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I would like to be able to use a card (debit card or similar) to pay in local currency when travelling. In the past, I have been charged fees when converting my currency (GBP). I plan on visiting other places in Europe (e.g. Cyprus, Portugal, and Spain) and Asia (e.g. South Korea, Japan, and China) and would like to make sure I use the cheapest option.

I thought Revolut was a solution, as I heard that they do not charge fees when paying abroad. So, I used Revolut in Europe; before I arrived, I transferred some GBP into a EUR account. Once abroad, I paid EUR with that account using my card.

However, I realised that I got charged for that initial conversion when transferring the GBP from my UK bank account to the Revolut EUR account. I think I misunderstood - it looks like there are no conversion fees abroad, but my UK bank account charged me for loading EUR onto the Revolut EUR account.

This made me think I should have just loaded GBP onto my Revolut card instead, as my UK bank account would not have charged for moving money to another UK account. Then, when abroad, I could have still opted to pay in EUR, and there would not have been a conversion fee. Is my understanding correct?

I know my UK bank account does charge a fee for conversions abroard, which is why I would like to get a different card to take with me. I have looked at other options like Monzo which do not charge for conversions, but I am still confused.

Should I keep GBP on the card, and when abroad pay in local currency? Or, should I always 'load' local currency on my card before I go?

I would greatly appreciate it if anyone could suggest anything for going abroad in general.

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  • 3
    This highly depends on the country you are visiting.
    – Hilmar
    Aug 28 at 13:36
  • 6
    Yes, you should have loaded GBP in your Revolut account
    – njzk2
    Aug 28 at 19:33
  • 3
    Personally, I use Monzo, due to no foreign transaction fees or currency conversion commission. You should always opt to pay in local currency if a payment terminal gives you the option of local or GBP. Aug 28 at 19:40
  • The question in the title and that in the text are different. For the latter, read the docs of Revolut. It may be tricky, but the idea is: always let Revolut do the exchange. Transfer pounds from a UK bank and pay in the local currency abroad.
    – Miguel
    Aug 31 at 17:57

7 Answers 7

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The lowest cost way that I know of involves two things:

  1. Get a debit card that reimburses for all ATM fees, and does not charge a conversion fee. For example, my card is from Charles Schwab bank (USA), and the conversion rate is the official Visa rate exactly.  At the end of each month, they refund any ATM fees I paid during the month.  (Mastercard rate slightly lower.)
  2. When paying by card, make sure the option to pay in local currency is selected.  Don't let the merchant select your currency, which lets them and/or their bank benefit from the spread on the conversion.

A slightly cheaper option¹ is "Wise" (formerly TransferWise). Last time I checked, that would have save me two US pennies on a thousand dollars.  But it's not practical for other than long visits, because it requires a local bank account to transfer into (as I understand—I haven’t actually used them for a transfer).

¹No longer cheaper—see comments.

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  • 4
    "the conversion rate is the official Visa rate exactly" -> That's a fee. nomadgate.com/visa-vs-mastercard-exchange-rate "Visa is on average 0.30% more expensive than the mid-market rate, while Mastercard averages 0.21% above mid-market." So definitely not the cheapest option. Aug 28 at 20:27
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    Wise will let you open its own bank account in foreign countries, and give you some form of card. It's the same idea as Revolut. What OP did wrong was sending Revolut EUR - they should have sent GBP.
    – abligh
    Aug 28 at 21:48
  • So, find a Mastercard with no other fee, and it will be cheaper than Wise, which barely differs from Schwab.
    – WGroleau
    Aug 28 at 22:02
  • 3
    Wise now offer a multicurrency card, you don't need a locally account. Aug 29 at 2:44
  • 3
    @abligh Be careful: I believe those Wise accounts are not technically bank accounts, despite having IBAN. This may be important if things go wrongly, because it means they are not covered by deposit guarantees. Therefore, you probably don't want to keep large amounts of money in those accounts.
    – gerrit
    Aug 29 at 7:41
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This made me think I should have just loaded GBP onto my Revolut card instead, as my UK bank account would not have charged for moving money to another UK account. Then, when abroad, I could have still opted to pay in EUR, and there would not have been a conversion fee. Is my understanding correct?

Yes, exactly, that's the best way to use Revolut or any other similar card to avoid fees (with the caveats mentioned by Frank regarding Revolut, like the extra margin on week-end payments and a handful of currencies, see also https://www.revolut.com/legal/standard-fees/). You can or could also keep Revolut accounts in several currencies and transfer funds between them but I think there is a monthly cap on those transfers after which fees do apply. Cash withdrawal are also strictly limited.

I know my UK bank account does charge a fee for conversions abroard, which is why I would like to get a different card to take with me. I have looked at other options like Monzo which do not charge for conversions, but I am still confused.

Should I keep GBP on the card, and when abroad pay in local currency? Or, should I always 'load' local currency on my card before I go?

I am not familiar with Monzo specifically but with other similar offers (both fintechs / neobanks and some more traditional banks in the EU) and in general you are better off keeping the money in whatever currency you received it, avoid getting cash, and pay with a low or no-fee debit or credit card whenever you need the money.

