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Currensea vs Starling review

What is Starling?

Starling Bank, founded in 2014, is an app-based mobile bank. Starling's personal account provides you with a contactless debit card and works just like a standard current account, with the key difference being that it's all digitally run.

*Rates and charges shown are correct as of 30th August 2022


What are Starling’s fees when spending abroad? 

Although Starling doesn’t charge a fee when spending abroad, customers are charged for the average markup of 0.52% between the real-time interbank rate and their daily card scheme benchmark rate*. The same applies to ATM withdrawals, even though they claim to have no extra charges.

*How we calculated this:

We considered six major currencies (EUR, USD, ZAR, AUD, THB, CHF) and calculated the average markup between the real-time interbank rate and Starling’s daily card scheme benchmark rate between the 3rd January and 31st July 2022.


What other fees do Starling charge?

To send money abroad, Starling charges a 0.4% currency conversion fee plus local fees for each currency, on top of £5.50 for a SWIFT payment or 30p for local transactions.

Starling also charges £5 for replacement debit cards in the UK and £60 if you lose your card or if it's stolen overseas.


Why would you use Starling?

People may use Starling because of their ‘fee-free’ purchases and ATM withdrawals abroad. However, this isn’t the case when you consider their exchange rate. Starling still works out as more expensive than Currensea because of their 0.52% markup on the interbank exchange rate.

Some may choose Starling for the app, which provides rewards and features such as the ability to analyse your spending habits, optimise your savings and a breakdown of your transactions where you can see an overview of your spending by categories and merchants.


How does Currensea compare to Starling?

What is Currensea?

Currensea was founded by James Lynn and Craig Goulding in 2018, then launched in 2019 aimed at removing hidden FX fees for travellers when spending abroad and the hassle of topping up or prepaying. 

Currensea is the UK’s best rated travel debit card. The layer in front of your current bank account, saving you money, giving you extra security and making your bank work that bit harder for you. 

What are they offering?

Currensea's travel debit card partners with your current bank account to save you at least 85% on all overseas transactions. No need to prepay, no need to top-up, no need for a new bank account. Spend as seamlessly abroad as you do at home, with the money only taken from your existing bank account after you’ve spent.

What are the different charges applied by Currensea?

Currensea offers 16 currencies at the real (interbank) exchange rate and 164 currencies at the Mastercard exchange rate (which is the rate also used by Monzo, Starling and many other FinTechs). When signing up for the free plan, users will be charged at a flat FX rate of 0.5% over these two base rates - with no extra charges over a certain amount or at weekends, it's that simple. 

What options and plans does Currensea offer?

Currensea currently offers three pricing plans. The Essential plan is free to use, the Premium plan is £25 per year and the Elite plan is £120 per year. The Essential Plan charges 0.5% FX per transaction, whereas the Premium and Elite plan incur no fees. The Elite plan also includes a host of exclusive benefits and memberships, as well as the exclusive Currensea black card. 

Currensea has no additional weekend charges, or fair usage limits on any plan.

Currensea price plans


So how does Currensea compare to Starling?


In real terms what is cheaper?

Although Starling does not charge fees for purchases abroad, customers are still being charged based on the difference between Starling’s daily card scheme benchmark rate and the real-time interbank rate that Currensea uses. Between the 3rd January and 31st July 2022, the average markup between the real-time interbank rate and Starling’s daily card scheme benchmark rate, taking into account six major currencies (EUR, USD, ZAR, AUD, THB, CHF), was 0.52%. This makes Starling more expensive than all 3 Currensea Plans – with the markup on the interbank rate being 0.5% for the Free Plan and 0.0% on the Premium and Elite.

The same applies if you are withdrawing from an ATM. Although Starling doesn’t charge extra fees, the customer still pays the 0.52% markup between the real-time interbank rate and Starling’s daily card scheme benchmark rate. If you are withdrawing less than £500 in a month, Starling is more expensive than the Currensea Free Plan, which has a markup of 0.5% on the interbank rate to withdraw from an ATM.

In summary, if you predominantly use a card for ATM withdrawals (more than £500 a month when abroad) then Starling could be a good choice for you. If you use your debit card for regular transactions abroad, even with modest use of ATMs (under £500 per month), then Currensea is likely to work out as the cheapest option.

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