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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. Roger1* says:

    Joe, if it’s instant notification of a card purchase you need, try the Tandem Mastercard. Till staff at Woolworths and elsewhere in South Africa were impressed by the almost instant ‘ding’ last month.

    I have the original Santander Zero MC (no monthly fee) but haven’t used it now for well over a year. Time to cancel, I think.

  2. Doug M says:

    Which, if any of these ‘new banks’ allow you to hold € or $ deposits?

    • Genghis says:

      Revolut, though not a bank

      • Doug M says:

        Thank you. I’ll have a look. Been a Citibank customer for years because of this, mostly just holiday money, buy when I have some spare £ and think the rate is OK, although over time switched to using the Lloyds Amex. Citi quite difficult and have purges of (seemingly) non profitable accounts, which is definitely me, nice to know there’s a fall back option if I want to continue with € and $ deposits.

        • Bagoly says:

          If you have an address in a Eurozone country (except so far, Malta, Cyprus, Latvia or Lithuania) then there is n26 which is similar to Monzo/Starling, but based in Germany and so in EUR.

          They are supposedly expanding to accept UK and USA addresses this summer.

        • the_real_a says:

          I have revolut for exactly this purpose – i hold a $ account at HSBC and trasnfer to and from Revolut to “use” the funds either to convert or use via the debit card. Subject to the usual KYC checks the amounts you can trasnfer are quite large and should be adequate for most purposes. Charges for a SEPA trasnfer within the EU in $, £, euro are free to and from Revolut. HSBC charges me £4 per trasnfer out.

          The revolut wallets allow you to “lock in” a currency trasnfer exchange rate if you like to do that sort of thing.

    • HSBC, not that you asked, has Euro deposit accounts – I’ve got one. No interest and no easy way of getting your money out except via a transfer, but if you just want to dump a pile of Euro it is fine.

      • Doug M says:

        Thanks Rob. Citi is pretty slick with this. They’re current accounts, and you can just link your debit card through the app to instantly switch it to your $ or € account. They’re not a retail bank in any real sense other than this though. No branches, can pay in cheques through (checks thru) post, but no cheque book for account holder any more, a £ € $ ATM in Canary Wharf, but they’ve never charged me for using anyone else’s ATM in UK, Europe or USA so long as currency matches linked account. Works for me as I need little contact with bank beyond electronic payments. Another oddity was they stopped me funding my investments with Ladbrokes and William Hill when that US Wire Transfer law was enforced a few years ago. I keep a separate Lloyds account for paying in odd cash or cheques from the primitives still using these things. I’m part retired and don’t earn as much now, and I suspect given my ‘pay no bank charges philosophy’ I’ll be ripe for dumping at the next purge.

  3. OT as no bits – I’ve read other people say that after receiving their first Amex card, they were not credit checked when applying for additional amex products

    I’ve only been an amex member for 18 months. Wasn’t searched on my 2nd card, but for my latest (3rd) card I was hard searched again. No personal details have changed.

    Is there any trick to avoid being hard searched? I put in my existing card details as part of the application as usual. No idea why they ran the search this time, but it does limit my ability to apply for other things a bit

    • No idea. AMEX have always done a hard search on my credit file when applying for numerous cards over the last 7-8 years

    • the_real_a says:

      AMEX have always hard searched me on every card i have taken out.

      • the real harry1 says:

        Yep same here I think, we’ve never had an instant yes decision as far as I remember – never been refused, though – I imagine this is to allow the hard search to take place

  4. Andym says:

    Also to add Monzo was never sold as a prepaid travel card, it was always a beta to the current account

  5. Andrew25 says:

    Another added benefit that Starling has over Monzo is that Starling pays 0.5% interest monthly on credit balances. Not much I know, but every little helps!

  6. sunguy says:

    Ive never found Monzo all that great for travel purposes … other than TFL….

    IF you are using a debit or credit card to whizz about London instead of Oyster, the information that is included on the Monzo card is really very good – including telling you exactly which day the charge (or refund!) is for! Something I have never seen on any of my other cards Ive used.

  7. OT as no bits
    Anyone got any spare tickets for Bastille tonight?

  8. the_real_a says:

    Yes – at least that’s how i read the T&C`s

  9. Nigel says:

    A review article that I read recently showed that Mastercard (as opposed to Visa or AmEx) gave the best conversion rate for foreign currencies charged in sterling to your zero FE fee card. Watch out for all these new zero fee cards from fledgling banks – they are not Mastercard backed and can use whatever extortionate exchange rate they want! Stick with the trusted Post Office Mastercard or equivalent.

    • George says:

      Come again?

      Starling, Monzo and Revolut all issue Mastercards and as such when they say no fee, they mean no fee atop the standard MasterCard rate.

      As far as I know, using a loaded rate is against the program terms – you have to use the official rate plus an optional fee. The only product I can think of that doesn’t do this is TransferWise debit which tries to settle in the original currency.

      • Mikeact says:

        I think he was trying to wind us all up, with obvious incorrect information.

    • No, Mastercard processes it at their fixed rate and that is what you get.

    • the_real_a says:

      The likes of Caxton, STA and Post Office all levy a fee upto 3% on top of the mastercard rate so you need to pick your card carefully. Sterling, Monzo and Revolut all use the wholesale rate – however revolut now has sneaky charges on top – such as a weekend fee and illiquid currency fee on top of the wholesale rate.

      So whilst its not true that cards use whatever Fx% they like – some cards do levy additional fees on top – but these are clearly defined in the T&C`s

    • the_real_a says:

      One other positive thing to note on Revolut is that if you exchange currency first from their internal wallets – you get the inter-bank rate for that conversion. Subsequent use of that currency via the debit card uses the balance of the wallet first… hence its possible to get interbank rates if you want to do a bulk conversion upfront avoiding the MasterCard conversion completely.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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