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Introducing the Currensea card – a new low-fee way to spend abroad

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Currensea is an interesting new fintech company which I was introduced to earlier this year by a reader.

It has won a few awards over recent months for what it does (offering you a low-cost way to spend abroad) but what I like about Currensea is that it is simple as hell. This is a good thing.

Currensea is, effectively, a direct debit travel card. It is a Mastercard which sits between you and your existing current account. There is nothing to top-up or prepay. You simply spend as you would on a normal debit card and the money is taken from your current account – just without the usual 3% fee.

Oh, and Currensea is free to apply for, which also helps.

There are also some interesting travel benefits if you choose a paid plan, but the free plan works fine. You can apply here.

There is a business model in fintech which Curve, Revolut, Monzo etc have all followed:

  • launch by doing one thing well, and for free or cheaper than the competition
  • add more and more features which your existing customers don’t really need or want
  • add fees, charges or restrictions to the feature that made people get your product in the first place, removing any competitive advantage

Currensea is currently still in Stage 1 of this process and will hopefully stay there. Curve, Revolut and Monzo are already in Stage 3 ….

What is Currensea?

Currensea is simple enough that it passes my ‘Can you explain it to your mate in the pub in 30 seconds?’ test:

It is a free direct debit card to use abroad and which automatically recharges all purchases to your existing current account in Sterling, less a small 0.5% fee.

That’s it.

You don’t (yet ….) earn any airline miles or points for using it.

Why would I want to get a Currensea card?

If you have a credit card offering 0% foreign exchange fees, then you don’t need a Currensea card, unless you want free ATM withdrawals. You can stop reading now.

However, credit cards which offer rewards and charge 0% FX fees are few and far between. The new Barclays Rewards card is the best option and even pays you 0.25% cashback. The snag is that you are adding another credit card to your credit report and it may restrict your options to get future cards. With Barclays now having an Avios relationship, I’d also be wary of getting any products from them which could stop you getting a ‘new to bank’ bonus later.

Currensea IS possibly for you if:

  • you don’t have a credit card offering 0% FX fees and do not want to impact your credit report by getting another credit card specifically to use abroad
  • you want a product which allows you to make £500 of foreign currency ATM withdrawals per month with no fees and only a minimal FX mark-up (there is a small fee beyond £500)
  • you want a product for you, your adult children, parents, partner or anyone else in your life who needs a simple, easy to understand payment card that will save them money when travelling

How does Currensea work in practice?

It is, as I said earlier, a very simple process. You use your Currensea card in the same way as your existing debit card.

  • You make your purchase in local currency (any currency, globally)
  • Your current account bank automatically confirms that you have enough money in your account and authorises the transaction
  • The transaction goes through at either the interbank rate or the Mastercard rate, depending on the currency. Currensea adds a 0.5% fee if you have the free card. There are no fees if you have one of their paid cards.
  • You get an automatic spend notification via the Currensea app, if you choose to install it
  • The money is taken from your current account a few days later

Here is an example. With no foreign travel in the diary, I decided to splash out and buy 1,000 MeliaRewards points for €5.

This is what you see in the Currensea app, which shows £4.33 scheduled to leave my HSBC account a few days later:

I checked the interbank rate after doing the transaction and, adjusting for the 0.5% FX fee, it did match the rate used by Currensea. There is a more detailed transaction analysis which shows the exact FX rate used.

A few days later, on the day specified in the original transaction confirmation, the charge hit my HSBC account:

What exchange rate does Currensea use?

Currensea offers 16 major currencies at the real (interbank) rate (EUR, USD, AUD, CAD, CHF, DKK, HKD, HUF, JPY, NOK, NZD, PLN, SEK, SGD, THB and ZAR) and an additional 164 currencies at the Mastercard rate, which is marginally away from interbank. On the free Currensea plan, you pay this rate plus 0.5%.

Note that, for the 16 currencies where Currensea uses the interbank rate, I am told that you will get a similar deal – even with Currensea’s 0.5% fee – to using a 0% FX credit card which uses the Mastercard or Visa rate.

Note that, unlike Curve, Revolut etc, there are NO ‘weekend surcharges’, ‘top-up fees’, ‘fair use fees’ etc etc.  As I said at the start, this is a very simple and idiot-proof product with no hidden charges.

There are three versions of the Currensea card

The Currensea website is here. Whilst you apply online, it has an app which lets you monitor transactions on the go.

There are three products to choose from:

  • a free card (totally free, there isn’t even a delivery fee) called ‘Essential’ which charges a 0.5% FX fee on purchases and ATM withdrawals
  • a £25 ‘Premium’ version which has no FX fees and a travel benefit – ‘Inspired’ status with Small Luxury Hotels
  • a £120 ‘Elite’ version which has no FX fees, top tier ‘Indulged’ status with Small Luxury Hotels, Avis ‘President’s Club’ status, use of the ‘Ten’ concierge service and LoungeKey airport lounge access (£20 fee per visit payable)

The £25 version is better value if you would spend over £5,000 per year on the card, but frankly I’d suggest getting the free card to see if you like it and then upgrading later.

