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Hiking boots? Check. Headlamp? Check. Portable battery? Check. Two weeks before my solo trip to Colombia, I had everything sorted. Except for one important detail: how to deal with money.
Figuring out how to pay for things in the local currency without being ripped off by a bank or foreign exchange office seemed challenging. I knew that when converting money, you always lose.
I had read about travelers cheques, but carrying paper around Colombia seemed outdated and inefficient. There had to be a better way.
After some online research, I stumbled upon Revolut. Launched in 2015 as “the only banking alternative designed for your global lifestyle,” it already has over three million customers.
One of a handful of new UK-based challengers to traditional banks, Revolut built its customer base by offering them much lower costs. As well as providing free overseas withdrawals, Revolut transfers money at the interbank exchange rate — the real-time rate banks use to exchange currencies between one another — without taking on extra charges.
I’ve had my Revolut card for over a year now. Has it lived up to the hype?
How Does Revolut Work?
Opening an account is free, and only takes a few minutes once you’ve downloaded the iOS or Android app. Currently, Revolut is only available to legal residents of the European Economic Area and Switzerland, but the company has recently started trials in the US, Australia, and New Zealand as well.
In order to use your account, you’ll also need to verify your identity. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to hold, receive, and exchange 24 currencies at the real exchange rate, plus send free domestic and international money transfers.
Tired of typing out long bank account numbers manually? A handy feature of the app is the ability to create payment links that you can share with friends, family or colleagues, even if they aren’t on Revolut.
Generate the link using the app and send it to your contact (for example, via WhatsApp or SMS). They’ll have 24 hours to claim the money by clicking on the link and entering their account details.
Revolut comes in three different accounts: Standard, Premium, and Metal. The one discussed here is the Standard, which is free and the one I went for. The Premium account costs $8.99 per month and, among other things, includes free ATM withdrawals of up to $400 per month and overseas medical insurance at no extra cost.
The Metal account has all of Premium’s benefits, and increases the free ATM withdrawal limit to $600/month. As well as having a fancy card made of reinforced steel, other benefits include a 1% cashback and a concierge service. It costs $15.99 per month.
Using Revolut’s Debit Card on the Road
Once you’ve topped up your account, you can order a physical Revolut card. The Standard card costs £4.99 (€5.99/$8.99,) and lets you pay using the currencies available in your account for free. You can also withdraw money at ATMs fee-free for the first $200 per month. If you’ve reached that limit, they charge a fee of 2%.
I started using Revolut’s card in Colombia, and found it very useful. While you can hold funds in multiple currencies, Colombian pesos isn’t one of them. Still, I was able to pay using the card knowing that Revolut would auto-convert between my balance and pesos at the best available rate.
Because the card details are in the app (which is secured with a PIN and/or your fingerprint), it’s easy to check them out if you’re buying something online. There’s no need to grab your wallet from the other side of the room to find the card number. Bonus points for that!
If you misplace your card, you can easily enable a temporary freeze so it can’t be used. Once you figure out where you left it, you can lift the block and start using it again. Easy.
On top of its basic offerings, Revolut has another advantage for travelers: a worldwide travel insurance. This affordable insurance covers overseas emergency medical assistance, and expenses of up to £15m. You can pay for it on a per-day or annual basis, directly within the app.
According to a survey from Motorola, 50 percent of people globally have cracked their smartphone screen at least once. Chances are, you could be one of them. With Revolut, you can take out worldwide coverage for common types of damage to your phone and other devices — useful if your standard travel insurance policy doesn’t cover expensive electronics.
For example, if you’ve got a €1,000 camera, insuring it will cost you €2.21/week. Pay upfront for the whole year, and you’ll receive a 13% discount. As with any insurance, check the terms and conditions to make sure it’s appropriate for you, but if it is, the price is pretty reasonable.
The Revolut App’s Limitations
Revolut has no desktop version. This sometimes feels like a shortcoming, especially if you’re like me and prefer looking at your finances in detail on a larger screen. Another issue is that if you lose your phone or it gets stolen, you can’t easily access Revolut until you replace it. That’s always a complication, especially when you’re traveling.
Support, also, could be better. While the help center has answers to most questions and there are useful YouTube tutorials, service has been slow when there’s a need to talk to a real person. I’ve sometimes had to wait for hours before chatting to someone through the app.
Another limitation is that Revolut doesn’t give you US bank details, which are useful if you get paid in USD. A workaround around this is to use Transferwise, which provides a US bank account number that can receive funds directly. You could then pay using a Transferwise debit card if you wish, but I prefer to keep all my spending in one place.
Instead, I send the money from my Transferwise USD account to my Revolut USD account, and use the Revolut debit card to pay for things in US dollars. If you have a Transferwise debit card, sending the same currency between your Transferwise to Revolut accounts won’t cost a thing.
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Once I returned to Europe after my trip to Colombia, I found myself increasingly using my Revolut card, to the point where I’ve almost given up on my regular bank. While Revolut is a great tool for managing money when you’re away, I’ve had plenty of reasons to keep using it now I’m back.
The app is really easy to use and well designed, and improvements are added regularly. One of my favorite features is being able to set up a monthly budget, with access to all my transaction information. That means I now have a better understanding of my spending habits, with a couple of taps.
Being able to buy travel insurance for as many — or as few — days as necessary is also a big part of the reason why I use Revolut. The maximum duration of your trip can’t exceed 40 days, but that covers most of my journeys.
I particularly like how Revolut sticks to its promise to make your personal finances a paperless process — that’s refreshing in the banking industry, and a godsend for regular travelers.
I’ve also got peace of mind that in the unlikely event that Revolut fails, my money is still safe. Revolut has been authorized by the FCA (the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates financial firms), and customer funds are held in ring-fenced accounts with other major banks.
So far, so good with Revolut. It’s been a year since my card arrived, and I’m using it more than ever, with no plans to change. I’m a fan!
All images via Revolut.