TRAVEL CARD REVIEWS: A quick look at Starling Bank and its 0% FX fees debit card

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This is our review of Starling Bank and their 0% FX fees debit card.

The Starling Bank website is here but you need to download their app if you want to open an account.

Why should I get a 0% foreign exchange fee card for travelling?

As the Lloyds Avios Rewards Mastercard is no longer available to new applicants, there are no travel rewards credit cards which offer fee-free overseas purchases.

If you use a rewards credit card when travelling, you will incur a fee of 3% on everything you buy. This can never be justified by the miles and points earned on the transaction. It may be justified if you need to hit a spending target to trigger a sign-up bonus or a voucher such as the British Airways American Express 2-4-1.

Over the next week or so we are looking at a few no and low FX fee options. We reviewed Tandem a few weeks ago (click here). Here is our review of the WeSwap Mastercard travel money card and here is our review of Revolut.  We will also be looking at some 0% credit cards.

All of these products have different features – there is no ‘right’ answer. Some are more fiddly than others, some are prepaid cards and some are credit cards, some have added benefits such as 0% interest on purchases.

If you DO want to earn miles and points from your foreign spending, the best option is Curve Card. Curve is free and has a 1% foreign exchange fee (2/3rd lower than most cards). It recharges your purchase to any other Visa or Mastercard you own in Sterling. This means you earn miles and points on the underlying card without paying the usual 2.99% foreign transaction fee. Curve Card will pay you £5 for trying it outread our article here.

What is Starling Bank?

I wasn’t planning to write about Starling Bank as part of this series of articles, but a number of people mentioned it in the comments to the Revolut review so I thought I would take a look.

Starling Bank is effectively where Revolut wants to be, but isn’t yet.  It is a full ‘online bank on a debit card’ and unlike Revolut has full FSCS compensation up to £85,000 if the company goes bust.

Starling won ‘Best British Bank’ and ‘Best Current Account Provider’ in the 2018 British Bank Awards.

Some of the services offered by Starling Bank will be familiar to Revolut or Monzo users:

0% foreign exchange fees when you use your Starling Bank debit card outside the UK

no cash withdrawal or foreign exchange fees when you use your card at an ATM abroad

you can send money via their app in 19 currencies to bank accounts in 37 different countries

the card and account are free

There are also some interesting additional features:

Starling Bank pays you interest on the credit balance on your account (0.5% up to £2,000 and 0.25% between £2,000 and £85,000)

It has high ATM withdrawal limits (Revolut has a £200 per month cap on the free card, Starling has a £300 per day limit I believe)

You can apply for an overdraft (interest applies) which will allow to spend even when the money pre-loaded onto your card runs out

Works with Apple Pay and Fitbit Pay

Other features include the ability to lock the card from within the Starling app if it is lost or stolen.

Starling Bank is a fully licensed bank.  You can, if you wish, pay your salary onto your debit card or ask friends and family to send money to your card using the standard sort code and account number format.

You can also set up direct debits and standing orders to be paid from your Starling balance, because this is a ‘proper’ online-only current account.

There is one other additional feature of using Starling Bank as opposed to taking cash withdrawals abroad from a credit card.  ATM withdrawals via a credit card can show on your credit file and some potential lenders may take a negative view of this (they may think you are desperate for cash).  As Starling is taking money from your own credit balance, it will not show on your credit file.  Revolut will also not leave a trace on your credit file but they limit ATM withdrawals to £200 per month.


This is only a brief overview of what Starling Bank has to offer.  I have no experience of it myself but a lot of HFP readers were very positive about it in their comments to the Revolut article.

It is important to note that this is a ‘proper’ current account.  You can, of course, download the Starling Bank app, open an account to get the debit card and use it purely for travel purposes, but you will end up with a 2nd current account in your name.

There is no obligation to pay your salary into Starling however.  You can fund your account via the app using a debit card from your main bank.

As this is a travel site, I don’t want to go into the specifics of how Starling Bank works as a current account provider.  What we can say is that – with 0% fees on foreign spending and cash withdrawals – it ticks the two main boxes you want in a card to use abroad.

