Managing your finances on a round the world trip is complicated. It’s common to move from cash-only to almost cashless societies from week to week, with the potential to rack up big charges for using your British Debit cards to make purchases or withdraw cash from ATMs.
So when we found the Monzo card it sounded too good to be true. You can transfer money direct from your bank account using a simple app, and spend anywhere in the world with absolutely no fees or charges, not even to use an ATM.
The app is user friendly, allows you to set budgets and itemise your spending. It updates purchases immediately in GBP with the conversion rate in whichever country you’re in (the rate is almost always higher than a bureau de change).
It gives us instant info on what we were spending, and even has tips on how to budget. The customer service via their in-app messaging was quick and friendly.
The card itself is also a snazzy fluorescent orange colour – it ain’t getting lost easily!
We extolled its virtues to anyone who would listen on our first few weeks in Sri Lanka and Thailand as we avoided charges and got the best exchange rate. We were feeling pretty smug.
Then – the card was declined inexplicably at an ATM in Thailand.
The customer service bod on the Monzo app told us we had a 30 day rolling £1,000 ATM withdrawal limit, with an annual cap of £3,000.
I’d taken out £1,000 in January already, meaning we’d have to wait more than a week, until 30 days had passed, to take any more out.
And even then we’d be limited to the £108 we’d spent a month before so we didn’t go over the £1,000 rolling limit.
It’s a confusing rule that’s potentially left us in a bit of a pickle. We could easily withdraw more than £3,000 over 6 months, so we’ll have to try to pay by card as much as we can from now on. In Oz and the USA that should be relatively easy. We’re not holding out too much hope for South America.
Luckily we have 2 Monzo cards between us so our limit is £6,000. But we reckon it’ll be tight. So back to debit card charges we will have to go.
We wish that the limits had been made clear when we took out the card. Monzo isn’t a bank yet; it’s going through the licensing process and they’ve told me the limit may increase later this year when they have more autonomy.
In the mean time, long term travellers like us may end up getting caught out, especially if they’re travelling to mainly cash-only countries, and be forced to pay over the odds to use their own debit cards.
We would still recommend Monzo highly if you’re taking a holiday or even a 1-3 month extended trip. And to be honest – every prepaid travel card on the market has its own pitfalls and drawbacks.
The moral of the story I suppose is that it’s impossible to avoid all charges abroad if you’re on a long trip. But only by doing your research can you get the best bang for your buck!