Who isn’t familiar with this scenario? When you’re in a foreign country and you get cash from an ATM or pay with a card, you always have this uneasy feeling of having just lost money. A poor exchange rate and fees for foreign transactions are just part of the travel routine.
But there are other options! For several weeks, I’ve been using an app by Revolut, a London-based startup. Spending money is now really fun. Revolut doesn’t charge any fees for using their Mastercard either domestically or abroad, and on top of that, you get a fair exchange rate.
25 Currencies in Your Digital Wallet
In just ten minutes, I set up a Swiss franc account through the Revolut app. If you want, you can keep several parallel currency accounts: you can choose between 25 different currencies, including the euro, US dollar, British pound, Swedish krona, Turkish lira, Japanese yen, and Thai baht.
Since I wanted to use Revolut for both paying and withdrawing money, I immediately ordered a credit card that was linked to the app. As a Revolut user, you have the choice of a virtual or a physical Mastercard. With a standard free membership, you pay nothing for the first virtual card. For a physical card and each additional virtual card, you have to shell out CHF 7 or the equivalent. All credit cards are free with a paid premium membership (CHF 8.99).
You can have a total of two physical and five virtual cards. The advantages of a virtual card are that you can’t lose it and you can use it right away. Not that I had to wait that long for the plastic Mastercard – three days later, it was already sitting in my mailbox.
Credit Card Without the Credit Check!
Before ordering the card, I had to top up my account with a minimum of 10 Swiss francs. The Revolut card works on a credit basis, which is why there’s no need for a credit check. Lately, customers from Germany have had to add a minimum of 50 euros.
Meanwhile, as a confirmed Revolut user, I immediately made a single deposit of 1500 euros while in London. After first playing around with the app for a bit, I now wanted to hit the road with a little more money. This time, I added the money via transfer because I wanted to test whether I could manage without my bank credit card. The money transfer via SEPA went smoothly and without any fees, since Revolut lets you set up your own IBAN account in euros. My Swiss bank’s poor exchange rate from CHF to EUR can sometimes be annoying.
If you want to send Swiss francs without changing currencies, you have to make a so-called SWIFT transfer to a Revolut joint account. However, this will usually incur transaction fees by your bank. Payment with an external credit card to replenish your Revolut account may also result in paying fees to the credit card issuer.
When Currency Is No Longer a Factor!
When you’re abroad and you pay with a credit card or withdraw money from an ATM, your Swiss franc (or other currency) has to be converted into the foreign currency from your credit card account. What you then usually get is the bank’s own lousy exchange rate.
Revolut does it differently. The London startup gives its customers the more favorable wholesale exchange rate for more than 120 currencies – a rate that the banks themselves indulge in. The app shows you the current rates. If the exchange rate for the currency of your vacation destination happens to be good, you can change your Swiss francs or euros into the destination currency weeks in advance, although the app only allows advance money exchanges for 25 currencies, for which you can also have an account.
With a standard membership, you can change up to CHF 6000 free of charge – as long as it’s in the context of card payments, transfers, and in-app currency exchanges. Outside of that, there’s usually a fee of 0.5%. Premium members can take advantage of unlimited free money exchanges in over 120 currencies. On weekends, there are small surcharges, since wholesale trading is suspended at that time.
Sending Money to Your Friends? A Few Seconds Is All It Takes
For ATM cash withdrawals, Revolut charges nothing for up to CHF 200 per month. For premium members, the limit is CHF 400. If you exceed those limits, you have to pay 2% per transaction amount. For SEPA bank transfers in euros, in-store credit card payments, or sending money to friends via the app, Revolut charges absolutely no fees.
By trawling through the saved contacts on my smartphone, the app shows me which of my friends and acquaintances are already on Revolut. As soon as I send money to one of these contacts, the sum is immediately credited to the recipient’s Revolut account.
Buying Cryptocurrencies with Virtually No Fees
Users of the premium service can enjoy an additional feature: the purchase of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. Revolut charges an additional 1.5% fee of the rate given by the cryptocurrency exchange Bitstamp. This is inexpensive compared to Coinbase, whose rates are almost 3.4% more. At eToro, the rates are about 3.75% more.
You can pay your bills only indirectly using digital money. If all other currency accounts on the app are empty, Revolut will resort to credit card payments or the withdrawal of cryptocurrencies, and it will change these back into the relevant currency. The only ways you can use Bitcoin, Ethereum, und Litecoin directly is by sending sums in these currencies to your friends or by changing them back to Swiss francs or your own currency at the right moment. But be forewarned: the general terms and conditions prohibit speculative transactions.
I Am My Own Head of Security
What impresses me most is the control I have over my credit cards. Using the app, I can lock and unlock the cards without having to pay a fee. To increase the security of the cards, I can also simply deactivate specific features: magnetic strips, contactless payments, ATM withdrawals, and/or online purchases.
At any time, I can change my monthly spending limit for credit card and automatic payments, and I get additional protection through the “location-based security” feature. For instance, if my smartphone’s location is Zurich but my credit card details are being used in New York, the transaction will be stopped in the USA because of suspicion of fraud!
Will We Be Paying with QR Codes in the Future?
With Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Twint (the big Swiss banks), we now have powerful companies entering the ring with the aim of ultimately replacing the use of cash at the store counter. Payments are made with your smartphone through an audio chip (NFC), magnetic transmission, Bluetooth, and QR-code scanning. Revolut hasn’t decided yet which system it wants to use.
Claudio Wilhelmer, country manager for Switzerland, recently told IT Finanzmagazin: “We can assume that 2018 will bring relevant products to the market. NFC-based methods will no doubt be at the forefront, but we’re also looking at other methods. There are, for example, such exciting solutions as WeChat Pay.”
The last option fits well with Revolut, since WeChat Pay generates a QR code on your smartphone. The cashier can then scan the code to complete the payment. Unlike contactless payments via audio chip, magnetic transmission, or Bluetooth, the QR-code variant lets you retain a bit of control.
A lot of users in the Revolut forums have expressed the desire to use Apple Pay as a means for spending their credit. For more than a year, there’s been speculation about when Apple Pay will be introduced. Revolut is still not saying much. They’re working on it, but it will be a few weeks before they can say anything more specific.
We're working on it as we speak! We'll be making an announcement on this soon?
— Revolut (@RevolutApp) November 10, 2017
For digital pioneers who want to free themselves from their nationally based bank, the Revolut app is a real blessing! Now there’s finally a way to pay with a credit card abroad without the burden of a bad conscience. The exchange rates are unbeatable, and there are no fee traps.
I’ve now returned all my Swiss credit cards because also in Switzerland, I have no problem using the Revolut card. The community is growing, and Revolut is likely to become the WhatsApp of digital payment transactions. WhatsApp has effectively eliminated the SMS charge. Revolut is putting an end to currency exchange fees.