If you are not willing to use Starling Bank as a full current account, you may find a product like Revolut (albeit that Revolut is also transitioning into being a ‘proper’ current account and has a low ATM limit of £200 per month) or a standard 0% foreign exchange credit card cleaner. Remember that as your Starling card is a debit card and not a credit card, you do not get Section 75 protection if you have problems with any item purchased abroad.

If you currently use Starling Bank, please let us know via the comments how you find it.

The Starling Bank website is here if you want to find out more.  To apply, download their app.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

My review of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at New York JFK
Bits: Club Aspire at Gatwick North, Virgin moves Las Vegas to Heathrow & adds Barbados, Virgin car rental deals
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  1. melonfarmer says:

    I took Curve, Monzo, Tandem, WeSwap (£15 free on Wuntu), and Barclays (debit) cards when I went to the US recently.

    Tandem was fine for anything that could go on a credit card (0% FX).

    However, for cash withdrawals/ATMs of <$100 it was cheaper to pay Barclays' FX fee (2.75%) and use their affiliation with Bank of America than use any of the fintech solutions due to the ATM fees e.g. Nevada State Bank charged $3 per use and Wells Fargo charged $5.

    It may only be a couple of dollars here and there, but don't automatically think that fintech banks are the best option.

    • mark2 says:

      The Barclays Premium Travel credit card has zero FX on purchases and ATM and no interest If paid off on normal day.

    • Lumma says:

      I found in Boston last summer that Chase ATMs didn’t charge anything when withdrawing cash where others charged up to $5 with my Starling account.

      Not that you really need to withdraw any cash in the USA

    • Genghis says:

      I’ve been in US for a couple of weeks now and must have only spent about $10 in cash. Cash isn’t really needed.

      • Crafty says:

        Tips at bars surely? And buying MetroCards in NYC was much less of a faff using cash.

        • Genghis says:

          All goes on card on the places I go to anyway. Enter 5 x 6s as zip code on MTA machines to pay by card

    • Thats interesting about Barclays card. We have a standard Barclays account but I was not aware of any tie up with Bank of America.
      Does this tie up mean that if we withdraw cash in, say , New York from a Bank of America cash machine that we don’t get charged to use the machine (although the foreign currency fee will still apply)?

  2. Richard says:

    The benefit of withdrawing cash abroad doesn’t have much of a future in my opinion, given the increasing ease of using contactless credit cards for small purchases and the likes of Uber instead of cabs. Only likely to be needed for tips in the future.

    • I agree. In the places I tend to go you don’t use it. I think we took out £100 in Sweden at Easter and came back 12 days later with £25 (because idiot me forgot to settle part of the hotel bill with it) and if we hadn’t spent a lot in a market (where the traders were equally happy to take cards) we wouldn’t have used more than £20.

      • Many Swedish hotels don’t accept cash any more! I bring excess SEK to Thailand where it can be exchanged at Superrich in BKK for THB at spot rate

    • Depends where you go, cash is not going away any time soon in places such as the Caribbean, South America, Africa, some parts of Asia, even Germany and Spain

      • RussellH says:

        Particularly Germany. Big cities, yes, you can often pay with cards thre. Small towns and villages? No way!

        Even where places do take cards, they only accept GERMAN debit cards, not Visa / Maestro Debit M/card.

        Small Gasthöfe (inns etc), even quite posh ones, often simply have no easy way of accepting card payments for food and drink.

        Switzerland used to be even more extreme when I lived there – cash was really the only possible way of paying, even in upmarket shops. But it has changed, in ways that Germany has not.

        • I was very surprised when we holidayed in Germany a couple of years ago that my cards were not widely accepted. Good job I could withdraw some cash on my credit card.

    • the_real_a says:

      Not really true if you visit Asia. The continent is very much a cash society. The places that do accept cards typically also add 3% to the bill.

      • Jamie says:

        Likewise in Australia – many hotels there add c.2% fee to the bill for credit card usage.

        • guesswho2000 says:

          They do, in fact card surcharges are everywhere in Australia (I had to pay 2c to pay by card in WHSmith in Brisbane to buy a can of Coke a couple of weeks back), but Aus is definitely not a cash society. In fact Paywave is pretty much the norm for everything, the limit being $100, so you can actually make meaningful transactions, like a tank of petrol!

          I even went to a beer festival in Melbourne on Saturday – no cash permitted, everything was credit card only.

        • Although AIUI it’s only if paying at checkout, prepaid rates don’t appear to attract the surcharge.

