App review: Revolut (4 stars)

App review: Revolut (4 stars)

Pros: A mobile-based current account that allows you to hold, exchange and transfer money without fees in 25 different countries.

Cons: ATM withdrawals are free up to £200 per month, but anything over is charged 2%.

Putting our Revolut cards to work on some Mexican tacos

Putting our Revolut cards to work on some Mexican tacos

How many times have you had no choice but to pay annoying ATM fees when on holiday or seen the dreaded "Non-sterling charge" pop up on the bank statement when you've made it back home? This used to happen to me, but since I got a Revolut card spending abroad has been easier and cheaper.

Revolut, which launched in 2015, is one of a new breed of app-based banks offering an alternative to high fees for purchases or withdrawals abroad. 

It made its name by letting customers transfer and spend money in a load of different currencies around the world without fees.

It is not your classic Silicon Valley tech start-up. It was founded by ex-bankers Nikolay Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko in London. Fair play to the guys at Revolut, the company is now officially a "Unicorn" (the name for a tech start-up worth more than $1billion - don't ask me why).

But their ambitions don't stop there. Since I last used my card at Easter, Revolut has added a service that lets you trade shares, and they have their sights set on the US.

So how does Revolut actually work?

Once you have downloaded the app and linked a debit card to your Revolut account you'll have a virtual card on your phone straight away. If you fancy the real thing they'll put one in the post.

You top up your pre-paid card and the money appears in your account. Exchanging your pounds, dollars, euros etc for your Thai Bhat, South African Rand or Morrocan Dirhams seemingly happens in a flash. 

I've used my Revolut card to buy tacos in Mexico and drinks on the beach in Thailand and it didn't let me down.

The app itself is well-designed and easy to figure out. Revolut also categorises your spending for you and even breaks it down according to which currency you've used. Not only can you see how much you spent on that round of drinks, but it follows you around the globe too. 

On top of the spending, you can also transfer money charge-free in 25 different countries (I'd be lying if I said I had tested all of them - I wish!). 

Other tools include "Vaults", which rounds up your spending an puts the leftover change into a savings account: insurance (medical, phone insurance etc) and a cryptocurrency exchange for all those Bitcoin-lovers out there. (I've written about cryptocurrency risks elsewhere on the site - click here to read "When Bitcoin investing goes wrong...").

The main service is free and this gives you access to all of those functions and free ATM withdrawals up to £200 (or 200 euros) per month.

But, given that basically everyone takes card nowadays the cash withdrawal limit isn't too much of an issue.

If you do happen to be one of those people that loves walking round with wads of cash, it might be worth going for the Premium account. This will set you back £6.99 per month and lets you withdraw up to £400 without charges, as well as giving you free overseas medical insurance.

I've read some complaints online, but I've not had any problems so far. It's the only card that I use when I'm away. There are other options offering a similar service, too.

In this piece by the Guardian's Rupert Jones and Patrick Collinson, Monzo, Starling and Tandem as well as established names Halifax and Barclays are mentioned in relation to cards that can help you avoid excessive charges abroad and it's always best to shop around for what's going to suit your needs.

 

Read more: The rise of open banking

Read more: Copper coins and how we're going cashless

Read more: App of the week: Mobike

Read more: App of the week: Yolt

Read more: App of the week: Monzo

Want to be a responsible investor? Step one: cut through the jargon

Want to be a responsible investor? Step one: cut through the jargon

The rise of open banking

The rise of open banking