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 out – read our article here.
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.
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 points from credit cards? – January 2021 update
If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our January 2021 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus.
British Airways American Express
5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending Read our full review
Earning miles and points from small business cards
If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these:
American Express Business Gold
20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review
American Express Business Platinum
40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
Earn both Avios and BA On Business points with your business spending Read our full review
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review
Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.