  3. Memesweeper says:

    I got Starling and ‘switched’ my current account from Nationwide. Cash deposits aside, it is superior to any other bank I’ve dealt with. The app is for me a perfect way to manage my money. It used to be a bit flawed if you needed to make transfers out to the same bank account but with different references (think Amex card repayments) but that’s fixed now.

    I also have Curve and Revolut. But these are niche, and outside of the regular traveler/points collector markets are hard to justify. Starling feels like a full banking service and I could confidently recommend it to anyone who is comfortable doing all their banking via a mobile app. They even support Apple Pay. All my income goes it, and all my payments go out, via Starling.

    I’m keeping my HSBC for the Premier benefits.

    I’m keeping my Curve for some payments I’d like to make hit a credit card not directly a bank, plus my £200/month cash withdrawal.

    I’m keeping my Revolut but no longer using it so much.

    My referral code is D5BAWD6J – if you use this you might get signed up to their service a bit faster, and I get a heart-shaped icon appear in the app. Sadly no free fivers like Curve! I want to see them succeed so if you sign up why not try it as a main account and not just a means to get cheaper cash abroad?

    • Memesweeper says:

      One downside: occasionally they take the service down for maintenance for a hour or two on Sunday night/Monday morning. I’ve not tried to use the service then so don’t know if that’s everything down or just ATMs or card payments. Might be an issue if you’re in another time zone I guess, but they do provide warnings ahead of time.

    • Can you pay cheques in to Starling? I know its getting less of an issue but we still do get some.

  4. Simon says:

    I have Starling. Can’t fault their app or support, and very easy to move money into it from my main current account’s app while overseas, and then withdraw that (needs a little bit of planning, but I move a chunk over while waiting to fly and then keep an eye on it). Reasonable current account interest rate too.
    The 0% on foreign withdrawals isn’t a no-brainer because of the ATM fees commonly found overseas. I keep it as a back-up to curve which has become indispensable. Also means I have been able to close my longstanding PO credit card which I only used overseas, which helps the credit rating a bit.

  5. Not a fan says:

    Be careful with Starling. They decided to close my account which I accept they can for no reason, but they then fail to follow their own terms and conditions and fail to return the funds that were in the account. Clause 34.1 states they will return funds upon closure.

    • FOS and MCOL them.

    • the_real_a says:

      They cannot “steal” your money. That’s ridiculous, you have either not provided the relevant KYC documents or something more is at play here. As the above poster says you have many routes to resolve this – as with all registered banks start with a FOS complaint.

  6. Can the account be funded with any debit card – and does this go through as a purchase or cash? What about credit cards?

    • Genghis says:

      Yes to debit. Does it make a difference, purchase vs cash?
      No to credit cards

      • Genghis says:

        Cash / payment to a financial institution in terms of Tesco debit card if that’s your thinking

        • Genghis says:

          And some specific BINs are blocked

        • thanks Genghis…any experience with successfully topping up using debit cards that can be linked to other debit/credit cards?

  7. Starling is a bank so you deposit money by Faster Payments or BACS

    • My question was in response to this statement in the original post: “You can fund your account via the app using a debit card from your main bank.”

      • Mikeact says:

        Have you not answered your own question?

        • guesswho2000 says:

          I’m guessing they’re asking – can you use Curve, to which the answer would presumably be no. Curve’s systems were surprisingly good at detecting this sort of activity…

  8. Harrier25 says:

    Unlike other internet/mobile phone app banks, cash can be deposited into your Starling Bank current account at any NatWest branch. You need to use these details for the deposit…Account Number: 48588725. Sort Code: 60-00-01. The reference is your surname and your personal Starling Bank 8 digit account number.

  9. Richard Cooper says:

    Those people saying you don’t need cash in the USA can’t be driving far. Nearly all toll roads only take cash or pre-paid arrangements. Some unmanned tolls only take the exact cash payment and don’t give change.

    • Sadly quite a few of them don’t offer cash options now so you’re stuck with the tollpass systems 🙁 The whole of Massachusetts has moved to cashless tolls I believe.

      • the_real_a says:

        This is something to be aware of when using a rental car. The charge in New York was $30 a DAY for the rental of the electronic payment equipment alone.