The only exception would be if you were planning a ‘Small Luxury Hotels’ stay. ‘Indulged’ status gets you free breakfast as well as early check-in and late check-out privileges. You may consider £120 to be well spent for this and the other Elite benefits.

Can you use Currensea at cash machines abroad?

Yes. You can withdraw up to £1,000 per month from ATMs outside the UK.

The standard 0.5% fee applies to the first £500 per month but there is an additional 1.5% fee between £500 and £1,000. You can avoid this fee by making payments directly with the card rather than paying with cash, although obviously this isn’t always possible.

The fees are lower if you have the Premium (1% between £500 and £1,000) or Elite (1% between £750 and £1,000) versions of the card.

Can you use Currensea in the UK?

The card is not designed to be used in the UK – and there is no logical reason to do so, given that you can use your exising bank debit card for free – but you can do so if you wish. There is a daily limit of £250, however. You cannot use it for ATM withdrawals in the UK.

Do I have protection for my purchases?

Currensea is a debit card, not a credit card, so you don’t have the legal protection offered by Section 75. This is the same position you are in if you use Curve, Revolut or any other debit card, or indeed an American Express charge card.

You DO have Mastercard chargeback protection, which allows you to file a claim directly with Currensea. They will liaise with Mastercard for any disputed transactions and in most cases the coverage is very similar to section 75.

How to apply for a Currensea card

To apply for a Currensea card, you must have a current account with one of the following banks:

Barclays, Bank of Scotland, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Nationwide, NatWest, RBS, Santander, TSB, Ulster Bank

It doesn’t work with any of the ‘challenger’ banks.

You apply here and it is a very simple process. You will need the sort code and account number for your current account to set up the direct debit.

When I applied, I had the card within three days. It is, as the images above show, a funky vertical shape. Activate it via the Currensea website or app and you’re away.

That’s it …..!

This is a fairly short article (by HfP review standards) because Currensea is a very simple product. The bottom line is that:

  • Currensea is free, if you choose the free ‘Essential’ plan – you don’t even pay for postage
  • You can use it wherever Mastercard is accepted
  • On the free plan, you pay a fixed 0.5% FX fee on non-Sterling spend, seven days per week
  • The money is taken from your linked current account a few days later

Simple. If you, or someone you know, needs ‘simple’ then Currensea is worth a look.

If you would spend a lot of money on the card, or simply want to buy yourself Avis and ‘Small Luxury Hotels’ status, then the premium options with a 0% FX fee are also worth a look.

You can find out more, and apply, on the Currensea website here.

Comments (119)

  • RussellH says:

    I suspect that this card will appeal to plenty of people, though mostly not to readers of this site!
    Huge numbers of people do not have credit cards (because “they do not want to go into debt”) and have no idea about either S.75 or chargebacks, but they do have a debit card. A proportion of these will be aware that their bank charges them for using the card outwith the UK, and are annoyed enough about it to take some sort of action.
    That is the market that this card hopes to tap, I would think.
    It is not for me, though, as the Cumberland Building Society does not charge anything for using its debit card outwith the UK.

    • Blenz101 says:

      I think the point about parents Rob makes in the article is a great one. Mine will never been points/mile collectors.

      They are of a generation that would exchange money on the high street before travelling anywhere but moved with the times to pre-loading debit cards with foreign currency prior to travel.

      This product simplifies that process again for them. Another benefit which should have been mentioned is it de-risks being subject to dynamic currency conversion on your home GBP debit card when spending overseas where the margin is likely to be far greater again than the 3% the bank would add.

      • RussellH says:

        TBH, I would be very surprised if a currensea card protects against dynamic currency conversion. Surely the non-UK ATM or shop terminal sees it as a GBP debit card, not as a local one and will still offer dynamic currency conversion, and, if you are really lucky, in English, rather than Croat, Arabic or Hindi….
        I would imagine the only way to avoid dynamic currency conversion (other than having a local bank account) is a multi currency card, such as Wise, AND having a sufficient balance in the local currency on the card.

        • John says:

          Curve and Revolut are detected as GBP cards by terminals offering DCC. Some banks in Asia offer multi-currency cards too but these are also subject to DCC and detected as cards of their main currency.

          The way to avoid DCC is to use Amex… (which is why the Lloyds Amex was so useful) or some other network like Unionpay

          • Blenz101 says:

            That is disappointing. You would have thought given their margin is based on taking a 0.5% cut on foreign currency transactions they would ‘turn off’ DCC. Presumably they make nothing if the card is used abroad and DCC is applied they make nothing.

