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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 only ‘miles and points’ options which offer a partial solution are the Virgin Atlantic credit cards which have 0% FX fees in the Euro zone.

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? It might be

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 (116)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Nick Woodward says:

    As a UK national resident in Spain ,I qualify for Currensea only because I have kept my UK HSBC account open. As a non-resident, I am unsure that I could obtain any of the other cards. And I obtained it about three months ago after Rob mentioned it in passing in another article, tried it out, and then upgraded to Premium. I think my average spend will substantially exceed that small fee.

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      Cant you get a Wise account and debit card?

      • RussellH says:

        Yes, a standard MasterCard branded contactless debit card, works in businesses, ATMs + for online purchases.
        AIUI, if you hold a balance in your account in currency A, then the card behaves as a debit card in that currency.
        Should be useful for avoiding the messages on ATMs and terminals about whether you want to be debitted in local currency or GBP, particulalrly when the device does not use a language you understand.

      • Bagoly says:

        Wise and Revolut available across Europe (and beyond)
        And looking at the Curve website today, that too is now available to EEA residents.

  • PJJ says:

    General question on getting foreign currency

    What do people normally do ? Take some foreign currency with them or use an ATM when arriving and top up if necessary and when paying a hotel bill over £500 at checkout, what type of card do you use to avoid the FX fees ?

    • Doug M says:

      Halifax Clarity, Santander Zero, and there’s a Barclaycard with zero FX too. I have a no longer available Nationwide zero FX card. I always keep my currency as pretty much only visit euro and US$, but use next to no currency now.
      The comments are full of choices if you read through them.

    • MKB says:

      I use my Halifax Clarity for cash withdrawals only, i.e. no purchases, and immediately pay in what I expect to be the Sterling amount, taking a slightly pessimistic view on the exchange rate.

    • Harry T says:

      I use Clarity for anything involving a deposit or riskier transaction. I use Curve for anything else.

    • Laura says:

      I use a mixture of Monzo and Halifax Clarity. Monzo for cash, but I try and avoid cash as much as I can.

      It’s a bit dangerous because they are both MasterCard so I have my Coop Visa debit card for emergencies but I don’t think I’ve ever needed it

  • Philip Morrow says:

    why does it ask you to log into your bank account instead of entering acc number and sort code manualy?

    • Miss London says:

      Because it collects money from your connected bank via direct debit

      • Philip Morrow says:

        Yes but why am I directed to my bank log in page to log in, when I get a credit card I just enter the details and a dd is set up without loging in to my account

        • Nick says:

          It’s not actually a direct debit, that’s why. Rob didn’t get this quite right… in this case you’re paying through Open Banking, which requires direct access to your account. That’s why the list of banks is limited… every bank accepts DD, but only some allow OB.

          • Bagoly says:

            Thank you very much for pointing that out.
            I have a policy of not giving any organisation (other than Google 🙁 ) my password to any other organisation.
            And in the case of banks, not even Google.
            I await an Open Banking cyber attack (although it may never happen!)

  • Nick says:

    The ‘sponsored post’ header is missing…

    Nothing here that you can’t get from Starling with no fees at all.

    And totally missing the part about being obliged to give these new players full access (through Open Banking) to all data relating to your existing account.

    No thanks.

    • Callum says:

      The argument I’ve always been given is that, supposedly, there are a significant number of people who are interested enough in managing their finances that they’d research travel cards etc. on specialist blogs, but not interested enough to go through the “tremendous hassle” of opening a credit card or bank account.

      The impact on credit reports etc. is generally nonsense, but I suppose this would be useful for the small minority unable to open a bank or credit card as well.

    • ChrisC says:

      If it was a sponsored post Rob would have said so. He’s always been very good at making that clear when it is the case.

      Him getting a commission is not the same as being a sponsored post.

    • Harrier25 says:

      Not quite true because Starling do impose 0.5% charge at weekends.

      • Nick says:

        No they don’t. Are you confusing them with Revolut?

        • Harrier25 says:

          Nick, check the terms and conditions of your Starling account because Starling, Revolut and Curve all add 0.5% at the weekend.

          • Voldemort says:

            Starling do not charge 0.5% at weekends.

          • Genghis says:

            I don’t believe Starling charge a fee / load. Nothing in terms. Any evidence?

          • Harrier25 says:

            Just been looking for evidence and have failed to find any, but sure I’d seen it somewhere. I must’ve been mistaken…sorry Nick.

  • BuildBackBetter says:

    Do any of the products discussed here come with multiple cards for families with ability to set limits?

  • Ryan says:

    I’m extremely interested in this…

    Because the card looks amazing, I’d never use it though

  • Jamie says:

    I laughed at loud at the concern about opening other credit cards such as Barclays Rewards and a hit to credit scores. That’s a new one for this site.

    • NC says:

      I read this as a strong hint about the news coming at 10am tomorrow.

  • Russ says:

    Another Mastercard could be useful, especially for those late walk-up ‘stay two nights get a third night free’ promotions which needs reserving with a Mastercard.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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