There are many no-fee debit cards on the market. The problem is, they all have at least one fatal flaw. Revolut on the other hand is pretty damn near perfect. In this article I review it and present some interesting usage cases.
When I first heard about Revolut, my reaction was to dismiss it as simply another prepaid card. There has been too many of those in the last few years and with no exception, they have all been crap. Sure some people have found them useful in some rare circumstances but their highway robbery fee structures, residency requirements, crap exchange rates and poor web interfaces/apps have made them a poor option for most. That being said, I am a curious man and decided to have a look at Revolut’s website, ready for a good laugh. As you have probably guessed by now, I did not found the laugh I was looking for. What I found is what appeared, at least in theory, to be the perfect prepaid card. I decided to open an account and give it a try, convinced I would eventually find its “fatal flaw”.
Opening an account was refreshingly easy, all I had to do was download their app and follow the instructions on-screen. They did not require much in the way of personal information: my name, email address and mailing address. All in all it took five minutes to sign up and I was issued a MasterCard number on the spot.
I then decided to verify my ID, curious about how they handle that part of the process. Turns out they handle it just as well as they handle everything else, all I had to do was take a photo of my passport information page (using the app) and then tap my passport with my phone and let the NFC reader do its magic. It is important to note that while the ID verification part is not necessary, there are some pretty restrictive limits imposed on the card if you remain unverified.
The next step was to load some money on the card and for this they give you two options, you can use a debit Visa/MasterCard or you can send a wire. Both options are free (except for USD topups) and if you use a debit card, you get access to your money instantly. Not being a patient man I used a debit Visa and loaded some USD. As promised the money showed up on my Revolut account immediately. I made a few purchases online and everything worked flawlessly.
It is important to note that the card is multi-currency and that at this time you can load USD, EUR and GBP to it. The balances are kept separate and you can hold the three currencies at the same time. You can also transfer funds from one currency to another. It is easy and the exchange rate offered is as good as it gets. No really, I have done a few test transfers and got nearly the same rate as quoted by my Forex broker.
I then decided to contact customer service. Sadly, many excellent products are on my “no no” list simply because the support behind them is crap. In the case of Revolut, to contact support all I had to do was to click on the big “Support” button in the app menu. This took me to an easy to use Messenger-style chat interface. I typed a message and was surprised to receive a reply within a minute. The person on the other end seemed knowledgeable and answered all my questions (some fairly technical) very quickly. It is important to note however that their support is not available 24h and that there is no other way to contact them. If there is a problem with your card and they are “closed”, you are royally screwed.
By then I was quite impressed with the product and decided to order the physical card. This too proved ridiculously easy and the process took me less than a minute to complete. Delivery is free and you can use any address, anywhere in the world (does not have to be the same as your registered address). In my case I had the card delivered to my hotel in Shanghai. It took nearly a month to arrive so be mindful of that when you order yours. Surprisingly, the card is coded as a normal MasterCard, not as a debit one. This means that it will work everywhere MasterCard is accepted including on sites where debit cards are usually blocked (Azure for example). It is important to note that Revolut blocks certain types of transactions. For example, you cannot use your card on PayPal.
All in all I am very impressed with Revolut. It is mostly free, smooth and well implemented. I certainly do not recommend parking all your savings with them but I definitely recommend you check them out. You can download the app by clicking here on your phone.
Since I wrote this review back in 2015, Revolut has changed and not for the better. First of all, I have noticed a significant decrease in the quality of the customer service. When I opened my account, it took less than five minutes on average to get a reply. Now I consider myself lucky if I even get a reply and when I do it is hours (or days) later. This is a big deal as there are situations when you really need to have a problem solved and you need it solved now. Secondly, Revolut used to be truly international. Everyone could open an account and get a card delivered free of charge. Not anymore, they only accept EU residents nowadays. Thirdly, Revolut used to be free and truly unlimited. The introduction of a fair usage policy changed that and since then the limits have been lowered to the point where using the card makes no sense at all. As of today, the limit for free withdrawal is a measly 200 $€£ per month while the total transaction limit is 5000 £ or 6000 $€ (cumulative). There is a premium account but if you are going to pay for such a service, why not use a real, solid bank instead? Lastly and most importantly, alternatives to Revolut have gone to market not to mention the traditional banks offering no-forex fee / ATM fee cards. In other words, I see no reason to recommend Revolut anymore.
Those who do not have a fee-free debit/credit card
Fee-free cards are common in the US/Canada/China and increasingly in Europe but that being said, even in those regions most people do not have one. This means that a lot of people have to pay anywhere from 1% to 5% for transactions in foreign currencies. Getting a Revolut account solves this problem. Even those who do not have a bank account in USD, EUR or GBP can benefit by using TransferWise or WorldRemit to transfer money to their Revolut account at market-rate. See my article on international money transfer here.
Those who do not have access to stable currencies
People who live in developing countries often have to live with unstable currencies. For them, a Revolut account can be godsend. They can transfer their pay into their Revolut account using TransferWise or WorldRemit at market-rate and keep it there in USD (I do not recommend holding EUR or GBP). Using the plastic card, they can access their money in their country of residence with no restrictions, at any time just as they would with a local bank card. In some cases, they can even avoid local sanctions (Greece for example).
Those who get paid via services like Payoneer
A lot of people use Payoneer and their ridiculously overpriced debit card to get paid online. For these people, Revolut is a game changer. They can continue receiving money via Payoneer but instead of spending their income using the Payoneer card, they can load it for free to their Revolut account and use the Revolut card to spend the money. That way they avoid the Payoneer fees and crap exchange rates. Please note that there is a fee to load USD from Payoneer to Revolut.
Those who want to hold foreign currencies
For those who travel on a regular basis between certain regions, holding the local currencies of the countries they regularly visit makes a lot of sense. For example, an American visiting Europe on a regular basis would benefit from buying EUR when the exchange rate is favorable and holding the currency until the next trip. At the moment it is only possible to hold USD, EUR and GBP but I expect the list to grow in the future.
Revolut for Business
In late 2016, Revolut announced the launch of a business bank account along with a host of other business services. Revolut initially planned to launch the product before the end of 2016 but as of now it still has not launch. It is unclear when it will. To pre-register, simply click here and fill in your details.