Since becoming nomadic we’ve had our fair share of (traditional) banking disasters which is why we now have so many different cards and bank accounts. This post is all about how we manage our finances and a run down of online banks for nomads and travellers.
We’ve had a few banking problems in our time
It would be fair to say that we’ve had our fair share of banking problems with traditional banks. Traditional banks still struggle with overseas trips let alone the concept of being nomadic. We’ve had our accounts frozen, bank cards cancelled & even bank accounts closed with no prior warning. Just the other day I was told by a cashier in branch that I couldn’t withdraw (a large sum of) money from my bank account because it’s still in my non-married name. Despite my passport having a double barrelled surname of both my maiden and married name, I was told I must produce my original marriage certificate. She could not understand how I had been paperless for nearly a decade and never read my bank statements. Isn’t that what you have a bank phone app for?!
Traditional banking is SO antiquated
Traditional banking is archaic and this has left us with a few tricky situations, like the time I tried to pay for our shopping in Spain only to find that Natwest had cancelled my bank card and were demanding I collect the new one directly from a UK branch. Or the time we were trying to pay the deposit on a car rental and discovered BNP had closed our bank account. Or the time Rich (who never does any banking) rang up Natwest and had his card temporarily blocked because he couldn’t remember his password and had to go into a branch to provide proof of identity…
Traditional banking has seen its day and that’s why we changed to online banks as quickly as we could.
Banking Apps, aka Online Banks For Nomads & Travellers
When we started getting wind of (non-traditional) banking apps we jumped for joy and ordered every card that was available for us. So how do they differ to traditional banks?
- A traditional bank has various headquarters, with branches located across the countries in which it operates.
- Many traditional banks operate their own branded ATMs and charge fees to use different ATMs.
- Banks operate on a face-to-face customer service basis in branches and through call centres.
- Banks tend to have more financial products available such as loans, overdrafts, ISAs and mortgages.
How are online banks for nomads better?
- No credit checks
- Banking accessed entirely through a phone app
- Bank cards delivered anywhere in the world
- The ability to instantly freeze and unfreeze cards
- You can deactivate your account instantly
- No physical branches
- Real-time updates and instant access to finances
- Customer support through in-app chats
- Connect the online bank account seamlessly to a range of accounting software, like Xero & FreeAgent, business finance and mobile invoicing providers.
- Most offer: multiple currencies, monthly reports, commission-free spending abroad, bill-splitting, instant PIN changes, the ability to trade cryptocurrency, facial & voice recognition and finger print scanning.
Just this morning Natwest blocked my card whilst I was using it on the TransferWise App. The card has been registered & used on there for over 2 years. Traditional banks are a PAIN. Here's what to use instead. Click To Tweet
Which online banks do we use?
Despite having seven different cards it is Revolut we most frequently use. I acknowledge they appear to have been plagued with bad press but Revolut offers
- Top up your card from within the app – this is the only card which offers this facility
- Fee-free foreign spending
- Overseas cash withdrawals up to £200.
- You can have multiple Revolut cards linked to one account, meaning a backup ready for emergencies or give one to your kids (as we do). You can have up to two physical Revolut cards per account. They can be used in unison, or you can disable the extra Revolut card in the App and tap ‘Enable Card’ as and when you need it.
- Budgeting tools.
- Instant spending notifications.
- The ability to lock and unlock your card.
- You can use the card to spend abroad in more than 150 currencies, typically with no fees. Revolut uses the interbank exchange rate, which it says is better than the Mastercard rate used by Monzo.
- You can transfer money abroad in 24 currencies at that rate, too.
- We’ve used our card multiple times to pay car rental deposits which we’re unable to do with any other prepaid card.
- There’s no overdraft available yet.
- ATM withdrawals in the UK and overseas are free up to £200 a month, after which a 2% fee kicks in.
- Client funds are stored under a segregated trust account at Barclays/Lloyd’s. Your money is not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. As an FCA authorised institution, Revolut safeguards your funds. In the event of an insolvency of Revolut, you will be able to claim your funds from this segregated account and your claim will be paid above all other creditors.
- You must be over 18 to apply
Both Monzo and Starling repeatedly rank highly in UK ratings
- You can split bills, set budgets and get instant spending notifications.
- Plus you can set up direct debits and standing orders and pay people instantly and so on.
