Exchanging Sterling for another currency is usually a necessity ahead of any international trip. But it’s a daunting task.
You have to choose from dozens of competing bureau de change providers, weigh up whether to pay a fee or not to get the best rate, decide how much to exchange, and time it well so the exchange markets are in your favour. It’s not easy. For less popular currencies, you might need to order the cash in to a physical branch, so it’s also not instantaneous.
I recently visited Sweden for the Eurovision Song Contest. Sweden uses the Krona as its currency, and I needed some. I’d never been to Sweden though, so I had no real way of knowing how much money I would need to take with me, and no obvious place to get cash from. So I didn’t bother.
Instead, I relied on the power of the Internet; and a pre-payment card called Revolut.
What is it?
Revolut is a pre-paid MasterCard that lets you exchange money at the point of transaction into over 80 currencies. It does this at inter-bank rates at little or no cost.
You load it up with Pounds or Euros for free, or with US Dollars for a small fee; then you can exchange between the currencies for free at whatever the market rate is at that moment. You can also spend online, in store or withdraw cash in over 80 currencies whenever you need it. It always gives you a better rate than spending on your normal credit or debit card and it takes the worry out of carrying cash everywhere - or carrying cash at all.
Does it work?
On arrival at Arlanda Airport, I had no Krona to my name. So I set about finding a cash point and, to my amazement, took out the equivalent of £100 cash without any problem.
Across the week, I spent about £700 (Stockholm’s an expensive city!), but I only withdrew the equivalent of £200 of cash the whole trip. The rest of the time, I used my Revolut.
The best part is, I still have money left on the card and I can just spend it here in the UK - because it’s stored on my Revolut card in Pounds. That means no more losing money at the bureau de change when you swap a currency back to Sterling.
There’s an app for that
Revolut is backed up by an app. Primarily it’s where you manage top-ups on the card, but it also alerts you to spend on your card, lets you check exchange rates you’ll get in real-time, and allows you to do things like block your card or change your address.
Your account is linked to your phone number on registration, and on supported iOS devices, it’s protected by TouchID, which makes logging in a breeze.
In the app, you can see your transaction history in full, and the rates you got when you made the transaction. Basically everything you’d need.
It’s not the best designed app in the world: there are bugs, and some of the better features are a little buried, but it’s functional and good enough. Ultimately it lets you do the things you probably care about most with something like this:
- know how much money you have to spend
- know what things will cost you when you do
Not completely without issues
There was a small hiccup on the first day, where MasterCard had a 20 minute blip that meant the card didn’t work. Naturally, this sent me into a small panic but fortunately, there’s an in-app chat support feature for these circumstances.
Revolut’s support teams were not particularly quick to respond, and their app gives no indication of when you might get a response which didn’t fill me with confidence. I also tried calling but through some stupid design decision, that results in the phone hanging up if no one is free to answer it (ever heard of call waiting!?). Luckily, within about 45 minutes, I was back up and running and there were no issues following that one. (Phew!)
There are somethings Revolut doesn’t do that would be nice.
- Contactless: Revolut is a classic Chip-and-Pin card rather than a Contactless card, which does mean paying by card is a bit slower than it otherwise could be.
- Apple Pay: Revolut isn’t a proper debit card - though it is backed by Barclays bank. That means no Apple Pay.
- Service status information: When my card stopped working, I had no idea why and the app wasn’t helpful at explaining it either. More proactive information would be nice.
- Better chat support: If your entire support service is based on chat, it had better work and it had better feel like it’s working. There are some big improvements that could be made here to make customers feel like support can be depended upon.
If you want to spend money abroad just as you would at home, then Revolut is a pretty good choice. Give it a try (but probably take some cash as a back up and avoid the panic I had).