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TRAVEL CARD REVIEWS: A look at Monzo and its 0% FX fees debit card

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This is our review of Monzo and its 0% FX fees debit card.

The Monzo 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 last few weeks we have been 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, here is our review of Revolut and here is our review of Starling Bank.  I summarised all of the standard credit cards with 0% FX fees here.

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.

Monzo card reviewed

What is Monzo?

Monzo has moved on rapidly since it launched and is now, like Starling Bank, a full ‘online bank on a debit card’.  Like Starling, but unlike Revolut, it has full FSCS compensation up to £85,000 if the company goes bust.

The original Monzo product – a prepaid travel money card which could be topped up via an app – has now morphed into the current account.  There is no waiting list at present.  The company claims to have over 700,000 users although it isn’t clear how many of those are on the new current account and how many simply have the free prepaid travel money card.

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

the card and account are free

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

top-up via bank transfer or debit card, or have your salary paid onto your card (no credit card top-up possible)

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

you can send and receive money to friends with Monzo accounts very quickly via the app

a £200 per month fee free ATM withdrawal limit, with a 3% fee thereafter (note that Starling Bank has no limits)

free £20 overdraft and after that you pay a fixed 50p per day – this is an optional feature which, if turned on, is included on your credit file

works with Apple Pay

Other features include the ability to lock the card from within the Monzo app if it is lost or stolen, instant notifications for all transactions and the ability to set spending targets in the app for categories such as eating out or groceries.

Monzo Bank Ltd. 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 Monzo balance, because this is a ‘proper’ online-only current account.

There is another additional feature of using Monzo as opposed to withdrawing cash on a credit card.  ATM withdrawals via a credit card can show on your credit file.  Some potential lenders may take a negative view of this (they may think you are desperate for cash). As Monzo is taking money from your own credit balance, it will not show on your credit file.

The only issue is that Monzo limits free ATM withdrawals outside the UK to £200 per month and charges a 3% fee thereafter.  This could be an issue in countries where card acceptance is lower.  Starling Bank does not have this limit and could be the swing factor if you withdraw a lot of money abroad.

Monzo card bank review

Conclusion

This is only a brief overview of what Monzo Bank has to offer. I have no experience of it myself but, like Starling Bank, a lot of HFP readers have posted very positive comments about it.  The quality of record keeping, and the various ways you can search and track your spending, seem particularly popular.

It is important to note that this is a ‘proper’ current account. You can, of course, download the Monzo 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.  It’s also not clear how many people are on the waiting list and how long it will take to actually open an account.

There is no obligation to pay your salary into Monzo.  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 Monzo 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 Monzo 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 also has a low ATM limit of £200 per month) or a standard 0% foreign exchange credit card cleaner. Remember that as your Monzo 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 Monzo, please let us know via the comments how you find it.

The Monzo 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.)

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Comments

  1. Andrew25 says:

    Would like to see the proof you have regarding Monzo being the most popular travel card because I doubt that it is.

    • Crafty says:

      About 80% of my friends (I am 29) have Monzo cards.

      I only don’t for a highly irrational reason.

      It’s definitely extremely popular in its target market, which I would guess is high earning 25-40 year olds in London.

  2. vlcnc says:

    Certainly amongst people I know personally and through work it is easily the most popular card. Most haven’t heard of Revolut or Starlings – I’d say Monzo easily has the best recognition out there.

    Also got offered a No FX card from NatWest my regular bank so suspect this is something that is being recognised as an attractive benefit so predict a lot of people will be offered this going forward from the traditional banks.

  3. This may be an age thing – or a professional thing – but I know no-one who has heard of Monzo or Starling; maybe just maybe Revolut. But then I don’t spend my social/work life discussing credit cards or banks. That being said I’ve occasionally heard people say socially that they collect “air mlles” with their credit cards. That’s as far as it goes, although I’ve tried to gently encourage. This thread is niche in the wider scheme of things.

    • vlcnc says:

      I think you are right it is probably an age thing – would say Monzo users are generally younger. Also it’s precisely why Monzo has been so effective – the people talking about it are not people who normally talk about debit cards but they are talking about Monzo to their friends it’s how I heard about it and bow other people heard it from me!

    • the_real_a says:

      This is definitely an age thing. I’m a member of quite a few travel groups on facebook and millennial/backpacker types pretty much exclusively have Monzo or Revolut. They don’t travel with laptops so run their lives via a smartphone. Who knows if they are the most popular, but Monzo`s own figures of millions of accounts holds true from what i have seen.

      • The website figure is 700k for Monzo.

      • the_real_a says:

        Very true. It was Revolut claiming 1.5m users!

      • Lumma says:

        To be fair, from what I see at work (I work in a restaurant) Monzo is one of the most common cards I see after the debit cards from the main banks, Starling I’ve seen maybe once.

        It’s the same with the rewards credit cards, take out Tesco credit cards and the two BA cards probably outnumber every other reward cards put together.

    • That’s quite interesting – any anecdotal info on the average age of your customers?

  4. Arun T says:

    Monzo are extremely popular in the under 35, London based market. Step outside of London however and it’s a very different story.

    That said Rob, I think you underestimate just how many “millennials” read your website – plenty!

  5. William says:

    Can I ask about Nationwide credit card – a 1% Fx fee for cash but no fee for purchases .. am I right?
    Have used CaxtonFx MasterCard preloaded for years no Fx fees on purchases and £200 ish cash per day again no fee
    Preload via a phone app and although you load it in say Euro’s or whatever currency it is at their rate which seems competitive.
    Is it worth revisiting CaxtonFx on here Rob ?
    Have transferred money to relatives abroad and saved a lot on bank transfer fees too !! Useful for travelers who might have an overseas account.

  6. sedgie252 says:

    I have been a fan of Monzo since I got one of their prepaid cards. Now I have a current a/c debit card. Definitely not a millennial (I’m 53) but I value the app features e.g. instant top-ups by pre-saved debit card, instant detailed notifications of transactions, the ability to add my own descriptions to purchases.

    I had cause to try out the in-app live chat recently when I declined a $200 ATM withdrawal in San Francisco (I didn’t like the provider’s fee) but the money was debited from my Monzo balance anyway. Without mobile data (horrifically expensive) it was an hour later, using cafe wi-fi, that I found out. I gave the chat assistant the details and was told that the money should be refunded after 7 days, if not contact them again. On my return to the UK I used live chat again and Monzo credited my account without question.

  7. Andrew25 says:

    If you search the internet you’ll find the Starling Bank are in the best position as they were first to win a full banking licence and have the most funding.

  8. Imbruce1 says:

    As mentioned above about smart meters is a little known fact that once you change energy
    suppliers the smart functionality of the meter is defunct because the meters are supplied by
    the energy companies and each company cannot access the other companies online features,
    if you moved from say Eon to BG then back to Eon they cannot pick up the details again.
    As usual our government made a mess of things when they gave the go ahead to instal
    the meters and did not follow the EU guidelines, eg getting National Grid to instal meters we would not have this issue.

    • the_real_a says:

      Depends on the model… had an EON meter fitted last year which is next gen compliant so can be used by other companies. Also some energy companies are using a third party intermediary company to “convert” the data supplied by gen 1 meters.

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