- Cash withdrawals in the UK are free and, like N26, when you are spending abroad, it passes Mastercard’s exchange rate on to the customer, without adding fees.
- You can pay in cheques by post and deposit cash into your account at any of the 28,000 PayPoint stores across the UK (fee: £1).
- Overdrafts are available.
- Your money is protected by the FSCS up to £85,000.
- Monzo pays a 1% AER but only if you put at least £1,000 aside in one of its Savings Pots.
- If you are withdrawing cash from overseas ATMs, you can get up to £200 every 30 days for free, after which you will be charged a 3% fee.
- You must be over 18 to apply
- You must have a physical bank account to transfer money into it, unlike Revolut which you can top up from in the app.
N26 used to for a select few mainland Europeans but has recently opened its doors to the UK.
- N26 offers a full bank account with a Mastercard debit card.
- It operates in Britain via its European banking licence, “passporting” the German licence to the UK for the time being. Your money is guaranteed by the German bank deposit protection scheme up to €100,000 (£89,000).
- Instant spending notifications on transactions, sub-accounts to organise money, and the ability to instantly lock your card if you lose it.
- It offers unlimited free ATM withdrawals in the UK; payments overseas are at the Mastercard exchange rate, with no mark-up fees.
- N26 partnered with TransferWise for international payments. N26 says they support international transfers into 19 foreign currencies directly from its app. The company also says its international transfer services are six times cheaper than regular banks.
- N26 accounts support Google Pay, which will allow you to make payments in stores, as well as use Google Pay for online shopping.
- N26’s app allows you to set and change daily spending and withdrawal limits, lock or unlock your card, enable and disable online or foreign payments as well as reset your PIN.
- One of the most practical features of N26’s app is the spending statistics it generates. You can make the app automatically categorise and breakdown of your purchases into groups.
- Spaces is a neat way that N26 allows you to stash away money for a goal you have. If you need to put back some extra money for a commingling vacation, or big down payment, spaces makes a lot of sense.
- N26 will provide you with a UK account number and sort code. You can set up direct debits and receive and make payments in the same way that any regular bank account would function.
- MoneyBeam will allow you to send cash to other N26 users instantly or within two days if they’re not using N26.
- UK customers free cash withdrawals up to £2,500 per day
- Foreign Cash withdrawals are charged at 1.7%
- Daily limit for online / in store payments is £5000. Monthly limit on card payments is £20,000.
- The N26 Black account will cost €9.90 per month and in addition includes free withdrawals worldwide and an Allianz Insurance package.
- You must be over 18 to apply.
- Available to Eurozone or UK residents but you can only hold one currency.
- Lacks some budgeting and savings features other neo-banks have.
- No phone support, chat support is reported to be slow.
Our trusty money transferring service now offers a borderless account with a debit card
- Borderless account and TransferWise debit Mastercard.
- This is currently only available for the majority of European based customers, which you can see a list of the countries here. It is very soon to be released in the US and is in the Beta stage, you can join a waiting list to sign up for one.
- Allows you to spend money anywhere in the world at the promised exchange rate.
- You can hold multiple currencies and it’s always free to pay with any of the currencies you hold within your account.
- TransferWise offers fantastic low conversion fees as well as zero transaction fees.
- You can also make withdrawals of up to £200 a month at any ATM.
- The Business Account offers the ability to send, receive and spend money in over 40+ currencies. You can set up local business accounts in minutes without even having an address in those countries.
- TransferWise offers the most number of currencies to top-up in and hold among all digital banks
- It is reported to have the best customer service experience (even though it’s not 24/7)
- Withdrawing money with Tranferwise from any ATM is free up to £200/month, but costs 2% above this amount.
- Transferring money in the same currency as your Transferwise account has a flat fee. This will vary depending on your currency. The international transfer fee is €0.5-2.0.
- Transferwise charges a top-up fee of 0-0.2%, with an additional charge for certain countries, e.g. 0.4% for Hungary.
- Doesn’t have a banking license (no deposit guarantee, direct debits or standing orders)
- No spending overview or budgeting tools
- Microdeposits don’t work
- They have recently started charging a minimum transfer fee
Last but definitely not least, Starling is becoming a great alternative and ranks very highly in the UK. I probably shouldn’t say this but Starling in my favourite.
- It offers a full current account that comes with a Mastercard debit card.
- You can also apply for a business account.
