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Review: the Currensea travel money card – a new low-fee way to spend abroad

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This is our review of the Currensea travel money card. Is it worth getting one? It is free, after all!

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.

Review: the Currensea travel money card

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
Review: the Currensea travel money card

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:

Review: the Currensea travel money card

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
  • a £120 ‘Elite’ version which has no FX fees, Avis ‘President’s Club’ status, use of the ‘Ten’ concierge service, access to Mastercard’s luxury hotel booking service (stays come with extra benefits) 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.

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.

Is Currensea worth getting? I think so

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 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 (117)

  • Dev says:

    I’m assuming the App has the ability to lock the card, etc when not using it. I am reticent to attach anything I use overseas to my current account. It will be as good as losing your own money if the damn thing gets cloned.

    (I watched in horror when my phone started to ping nearly £20k worth of transactions via Curve in various shops and service providers in Dubai! Luckily Curve reversed all the charges and the underlying credit card company also did the same!)

    • ChrisC says:

      I read their website and yes you can lock the card.

      But that was a concern of mine as well.

      I guess one way to limit any damage is to fund this card from a separate bank account that you feed as and when you want to use this card. You could top it up with your anticipated daily spend each day and limit your potential losses that way.

      • Sandgrounder says:

        But why not just get starling? If it’s locked it should be safe.

  • Ian says:

    Had this for a while, but never used it.

    Why? Because Curve is cheaper and earns me Hilton or Virgin points when I use it.

    Why should I pay 0.5% more than curve and get zero points?

    Doesn’t make sense.

    Yes, there isn’t a weekend surcharge on this card, there is however a 24/7 surcharge!

    • John says:

      Agree, even if you can’t get a credit card you can still link curve to your debit card and get 0% fees during the week.

    • Mr. AC says:

      Exactly. In my experience (and for the currency pairs I use) Curve is +0.1-0.3% interbank on the weekdays and +0.5% on the weekends exactly. I’ve seen people say that for their currency pairs it’s worse, but even then the points earned on underlying cards + extra features should one need them more than make up for any difference.

    • SteveJ says:

      I’m totally in this camp, fail to see in which scenario this betters Curve.

    • MD says:

      Completely agree. Curve is much superiority in many ways.

      • MD says:

        Aaargh autocorrect. This one is causing me physical pain! Where’s our edit button?

    • Rob says:

      Here’s the thing Ian. You’ve been fooled because Curve was whacked in more and more fees and like the frog in a kettle you haven’t noticed.

      There is a 2% FX over £500 per month. This is basically 1 day of spending, inc hotel cost, for most HfP readers I imagine.

      The weekend surcharge is now 1.5% if you not getting Euro or $ – and you are more likely than not to be paying your final hotel bill on a Sat or Sun.

      This is a total of 3.5% if you spend, for example, £1500 in Norway. It’s worse than using a standard credit card directly.

      You are also paying the spread between the interbank rate that Currensea uses in most currencies and the Visa/MC rate.

      For a holiday where you spend under £500 in total and all of it Mon-Fri it is fine, I agree 🙂

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Reality is different to the T&C’s. ..

        • Doug M says:

          When I get to travel again I’ll test this, hope you’re right. Certainly used to be true.

      • Ian says:

        As I am on legacy black I am not seeing this Rob nor is my wife on Blue

      • Alex Sm says:

        Points will offset some/most of this difference and more importantly Curve allows you to link to a CREDIT card and have more flex on repayments

      • Dominic says:

        £500 for one-day of spending on holiday? Perhaps for those with children and in their 40s!

        • Rob says:

          Tried feeding 4 people x 3 meals per day plus two connecting hotel rooms? A Holiday Inn Express would be close to £400 per day (£125 x 2 rooms plus £100 for a cheap dinner with no booze plus £50 for lunch).

  • J says:

    As you’re with HSBC Rob, any idea how this compares to using the debit card on an HSBC Global current account? I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find HSBC occasionally (though not always) works out cheaper than, say, Wise for currency conversion, though I haven’t used it for debit card purchases or ATM withdrawals.

