Travel Banking – Monzo vs Revolut

I’ve been a user of Monzo and Revolut for quite a while. Being a tech geek, the appeal of easier app-based banking coupled with fee-free foreign exchange made it a no brainer to sign up and give them a whirl. I often get asked by friends which I prefer, and now a few years into using and travelling with both I’ve got a few insights. Keep scrolling for a few travel banking tips near the end.

Monzo

The iconic fluorescent orange Monzo card is hard to miss – it’s a talking point wherever I go around the world. I haven’t had a single bad experience with Monzo so far, so here are a few highlights.

  • It just keeps getting better – the team at Monzo are continually developing great new bit of functionality that I didn’t realise I needed, but help a lot. And their blog is excellent.
  • In 23 countries, Monzo has worked every time.
  • There are no fees added to the exchange rate for payments in a foreign currency, and you can get an immediate notification in the app once you’ve paid which converts the amount to pounds so you know exactly how much you’ve just spent.
  • You can withdraw up to £200 every 30 days fee free, and then its 3% which still makes it better than most banks. [UPDATE – Withdrawals within the EEA are now completely fee free as of Dec 2019]
  • Customer support is excellent. It’s chat based, but every time I’ve had an issue it’s been resolved quickly and painlessly
  • The transaction log is amazing – no more trying to work on what on earth a certain transaction could be . It includes an easy to understand company name and location of where the payment took place.
  • And from a geeky IT perspective – the way Monzo manage service outages is exemplar.

Last but not least, Monzo is dedicated to being a better bank and puts a huge emphasis on transparency which gives it extra points from me.

Monzo is now available to any UK resident to sign up – you no longer need an invitation.

Revolut

Revolut is, in many way similar to Monzo. However, its almost, but not completely fee-free for foreign currency exchange – there are some exceptions – THB and UAH and a few other currencies outside of exchange market hours incur a fee – full details here.

Customer service has also been excellent – within 15 minutes, customer support had managed to locate a missing incoming foreign payment transaction which had the wrong references on it, and move the money into my account.

Here are the things which make it different;

  • You can hold multiple currencies on one card. If you’re regularly transacting in currencies other than pounds, you can do less swapping back and forth between currencies (like when your European friends pay you their share of the bill in euros, you can keep hold of the euros for next time you’re travelling – no money lost on exchanges and fees)
  • You can have virtual cards which can easily be cancelled. Whilst this might not useful day to day, if you want to transact on a site that looks less than legit, you can cancel that card after you’ve made a payment.
  • There’s a bundle of other services that might be useful. Whilst I haven’t used these myself, there are things like mobile phone and travel insurance that are relatively easy to set up from within the app.
  • Revolut is available in more countries, where as Monzo is only available to UK residents right now.

If you’re interested in Revolut, you can sign up with my referral link and we both get £6 back on your first transaction.

The verdict

Get both – Monzo is Mastercard and Revolut is Visa. Having one of each is a good idea when you’re travelling since every now and again you come across somewhere that doesn’t accept one or the other.

If I was to pick one it would be Monzo because the user experience throughout every aspect of the service is excellent, there’s a desktop version for emergencies (like losing your phone and card at the same time) and it doesn’t ask you to pay a monthly fee like Revolut.

However, if you live outside the UK or if being able to hold multiple currencies on one card sounds useful to you, Revolut might be the better option.

💸 A few travel banking tips

Two step authentication – Many banks require some sort of two step authentication to log into online banking. If this is a card reader, make sure you take it with you when you’re travelling. If it’s receiving a code by SMS, but you’re using a local sim because your mobile tariff has high roaming charges, you might want to switch off your data roaming off before switching over to your home sim card.

Check if cards are widely used – Whilst I haven’t found many places where cards weren’t accepted, there have been a few exceptions such as the Philippines. If you know you’re going to need cash, look up ATM availability beforehand (Google maps is pretty good these days) and don’t assume you’ll be able to draw out as much money are you want from the only ATM on a tiny island.

Have a few cards available – There were a few times travelling across the US where my Monzo card just wouldn’t work at gas stations after 10pm, and neither would Revolut, and neither would credit card number one….but eventually one did. Have at least one back up card from a different card provider. 

Card not working? – Sometimes you need to select whether your card is a Credit, Checking or Savings account when at a store or cash machine. Choosing the right one for you debit card is a bit of trial and error – choose the wrong one and your transaction is declined. I found that choosing credit worked most of the time in the US and Canada. 


What are you favourite travel banking tips, apps and banks?

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