- They give monthly interest which is higher than my highstreet banks
- It offers current accounts for 16 to 17 year olds.
- You can pay people instantly and set up direct debits and standing orders.
- Real-time spending notifications, the ability to split bills and lock and unlock your card.
- Starling pays interest on its current accounts: 0.5% on balances up to £2,000, then 0.25% up to £85,000.
- There are no ATM fees in the UK or abroad and when you spend overseas it passes on Mastercard’s exchange rate, without any fees.
- It has just linked with the Post Office UK to allow customers to deposit and withdraw cash through its 11,500 branches.
- You can pay in cheques by post.
- Overdrafts and loans are available.
- Your money is protected by the FSCS up to £85,000.
- You can add CreditLadder to the Marketplace, enabling you to add monthly rent payments to your Experian credit history – see here for how it works.
- Notifications before direct debits are taken
- Starling offer a ‘Switch’ feature on their app making it easy to import details and settings from your regular account.
- £300 daily limit on cash withdrawals and only 6 withdrawals per day.
- It suddenly closed down its community forum, prompting criticism. Starling denied it was to avoid negative feedback but it didn’t look good.
- Lose your card abroad and it might cost £60.
Other online banks that we don’t currently use
I don’t have experience of these online banks but here are three more you could consider using.
- Customer service comes via the app and email.
- You can use the account like you would any standard bank account to make and receive electronic payments, to setup direct debits and standing orders, to make card payments and to transfer money.
- Additionally, you can also send and manage invoices directly from the app, use the card abroad at point of sale, or online, without incurring any foreign exchange fees.
- Tide allows integration with accounting services Xero and FreeAgent.
- Card transactions cost nothing.
- International fees are exactly the same but with the currency exchange rate.
- Tide rejects applications from sole traders that have not pre-registered with the UK HMRC. Tax rules state that you only need to register within 3 months of starting to trade but Tide require this registration before you apply for an account.
- The Tide account costs just 20p per transaction. That’s it. Well almost it. There’s a £1 ATM fee,
- nor can you make or receive international payments (yet)
- Post Office deposits come with a fee of £1. PayPoint deposits are charged for 3% of the transaction value.
Atom bank is one of the challenger banks aiming to bring banking into the present. Unlike many of its competitors, Atom offers savings accounts and mortgages rather than simply current accounts.
- They offer savings, mortgages and business loans
- Atom is covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). So you’re covered for up to £85,000 if Atom suddenly became insolvent.
- No bank card
- Instead of using the standard passcode and password combination, Atom bank uses face and voice recognition. The Atom app asks for a selfie and voice clip when logging in.
- Along with your personal details and address Atom also requests your existing bank details when registering with them. You therefore must have a traditional bank account.
Curve has the potential to be the best card you ever get as it lets you connect your existing debit and credit cards. It describes itself as the only card you’ll ever need.
- You can connect your credit and debit cards to your Curve app and then select which card you would like to use. When you use the Curve card in a store or online the card you selected in the app will be billed.
- There are 3 different types of card, costing from free up to £14.99 per month.
- The security of not having to carry debit cards.
- Curve charges just 1% per transaction and has a flat £2 fee plus 1% for cash withdrawals while overseas.
- Curve introduced a feature that allows you to change the card that was used for a transaction within 14 days of making it.
- You can withdraw cash and it will show on the credit card as any other transaction would.
- 1% cash back for paid-for cards for up to 6 retailers.
- The Curve Blackcard offers world-wide travel insurance.
- Enhanced spending limits for paid-for cards.
- Details about the cards you link to Curve aren’t stored on your device. So if someone steals your Curve card or gains access to your app, they won’t be able to see any important information.
- If your phone is also compromised, there is a 24-hour support line that users can contact to shut the card down and protect all their payment cards at once.
- Instant spending notifications.
- Does not support American Express, Maestro, Diners Club, JCB or UnionPay.
- Each time you add a card, you will have to verify it, which involves Curve charging and then refunding a small amount (no more than £1.50).
- Cash withdrawals on the Curve Card are limited to £200 per day. You also cannot spend more than £2,000 on the card per day, £5,000 per month or £10,000 per year. Curve says that the cap will change over time as you build up a spending history.
- Another important downside to be aware of is that your purchases aren’t covered by Section 75 potentially leaving large transactions vulnerable.
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