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 guide, 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 few exceptions, they have all been crap. Sure, some people have found them useful in rare circumstances but their highway robbery fee structures, residency requirements, horrible 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 top-ups) 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, GBP, PLN and CHF to it. The balances are kept separate and you can hold the five 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 although you need to signup for Premium if you want it delivered outside the EU). 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, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. First of all, I have noticed a significant decrease in the quality of 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. Metal and Premium cardholders do get faster support but considering the price point of those two plans, that is something you would expect. 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 the residents of a few countries 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 5000 € (cumulative). The only real options for active users are Premium and Metal. Debit card top-ups are not free anymore, at least not for all types of cards. I now get charged 1-2% when using my EEA debit card because it is not coded as a personal debit card. I contacted support for clarification and in true Revolut fashion, received a reply in broken English saying “You have to pay fee, sorry”. Lastly and most importantly, alternatives to Revolut have gone to market not to mention the traditional banks offering no-forex fee / ATM fee cards.
On the flip side, Revolut now has a banking license and that is something that should have a positive impact on the future of the product. New features have also been implemented, especially for those on the paid tiers. While Revolut still cannot compete with the likes of American Express when it comes to card benefits, it is definitely getting there and it will be interesting to see what the future brings.
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, at least to a certain extent. Even those who do not have a bank account in a supported currency can benefit by using TransferWise to load 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 a godsend. They can transfer their pay into their Revolut account using TransferWise at market-rate and keep it there. 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. Obviously, due to Revolut’s residence restrictions, this is currently limited to only a few non-EUR countries.
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. Do note that for this to work, your Payoneer card must be issued in the UK/EU.
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, a German visiting Japan and Hong Kong on a regular basis would benefit from buying JPY and HKD when the exchange rates are favourable.
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 delayed it multiple times until it finally launched in 2017. If you operate a business in a supported country, you can register by clicking here. In addition to the regular KYC documents, Revolut also requires a proof of address for the operating address. This means that even if you are the citizen of a supported country and run a business registered in a supported country, you will only be able to open a Revolut for Business account if you are physically operating the business from a supported country. The starter plan is 25GBP per month and includes up to 100000 GBP in incoming transactions. The standard plan is 100 GBP per month and includes up to one million GBP in incoming transactions. The third plan includes an unlimited volume but costs 1000 GBP per month. In any cases, you can add multiple users to the account and issue business debit cards to each user. A freelancer plan has also been introduced, at a more reasonable 6.99 GBP per month. Its features are the same as those of the starter plan. For those who qualify and operate in multiple currencies, Revolut for Business is a no-brainer despite its higher than usual monthly fee.
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