Spending your money in anything other than Great British Pounds (GBP) usually means paying foreign exchange (FX) fees. As the FX fee on most reward cards is often fairly high (e.g. 2.99% on the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card), any foreign expenditure probably represents a missed opportunity for earning points or cashback on your spending. In addition to this, the traditional method of exchanging a set amount of travel money introduces further costs, unless you know exactly how much of a currency you need. Exchange too much and you’ll be hit with that FX twice as you change any unspent cash back in to GBP. However, recently some very useful, and far more economical, tools have emerged for sending and spending money abroad. Here are the products I’ve been using this year:
For Spending Money Abroad:
Use code O2MEP for £5 free credit
Curve offers a very different way of spending money, at home or abroad. You can link any Mastercard or Visa to your Curve card via the App and then just use the one card. You can select which linked card you’d like to charge the transaction too and incredibly you can even go ‘back in time’ and change that transaction if you charge it to the wrong card. However the most impressive aspect of the Curve card is that it can handle the currency exchange at 0% FX fees and then charge to the linked card in GBP. This means that the fee on the card itself is irrelevant, as the transaction will show in GBP – so even if you have a rewards card with high charges for foreign spending, you can use it via Curve to bypass this and still earn rewards. So, in short, you can spend money on Curve whilst abroad, it’ll charge to your normal card/account and there will be zero card charges. Impressively, for some retailers you can also earn 1% cashback with Curve itself, plus the rewards on the linked cards.
The free version of Curve has a limit of £500 of foreign spending per month, only £200 of which can be cash withdrawals. Increasingly cash withdrawals via Curve are being recognised by credit card providers as cash transactions – so a cash withdrawal abroad might get zero currency fee, but could incur charges/interest which apply to credit card cash withdrawals (although you could link a debit card for cash transactions abroad). It’s also worth noting that currently it is not compatible with American Express, however in a recent tweet Curve confirmed that they were planning to launch this option as soon as this month. Excitingly this also means that, because Curve itself is a Mastercard, potentially it will be possible to use an American Express card almost anywhere. It’s likely this functionality will be confined to the paid version (Curve Black), currently £50/year – this card is likely to be worth doing the maths for if you spend over £500/month in a foreign currency and/or need to frequently use your American Express card in retailers where it isn’t currently accepted.
Curve uses the midmarket exchange rate.
Read more about Curve via the link below, and if you do decide to try it, use the code O2MEP for £5 free credit on your new card when you make your first transaction.
Curve Website (£5 code O2MEP)
2) WeSwap Card
Prior to the introduction of Curve, WeSwap was always my choice for exchanging money. We Swap is a prepaid Mastercard based on a community swap model via the website and/or App. You can load GBP onto your card and then change it into a range of currencies. You are given three options – immediate exchange (charged at 2% FX), a 3 day swap (charged at 1.3%) or a 7 day swap (charged at 1%). Typically I’ve always found the final rate to be better than almost all traditional travel money options – and the convenience of managing this in the App and being able to quickly add more money, etc. is great. Effectively it will always be 1% more than Curve, and you’ll earn no rewards, but I’ve always found it a convenient option – and it’s a safe bet if you want to load it with a set limit and know that there will be no further fees for transactions.
The exchange rate used by WeSwap is also the mid market rate.
Read more about WeSwap, and if you do decide to try it, use this link: WeSwap for £10 free credit on your new card after your first transaction.
For Sending Money Abroad:
1) Circle Pay
Use code OETUGJ for £5 free credit after £25 of transactions
Circle Pay is a very simple App which allows you to transfer money to friends and family, for free, with no FX fees. Sending money is effectively as easy as sending a message, in fact one quirky feature is that the App encourages you to send Gif’s and Emoji’s with your money. Circle also uses the mid market rate.
You can easily ‘Top Up’ your Circle balance from a Visa card, and withdraw your Circle balance to your bank account. When I’ve withdrawn a balance, typically I’ve found that the money has been in my current account within about 48 hours.
If you’d like to know more about Circle Pay, click the link below. You can also use code OETUGJ when you set up your account, for £5 credit after £25 worth of transactions. (It doesn’t take a genius to realise that if you use this code for 2 friends to set up an account and transfer £25 from one and then back again, you’d effectively get a free £10!!)
One final point to add is that, in all cases, where you are given a currency option when spending abroad it’s almost always better to opt for local currency. The rate on all of the above options will almost certainly out perform any conversion rate offered at the point of the transaction.
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N.B.. Disclaimer: This is an amateur, personal blog. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances.