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Curve card offers fee-free overseas spending: is this the best card to use abroad?

New feature allows you to bypass rip-off charges

Curve, the ‘smart’ card that allows you to combine your Mastercard or Visa credit and debit cards in one, now offers fee-free spending and cash withdrawals abroad. But is it really a silver bullet for rip-off foreign transaction charges?

The Curve card allows you to link multiple credit or debit cards, which would typically charge foreign-transaction fees as high as 3%, to a single fee-free travel credit or debit card.

Here, we look at how the Curve card compares with other cards designed for overseas spending to help you find the best credit card to use abroad.


The cost of using the Curve card abroad

Previously the Curve card charged a 1% foreign transaction fee on spending and a £2 fee on cash withdrawals abroad.

The Curve Blue debit card now offers fee-free spending of up to £500 and up to £200-worth of fee-free cash withdrawals per rolling month (the time limit of 30 days starts from the first transaction/cash withdrawal abroad) in more than 150 currencies worldwide.

Meanwhile, the Curve Black debit card, which costs a one-off £50, now offers unlimited 0% spending overseas (subject to a fair-usage policy of up to £15,000 per rolling year) and up to £400 per rolling month of fee-free cash withdrawals abroad.

If you exceed the limit on either card there’s currently a 1% charge on spending and a charge of either £2 or 1% per cash withdrawal – whichever is higher. However, these charges are rising next month: if you exceed the limit from 19 November you’ll have to pay 2% on spending and £2 (2% if higher) per cash withdrawal.

Both Curve cards use the near-perfect wholesale interbank exchange rate, which is the rate used to exchange money between banks, from Monday to Friday. This is typically better than the Mastercard or Visa rate you’ll get on specialist travel credit and debit cards.

However, on weekends (starting from Friday 23:59 GMT) the goalposts change and there’s a markup of 0.5% on euros and US dollars and 1% (rising to 1.5% from 19 November) on other currencies. Curve says this is because of ‘reduced market participation’.

Is the Curve card the antidote to rip-off charges?

Curve’s move to scrap the foreign transaction fees on purchases and cash withdrawals is a game changer for those that don’t want to have multiple cards to manage.

Most standard debit cards apply a non-sterling transaction fee on spending which can be as high as 3%. If you want to take cash out you’ll be hit with a non-sterling transaction fee plus a non-sterling cash fee, which can be as a high as 3.75%.

It’s a similar story for spending on run-of-the-mill credit cards, but with these you also need to factor in cash withdrawal interest. With a TSB debit card, for example, you would normally have to pay £15.48 for two £50 purchases and three £50 cash withdrawals made abroad.

But with the Curve card, you can link your standard debit or credit card deal using the app and select it to use when paying with your Curve card abroad – bypassing your bank or lender’s rip-off charges.

How does the Curve card compare?

The changes to the Curve card will be good for those that travel occasionally and want to avoid expensive charges on their existing cards.

But the card comes with usage caps for spending abroad and a markup on the exchange rate on the weekend, which means you could be better off with a specialist travel credit card or a good debit card to use abroad.

Admittedly, the selection of good debit cards to use abroad is slim, with Monzo, Metro Bank and Starling Bank the top options to consider.

Starling Bank, for example, offers fee-free overseas spending and cash withdrawals of up to £300 per day for current account customers.

However, there is a bigger range of specialist travel credit cards, which might be preferable as they don’t require you to switch current account.

Specialist travel credit cards offer fee-free spending and sometimes fee-free cash withdrawals. Bear in mind though that it’s not a good idea to take out cash on a credit card as it can harm your credit score and will cost you more in interest repayments compared to just spending at the till.

We’ve picked out the best specialist travel credit cards to consider below.

Please note that the information in this table is for information purposes only and does not constitute advice. Please refer to the particular terms and conditions of the savings account provider before committing to any financial products.

Credit card Non-sterling transaction fee Non-sterling cash withdrawal fee Cash withdrawal interest Representative APR
Barclaycard Platinum Visa 0%* 0% until 31 August 2022; 2.99% thereafter 0% (if you pay within 56 days, 27.9% if not) 21.9%
The Royal Bank Credit Card 0% 3% 16.9% 9.9%
The NatWest Credit Card 0% 3% 16.9%

9.9%

 

Creation Everyday Credit Card 0% 0% 12.9% 12.9%
Santander Zero Credit Card 0% 0% 18.9% 18.9%
Post Office Platinum Money Credit Card 0% 0% 27.9% 18.9%
Halifax Clarity Credit Card 0% 0% 18.9% 18.9%
Tandem Cashback Credit Card 0% 0% 18.9% 18.9%

Correct 3 October 2018. Source: Which? Money Compare

Should you get a Curve card?

The Curve card is a debit card that is not attached to a current account so it’s easy to apply for as there is no credit check.

One of the main plus points of using a Curve card is that you can charge a purchase to your credit card in places it wouldn’t normally be accepted, meaning you don’t miss out on reward points or the ability to spread the cost.

Other benefits include a feature that allows you to change the card you’ve used after the transaction, any time up to two weeks later. This means you can ‘go back in time’ if you decide something you’ve paid for with your debit card is best put on your credit card, or vice versa.

However, there are some major downsides to the Curve card that you should be aware of.

Using the Curve card instead of your actual credit card to pay for goods or services costing between £100 and £30,000 means you will lose out on Section 75 protection, which can help get your money back if things go wrong. However, you will still be able to use Mastercard’s chargeback scheme.

You also can’t link any American Express cards to your Curve wallet so you’ll still need to carry these with you if you want to use them.

Read more about the Curve card in our article, Curve card review: is this ‘smart’ card worth going for?

Which? Limited is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited.

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