    • LS says:

      What is the HSBC global account? Googled it but can’t find it.

      • J says:

        It’s called Everyday Global Account – supports GBP, USD, EUR, HKD, MYR, SGD, AUD, NZD, JPY, SAR, CAD. Although Googling just now only seems to show results from Australia and Singapore (eg: https://www.hsbc.com.sg/accounts/products/everyday-global/). Odd. I could be wrong but I’m fairly sure I saw it marketed in the UK, although possibly it’s a Premier thing, maybe. Quite a useful little account anyway.

        • gt94sss2 says:

          HSBC haven’t launched the Everyday Global Account in the UK yet though it’s planned here.

          I believe the USA was the first country to get it

      • Blenz101 says:

        Perhaps a reference to Global View where you can link HSBC accounts in multiple markets and view them all together as well as transfer between them instantly.

        Generally HSBC add 3% fee when not spending in home currency on their cards.

        The transfer with Global View varies by currency pair. I’ve never found it competitive for £.

        • J says:

          I found the same, and always used Wise, until a few months ago when I happened to be looking at the rates and realised that moving GBP from my HSBC UK account to my HSBC Malaysia account (the Everyday Global account mentioned above), staying in GBP, and from there moving to MYR was giving a slightly better rate than Wise, after factoring in their fee. Now I always check both before transferring – it seems to vary which one comes out better on any given day…

          • Blenz101 says:

            For AED to USD you get the correctly pegged rate, perhaps missing out on the odd cent here and there due to rounding.

            Send that same AED to GBP and they are regularly 5% off where the rate should be. Presumably happy to make a handsome profit from lazy ex-pats.

    • Rob says:

      No idea, sorry.

  • YC says:

    It seems premium also gets u free breakfast. Good deal for £25. There’s a $300 reward night voucher for indulged but not clear if this route would trigger it

    • Memesweeper says:

      Good spot. Makes the Premium worth the fee if you have a stay coming up.

  • ChrisC says:

    Currensea may not charge any ATM fees but many banks abroad do and there can be a bit of a shock when the amount pops up.

    • J says:

      Very good point. I’ve found Thailand particularly bad in that respect. I think I must have tried most of the supposedly fee-free foreign currency cards there over the years, and I don’t think I ever escaped without getting charged £3-5 by the ATM. If anyone knows of a UK card and/or Thai ATM brand that can be relied on not to charge, I’d love to know!

      • John says:

        Thailand is a place where you don’t use ATMs but bring more £50 notes than you need (rates better than £5 to £20), then at the end exchange the leftover to Scottish notes for 1% better than interbank rate.

      • david says:

        Shockingly expensive. I think I found the best was the green ATMs charged £1.50 or so and I resorted to get £300 at a time. Fair old whack but never get more there in small amounts.

  • Jonathan says:

    Like other social media sites can you clarify if you are paid commission from sales made via the link on this article.

    • Premgenius says:

      This is noted under the heading of the article “Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.” If you visit the link under ‘Affiliate Policy’ the partners are listed including Currensea

    • ChrisC says:

      There is a link immediately below the title to the HFP policy on and a list of partners.

      Such commissions enable Rob to run the site for free for users.

      • LS says:

        I have no problem for this. It is not immediately clear to me however that this is being run in order to generate Rob a few quid to run the site. This should be clear, as it affects how I read the piece.

        • DT says:

          It clearly states that links pay commission

          When the piece is sponsored it also clearly states “This article is sponsored by…. “

  • Premgenius says:

    Personally, I think Starling and Monzo would be a better option over Currensea for use aboard as well can be used within the UK with additional features that would be far more useful

  • Paul says:

    Get 1 percent on COT. 99 a year.
    Or 0.5 percent on MBNA. No fee.

    • QFFlyer says:

      COT is for business owners, MBNA (Horizon, I assume) is not available to new customers.

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