How to pay on your holidays and business trips.

Recently I have become really annoyed with the service offered by the NatWest Bank They've closed the local Branches for no good reason. They claimed lack of business for Belper Branch that always seemed to have a queue. They've also closed their ATM. I've also had problems with their debit card, but more about that later. I've started looking around for an alternative, and purely by chance, I think I found it in the Belper branch of Wilko's, an ironmonger and household goods store! It will also reduce the costs of spending money when you are travelling overseas.

I was buying an Easter present for my wife, but approaching the cashier desk, I saw a stand containing various gift and store cards. I don't know why, but one card caught my attention. It was the Revolut prepaid bank card. It had a VISA Logo on the package. It priced at £4.95, but given the problems with NatWest I thought it might be worth a try. There was not much detail on the packaging, but I purchased it and came home to the Old Post Office. I was soon sat in front of my PC investigating my impulse buy on the Internet.

Like most pre-paid bank cards it works by you loading some money from your Bank Account, or from other income sources. You can then use the card like a normal CHIP and PIN Bank Debit Card, with the benefit that you cannot spend more than you've loaded. So it helps keep spending under control and prevents a raid on your main bank account if someone acquires your card.

Signing up to the service is undertaken using your smartphone, either Apple or Android, you need an existing bank account, a debit card to load money and your driving licence. Just fill in the details, hook up your debit card details, photograph your driving licence and when they ask take a face selfie using the smart phone. I received "approval" within 30 minutes from Revolut. It was a smooth and easy process.

I've since used the card to pay bills and to withdraw cash from an ATM. With the ATM I used at the COOP, there was no transaction fee(*1).  With a pre-paid debit card I have from another supplier (Optimum), there's a fee to withdraw money. All standard stuff so far, but it gets better.

The Revolut Card offers foreign currency facilities in a wide range of currencies. What is different is that the exchange rate offered is at the Interbank Rate rather than an inflated offered by the bank and credit card companies. When you purchase something on your travels, use the card to pay in the local currency. This avoids a rip off pricing by the retailer and also rip off foreign currency exchange rates by the Debit/Credit card. You can also use the card at foreign ATM machines, ticket machines, fuel stations, restaurants, shops etc. The same applies for Internet purchases, where banks will charge in the region of 6% - 10% in fees and poor their exchange rates when you pay by Debit Card.

I'd not be surprised to see savings on expenditures of more than 10 - 15% compared with paying in Sterling (GBP) on a standard bank card in an overseas location.

You can pre-buy currency in advance and store it in an electronic "vault" offered by Revolut and then easily use it for foreign currency payments. This way you can take advantage of those times when currency exchange rates fluctuate and the pound (GBP) is strong. No more rip-off airport/hotel currency exchange rates.

When your card detail is used for a purchase Revolut messages your smartphone and you can easily check balances via your smartphone. You can also freeze/unfreeze your card from your phone.

Sending money to/from friends in most currencies is easy and fast(*2). A web page link (URL) is generated. It displays a request to pay/receive the amount which used by the friend/company to effect the transfer.  It also helps you to "split the bill" between friends and to be paid back. Once the card is approved, you can receive bank transfer payments direct from your employer or your own main bank account.

I opted to subscribe to the Revolut Premium Card (£8/Month) which offers travel insurance and also virtual disposable cards. You can generate a card number and security code which is for once only usage. So if you are paying on some dodgy website for a service/product and you don't want them to see your main card details, this is ideal.

This brings me back to my problems with the NatWest Bank. Three times in the past three months they have frozen my NatWest Bank card and replaced it twice. On one of those occasions it was because the police told them my card details might be compromised, but they would even tell me which suppliers system had been hacked. On the other two occasions, the card freezing was because of "false positives" by the NatWest's own security system. NatWest send a notification via SMS text message which seems to arrive at 3:30 am and in some cases is greatly delayed. 

You realise there's a problem when suddenly your card doesn't work any more, then you have a week's wait before you can access your bank account.  If you are overseas on holiday/business trip you might not even get the warning SMS message that you card has been frozen.  Hotels take a dim view when it is time to check out and you only have a dud NatWest Card! You can't even go to an ATM to draw out additional cash. When there's a replacement card you have to remember to update all those accounts which used the old card details, it can mean missed payments to suppliers.


*Footnote:

  1. I've since discovered a Standard Revolut Card allows up to £200 cash from ATM/Month, then they charge 2% of the amount.  With the Premium Card it is £400 cash/month before a 2% charge applies.
  2. There are limits to the size of sum that can be paid/received from/to friends. It is around £200. If both parties have a Revolut Card there isn't a limit that I've found.
  3. Some vendors do not accept the Revolut Debit card.
  4. Here's a useful article on the issue.



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