            I’m guessing DCC comes from the BIN. An option to decline GBP transactions automatically would actually be of use given there should be zero reason to use the card for this purpose. Benefit for the user and the company.

        • Anuj says:

          You can simply refuse dynamic currency conversion.

          • Blenz101 says:

            You can only decline it if given the option to begin with. If it was always clearly presented it wouldn’t be an issue.

            Merchants have an incentive to apply DCC and often present home currency as a fait accompli. A challenge is not always well received either.

          • Dubious says:

            I refused DCC once in HK and they still put the charge through in GBP – it turned out they had already charged the card in GBP and then simply presented me the receipt with the DCC options shown like I had an choice.
            Got it resolved via the card provider once back in the UK though.

          • Genghis says:

            @Dubious. Exactly the same with me in HK. Local tricks!

  • Josh says:

    Am I missing something? Surely the Elite tier pays for itself instantly via the free night for indulged status with SLH?!

    • Rob says:

      Hmmmm …. these are the stated benefits:

      10% off Members Only Rate
      Dedicated VIP Call Centre Number
      Insider Travel Tips
      Early Check-in (Noon, subject to request at time of booking and based upon availability at check-in)
      Late Check-out (2pm. subject to availability at check-in)
      Free Wi-Fi
      Exclusive Promotions
      Daily Complimentary Continental Breakfast for two
      Room Upgrade (based upon availability at check-in)
      Insider Events
      $300 Reward Night Voucher

      The latter is interesting. I can get free Indulged via my HSBC account but never bothered – I need to dig into this a bit. It may not apply to comped memberships but the rules don’t say anything ….

      • M says:

        @Rob, please write an article if it is possible to get the $300 voucher either via currensea or HSBC

        • Rob says:

          I will trigger it off my HSBC account and see what happens. Would be a bit weird if Currensea can pay SLH a nominal sum for giving you Inspired and they give you $300 …

          • Josh says:

            I mean it sounds like a deal too good to be had however I’d expect them to explicitly state that certain aspects of a status are excluded if it were the case!

          • Rob says:

            I agree. There are lengthy T&C’s on the status benefits and none of them say ‘certain benefits are not give to comps’,

  • Gormlesstraveller says:

    Could be useful for switching offers where you have to have 2 direct debits going out per month.

    • Andrew says:

      Unlikely. It appears to be a “direct debit” in function rather than a “Direct Debit”.

  • Bagoly says:

    I always thought First Direct was a Challenger Bank (it was when it launched!), but I see that your usage is consistent with the Bank of England (those started after 2008).
    So what is the current term for the previous generation – First Direct, Smile, Egg, Intelligent Finance etc (Yes, I know many of them are now dead/zombie!)

    • Andrew says:

      HBOS described themselves as a “Challenger Bank” back in 2001…

    • Blenz101 says:

      The previous generation were/all are divisions of the established mainstream banks and building societies in the U.K.

      The current generation are generally known as FinTech banks and are generally seen as startups which are funded by private investors.

      The ideal exit for many of these banks is to genuinely start to ‘challenge’ the status quo with the established banking groups and get bought out.

      Metro Bank could perhaps still be viewed as a more traditional challenger.

  • FX expert says:

    I question the honesty of Currensea. At https://www.currensea.com/pricing/plans/ they say “Premium £25/year” is their “Most popular” pricing plan. Although this might be the pricing plan that Currensea want customers to choose, it is implausible and potentially misleading to say that it is the “Most popular” pricing plan, as it is suitable only for those spending more than £5,000 per annum, which would be a minority of customers.

    On the same page, Currensea say “Access the best FX rates at only 0.5% above the base rate“. Don’t they mean “below“, not “above“? If Currensea’s GBP/xxx rate is 0.5% above the interbank rate, then it would be an amazing product. But I fear that this is a further misleading indication of price – probably a schoolboy error by amateurs.

  • Matthew Goode says:

    Could this be used to help achieve a minimum spend on a linked credit card? It offers the ability to withdraw £500 cash per month, so if a linked card had 3 months to spend a minimum amount it looks like it would be easy to achieve £1,500 by withdrawing £500 every month, then depositing that back into your bank account.

    • FX expert says:

      If you refer to a “linked credit card“, then you misunderstand how the card works. It is linked to your bank account, not to a card. I see no advantages of Currensea for HfP readers.

  • Matt says:

    Anyone have a promo code I can use when signing up as they ask for it?

  • Paul says:

    In the article it infers the Curve offering is at ‘stage 3’ (the original offer has been changed to not so good). I don’t understand what has changed for free Curve card holders….? Also, unless I am missing something, I don’t see how Currensea is better than Curve (esp if you use Curve abroad purely for Mon-Fri transactions, and use another card at weekends).

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