other benefits. A few weeks back I wrote a ‘how to’ guide in the comments on here but basically you have to change the email address on your avios.com account and do the referral to that address (you can change it back later).

          • And have the Avios account set to ‘please send me junk email’

  3. Harry says:

    Santander Zero Credit Card has returned and also offers a very attractive payment card for foreign transactions with 0% fees and cash withdrawals.

    Have a look
    http://www.santander.co.uk/uk/credit-cards/zero-credit-card

    • Genghis says:

      Looks identical to Halifax Clarity but without the £20 sign up bonus for new customers?

  4. Lev441 says:

    On the topic of revolut – they’ve announced they are doing a round of crowdfunding…. http://news.revolut.com/post/163319147482/crowdfunding-coming-soon

  5. Philip bramley says:

    Halifax clarity or Nationwide gold , the latter only in Europe , clarity has slightly better forex daily rate i have noticed , but have not checked as a comparison recently mastercard against visa .

    • RussellH says:

      In my experience, ie since the early 1980s, MasterCard has always offered better value than Visa.

      A week ago today I got £1=$1.305 on a PO MasterCard, but only £1=$1.295 on a Visa Debit card.

  6. Adrian says:

    Doesn’t the Barclays Platinum Travel card make all of the rest of these cards obsolete? You could take the Halifax clarity with a free £20 as an alternative. Free local currency withdrawals and no interest for 56 days with 0% on overseas transactions is there any reason not to get one of these?
    How will Barclays make any money out of this?

    • They’re not LOSING any money giving you 0% FX transactions, just not making an extra cut on top. They still get the interchange fee paid by the shop, and they are betting you will use the card for all of your spending, not just travel.

      Bizarrely Barclays has encouraged me NOT to cover this product – not an instruction I am fully sticking to – presumably because they think our readers will only get it for holiday spend.

    • For someone applying for a new 0% card this would certainly seem to be the top option, rather than Halifax Clarity or PO Money. A bit weird though that they’ve got it in bold that the fee-free nature is only until 31/8/22 – I could understand if this was 6/12 or a year away but to but a bold warning for 5 years away seems a bit unusual (given the T&Cs will undoubtedly let them make variations anyway).

      • Ronster says:

        Good afternoon everyone.

        I wonder if anyone has a direct comparison for best rates usage for the following cards:-

        1.Halifax Clarity
        2.Lloyds Avios
        3.Barclays Platinum Travel card.

        A)Is there a general consensus on which card offers more foreign currency value when paying abroad? (Not for cash withdrawals)

        B) Is this dependent on a Visa or MasterCard or the actual bank providing the card?

        C)Is the Lloyds card going to be less competitive, simply by it offering Avios?In other words is there any evidence that Lloyds are actually charging you for any Avios earned by offering a worse exchange rate?

        Many Thanks

        R

        • Lloyds is clearly better because of the Avios, albeit you’ve got the £24 fee. The other two have free cash withdrawals though.

          It is all much of a muchness though. You’ve gone from 2.99% to 0%, trying to shave off a few basis points on the basis of whether Visa or MC has the best wholesale rate seems a bit too much like hard work.

        • the_real_a says:

          I have done some comparisons between Visa and Mastercard rates. As i understand it the main difference is that the exchange rate DATE is determined slightly differently.

          Mastercard charges the FX on the settlement date (typically 5 days after the transaction date) whilst Visa “fixes” the FX on the transaction date – and take the risk of FX movement between the transaction data and settlement date.

          So as to which is better depends on how you feel the FX rate will move in those 5 days.

  7. Another happy revolut user here! As of Lloyd’s amex, try to use it in a resort somewhere in Philippines (where revolut worked like a charm saving me tens of pounds) on a single transaction.

  8. JK101 says:

    I have a Revolut card and use it regularly. Broadly speaking, I like it, but there are a few annoying features.

    As others have pointed out, the spot FX rate is extremely beneficial. I’m British but work in the USA so need to spend my GBP in USD quite often. I used the Revolut card to exchange a few grand before the election knowing that the exchange rate may well take a hit. When it did, that saved me a good amount of cash that no amount of avios earning from a Lloyds card would get me.

    I’ve also used it to transfer USD into my US bank account without any issues or charges at all, which wouldn’t be the case if I had just done it from my current account.

    I visitied Ukraine recently and used it without problems – which was handy because it turned out that nowhere accepted Amex there.

    The app is also pretty handy, especially as it allows you to block the card and change the PIN if necessary.

    The FX uplift at weekends is extremely irritating, though, as is their annoying automated support bot system.

    All in, I think Revolut is an excellent card/app if you use it appropriately. I don’t think it’s a direct comparison for a points earning credit card though. I do admit my usage and spending patterns might be a little niche, though.

  9. the pitch says:

    It would be great if Rob or Anika could do a review of Starling Bank. There are very few customer reviews of them online.

    • the_real_a says:

      What do you need to know? Its an APP based current account. You get a mastercard debit card, which charges no fees/commissions abroad (ie. you get the MasterCard rate for purchases). Top up the account either via BACS or a debit card.

      • Genghis says:

        Nice review 🙂

        • the_real_a says:

          haha – it was a genuine invitation for questions on any specifics as have been using it beta 🙂

          (I forgot to mention no ATM fees, or limits abroad too)

          • Worth adding that the app is very attractive and easy to use, and the process for setting up an account is virtually instant, provided you can avoid the waiting list. Also, it pays interest on balances – not much, but more than a lot of savings accounts.

            I use Starling for foreign travel. Three things put me off using it as my main account:

            1. Systems have occasionally gone down, meaning cards don’t work for a few hours. They need to sort this!
            2. Joint accounts are not possible – nor it appears are they planned. This is essential for our main account.
            3. There appears to be no option of a cheque book. We only write a couple of cheques a year, but still deal with builders etc who insist on payment by cheque.

  10. For fee-free forex, I love my Aqua card – meant for low income.credit builders, but I now have a £1500 limit with it and no-one minds if you pay off a balance early, so no problem to put £5k through it in a month.

    Not only that, but they give me 1% in cash rewards!

    • Roger I* says:

      Keep at it and your limit should magically increase. Mine is just below 5k. I have somehow got 4 0% f/x cards but this is my favourite.

      But 1% c/b? (Gulp!) Mine is 0.5%.

  11. RussellH says:

    And a year ago, using the same bank of ticket machines in the Copenhagen Metro, £1=DKK8.9552 on MasterCard, £1=DKK8.71 on Visa.

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