You also want to avoid any conversion from the ATM or merchant if offered. Very often terminals abroad will do that since your card is associated with a GBP account (see Why are two currency options available when paying via card at airports abroad?). Instead, always ask to get charged in the local currency. Similarly to what happened with your initial GBP-EUR transfer, if a merchant charges you in GBP, you will incur (often excessive) fees and that's completely outside the control of your card issuer.

Same things for billing in a foreign currency from hotels or other businesses, those are almost always less attractive than letting Revolut or similar services handle the conversion.

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Revolut tends to be the cheapest solution when paying by card when traveling, as it uses the current market currency exchange rate, but it does have fees in some cases:

  • for some currency exchanges
  • for all currency exchanges during the weekend
  • ATMs if withdrawing more than some small amount monthly (currently only 400 euros can be withdrawn monthly without revolut fees with a premium account). Also it doesn't help avoid the ATM operator's fees for some ATMs.
  • the currency exchanges without fees have a monthly limit if not paying for a premium account
  • etc

Also, their customer support can sometimes be a pain and they froze my account for no reason so don't solely rely on them.

See https://www.revolut.com/en-US/currency-converter; warnings: some fees such as the weekend 1% fee are only visible in the Revolut app.


Regarding other banks: many banks use the Visa exchange rate or the Mastercard exchange rate, which less favorable that the actual currency exchange rate. From https://nomadgate.com/visa-vs-mastercard-exchange-rate/:

Visa is on average 0.30% more expensive than the mid-market rate, while Mastercard averages 0.21% above mid-market.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Willeke
    Aug 31 at 10:33
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This is a much discussed topic at my place of work (in the UK), which involves a lot of European travel. The general consensus is to get a zero fee credit card which operates on the card scheme rates (Visa or Mastercard). I personally use a Halifax Clarity credit card.

Its important to note that while there may be options that are slightly better in financial terms, these are very marginal and often come with other drawbacks (eg customer service, ease of use, hidden costs as you have discovered already etc). Unless you will be spending a lot of money the margins might not outweigh the convenience of using a standard credit card from a reputable UK bank. My sales manager has a specialist credit card, which comes with a hefty annual fee, but it's worth it for him as he puts over £10k per month through it.

In my opinion a no fee credit card is the best compromise for the general traveller/tourist, but if you travel a lot or expect to spend big then its probably worth something more specialist.

It's also worth checking the advice over at https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money/

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  • It's worth noting that according to MSE, Mastercard's base exchange rates are nearly always better than Visa's. Banks seem to directly market to this fact - their standard cards are Visa, but their zero-fee products aimed at travellers are MasterCard.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 30 at 13:15
  • I haven't done full comparisons to every other option available, but I used a Halifax Clarity Card for a trip to the US very successfully. Conversions look sensibly priced, the card was accepted everywhere, and apart from one decline that I had to approve in the mobile app, it's been trouble-free. Just picking one conversion, 3 days ago I spent $29.50, and was actually charged £25.10. Google says (right now) that $29.50 converts to £25.38. Aug 31 at 11:07
  • "no fee credit card" is a misleading term when not using the market exchange rate: using a bad exchange rate is a hidden fee. Sep 3 at 18:02
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Wise is a very simple, much safer solution. None of the above applies: it's a public company with all the transparency that comes with that, profitable since 2017. It provides you with local accounts and a debit card which draws against them. The fees for withdrawing cash certainly tells you they don't want you to do that, but payment wise it's one of the best or the best card currently there is. Total transparency on fees when spending in any currency, of course. You can have full accounts in EUR, USD, CAD, GBP, AUD, HUF, RON, NZD, SGD, TRY -- these are all accounts anyone (including yourself) can send money to. (There are many more currencies you can hold money in but those are just entries in the ledger of Wise).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 28 at 23:19
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    Can you clarify "full accounts"? My understanding is that, despite having IBAN, those are not technically bank accounts and thus not covered by deposit guarantees, which means that if Wise goes bust (can never be ruled out 100%), you may lose your money. I use my Wise card and accounts, but I never keep more than a couple of hundred USD/EUR/GBP worth of deposit in there.
    – gerrit
    Aug 29 at 7:44
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You can find a bank that allows you to use your card with accounts in multiple currencies. For example, my main debit card is connected to a CZK account and to an EUR account. When withdrawing or paying, the appropriate account is used and there are no additional fees by the bank. It is then up to you how you get the money there, you do not have to use the bank's conversion services, but you can use any other conversion services with better rates or you can use your direct sources of income in the other currency, if you have any.

Note that ATM fees may still be charged by the ATM company. For example, ATMs in Austria this week charged us between 2 to 6 EUR and directly send the request for the amount being withdrawn increased by the fee to our banks.

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There isn't a general solution, because what's best for you depends on how much money is involved and how often you need this. For casual tourists, charging a few nights in hotels etc, it's not really worth the hassle to search for the absolute best deal.

For somebody who travels a lot within the Eurozone and needs to convert £10k/year or more, it is worth setting up a bank account in the Eurozone (but be sure to find one that issues a debit card and charges no fees for maintaining it!) and then transferring money into it via Moneycorp, which will give you a much better exchange rate than your bank. Doing all this will take you several hours of work and you end up saving 2% of the amounts at most.

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