    • Funtime says:

      I’ve done 45 out off the 50 states and never had a problem without cash. Thought the days of chucking in your coins in the toll booths was long gone.

      • Peter K says:

        I friend of mine had this issue last year driving through New York State heading from and then back to Canada. They ran out of cash at the last toll and no cards were accepted. Eventually they were let through with no charge but it was all cash, no card.

  10. I stayed in Japan for about 2 weeks. I always had to withdraw cash as quite many merchants there don’t take cards. In this scenario revolut’s monthly allowance is far from enough. Starling would be a better option, and seems to be the only option if you need to withdraw cash frequently.

    • I use Halifax Clarity in Jpn @ 7-11 ATMs

      It’s ideal. Plus a Suica/PASMO IC card works great for most travel and incidentals.

  11. Does anyone know of a card (or an account that can be opened from the UK) that allows you to *hold* Malaysia Ringgit? I use Revolut, and have looked at several others, but none of them seem to support MYR beyond immediate exchange-and-send.

    • the real harry1 says:
      • Thanks Harry – had a feeling that might be the way to go 🙂

        Curious to know whether any of the newbie banks have anything – most seem to have the same list of ‘primary’ currencies, which sadly doesn’t include MYR (along with many others, of course).

        • the real harry1 says:

          Like Raffles, I used to work for them so have a deep-seated view of their absolute professional approach to international banking. Don’t forget: HSBC acquired Midland Bank, HSBC is not a UK bank but an international bank and the UK is one element in the mix. It’s a 3-legged stool (as the old boss of HSBC told me when we had dinner together) – Europe, Asia, North America. Though they had me working in the Middle East!)

        • They were, of course, secretly running a full bank for Mexican gangsters and drug dealers to allow them to launder their income during this time …..

  12. Tilly71 says:

    OT: anyone else been waiting a long time recently for avios booked flight refunds of points and taxes?

    • I had to ring BA recently to get the Avios back on a cancellation (cash had been returned by then, but no miles after a week). Call centre did it whilst I was on the phone. This has always been a buggy IT area for BA.

  13. Roger1* says:

    Thanks, Rob, for covering non-core topics like interesting bank accounts. AFAIK there’s no other forum – MSE goes part of the way but with a different clientele.

    Mikeact said at 20 May 2018 at 09:17
    With the memory failing (!) I could do with an easy to look at comparison guide of all these cards …
    Yes! It seems like there’s a new contender almost every day and each probably has USPs.

    I’m still in Help-The-Boss mode. As I mentioned in the Revolut thread, she receives regular CHF credits from a former employer in Switzerland. The USP I’m looking for is fee-free or low fee credits with multi-currency options – CHF, GBP, USD, ZAR … She currently banks with Nationwide in the UK who I imagine will take serious commission from incoming CHF credits.

    Starling may be the one …? Has anybody experience of crediting zero or low fee foreign currency credits to a current account?

  14. Mike Boucher says:

    I’ve used Starling for the last 18 months with various trips in the EU and Worldwide. It’s fantastic, you get an up to date rate (which is confimable on google), no fees and even a notification of what you spent in GBP! Means that you never have to worry about calculating what you spent using a rough estimation.

    I also unfortunately had to use the ‘lock card’ option in South Africa and was offered a new ‘virtual card’ in ApplePay. Although I didn’t use it, this would be a good back up if it is accepted.

  15. Hayden says:

    Absolutely LOVE Starling Bank. The rates you receive on an international transaction are amazing compared to any other bank, the overdraft fees are capped at £2 a month, customer service 24/7, instant information and statements can be produced in seconds mid month.

  16. I opened a starling & revoult card at the same time
    both cards arrived on the same day in identical packaging except for the design, etc.
    I thought they may be the same company behind them both

    • Daniel says:

      A lot of these FinTech type provider tend to outsource certain elements, so it’s not uncommon for them to be using the same firm for say transaction processing or card creation.

  17. Roger1* says:

    Thanks, Harry. I recognise the inside track but AIUI, in our situation, we would need to open 2 HSBC accounts – one in Switzerland and one in the UK which is at least one account too many – and still not have the flexibility of some of these virtual cards.

    Oh, btw, my first ‘proper’ job was with Midland Bank.

  18. How can you avoid fees withdrawing cash in the US?

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