In this article, I'll tell how you can completely avoid paying foreign transactions fees when paying abroad, or just in general paying in a different currency. I wanted to publish this article for a long time, as I still so many people loosing fees to their banks whenever they travel for example. In the article, I'll review four multi-currency cards & online accounts (that I am using myself) that will automatically convert currencies using the best rate available, therefore avoiding any fees. The good news? Those cards & online bank accounts are all free!
What is a Multi-Currency Debit Card?
Usually, when you use a card issues by a 'traditional' bank to pay in a foreign currency (so not the currency of your account), the bank will charge you two fees: a fee to pay in another currency, and a fee on the exchange rate as it will be not in your favour compared to the current conversion rate.
On the other hand, there are now cards (like Revolut and N26 that I'll tell you about in this article) that allows you to keep money in one or multiple currencies, and then automatically convert money to the currency you want to pay in, without any fees, and with the best exchange rate available. That's the cards I want to tell you about in this article.
Those cards usually also come with actual bank accounts, so they can be a very good alternative to a traditional bank as well.
Note that some bank also propose a card that is linked to multiple currency accounts - however you then need to switch accounts manually, so that's not what I want to talk about in this article.
Who Should Use Those Cards?
I'd say multi-currency cards and completely digital bank accounts are mostly made for people that travel a lot, for example like digital nomads. However, even if you just travel occasionally getting one of those cards can be nice as it will avoid a lot of foreign transaction fees.
A debit card that automatically converts currencies at the best rate is definitely something useful for expats as well. If you are for example paid in Euros but you are living in a country in Europe that doesn't use Euros, then you'll definitely save a lot by using one of those cards rather than the card given by your bank.
They can also be useful if you are an online entrepreneur, even if you are not moving a lot. Indeed, many services I use for example are in different countries, and I need to pay some of them in USD (like DigitalOcean) and others in Euros (like Facebook Ads). So having this type of card for your online business is also a good idea to avoid transaction fees.
Their is a last case I see: if like me, you just want an alternative to the 'traditional' banks that usually have outdated apps and websites (it took my bank 4 years to adapt their app to my iPhone's retina display), then getting one of those online bank account & card is definitely something you could do. Even if you don't make a lot of transactions in foreign currencies, that will give you another account you can use in case you have some problems with your main bank.
The first card & online bank alternative I wanted to mention in this article is Revolut, as it's the first one I ever used. The card itself comes with a very cool mobile app, in which you can see in real-time your transactions and also access some virtual bank accounts where you can hold different currencies. As I mentioned before, when paying with the card it will automatically take money from a currency that's available, convert it in real time using the best exchange rate, and then pay without any fees.
What I like about Revolut is that it is really easy to use, with a very well designed mobile app. You can also load the account directly with another credit/debit card, so that's very convenient as well. The only thing I don't like is what happens when you raise the limit that they fix (depending on the country you live in). You then need to submit documents to verify your income, which practically means that unless you are employed and can show salary slips, you won't be able to spend more than this limit (they always refused all the tax/business income documents I submitted).
I've been using TransferWise for a very long time - even before I started using Revolut. It's basically a very neat service that allows you to transfer money from one account to another, with the best exchange rate possible, in exchange of a very small fee. I can't even count the thousands of Euros that I saved over the years of using them versus my own bank. I didn't plan to include them in this review initially, but they recently added a debit card that is linked to their virtual bank accounts that you can create on your TransferWise account, so I couldn't not include it here.
For sure it's the best solution out of the four here when it comes to online banking. The accounts are very easy to use, you can get a real account under your name with an IBAN (for Europe) and even a US bank account number under your name, which can be very convenient. The card itself is quite simple, but works well and you can also load your balance using another card for example.
The only downside for now with TransferWise is that you need to actually hold the currency you want to pay in inside your account, which means you need to anticipate a bit your expenses. However, if you travel to a given country and know in which currency you'll have to pay, that's not a problem.
The next card & online account I tried is called N26, which is a more recent company based in Germany. It's a bit different from the other ones in this review, as you can only hold Euros in the account. However, it will also automatically convert Euros to any currency you are paying in, without any fees. I for example use TransferWise to send Euros to this account.
There are two small downsides with N26 at the time I wrote this article: you can only open an account if you are a resident in a small list of European countries, and also you can't top up your account via another card.
The last one I wanted to mention here is LeuPay, which I discovered recently. It's basically very close in terms of functionalities to Revolut, which some accounts in multiple currencies and a card that allows you to automatically pay in any currency with no fees. I personally use it to pay my business expenses, as it gives me a (free) way to separate my business expenses from my personal expenses.
On the downside, the mobile application has a bit of an outdated and slow interface, but that might be a matter of personal taste. The desktop website is very good however.
Which One to Choose?
For sure, take many of them, in case you encounter administrative issues like I did with Revolut. Second thing, I'd for sure also open a TransferWise account and get their debit card, as it's the most robust alternative to a bank of all four (and they have been around for a long time now). Then, for actually spending money, I'd recommend choosing one (Revolut is still my favorite here) for personal spendings, and one for your business if you have one (I'm currently using LeuPay for that). Of course that's my own system, so I really invite you to try out all of those accounts (they are all free) and just pick the one(s) you like most!