While travel these days is much reduced I still end up in Dublin regularly enough (though less so now I’m not working directly with folk there), and have the occasional US trip. Given that I live and work in the UK, and thus get paid in GBP (£), this leads to the question of what to do about USD ($) and EUR (€) transaction. USD turns out to be easy; I still have a US account from when I lived there and keeping it active has, so far, not proved to be a problem.

EUR is tricker. In an ideal world I’d find a fee-free account that would allow normal Eurozone transfers and provide me with a suitable debit + credit card for use while travelling. I’ve found options with a fee, but I don’t have enough Euro transactions to make it worthwhile.

A friend pointed me at the HSBC Global Money debit card, which claims no fees for currency conversions from £ and competitive rates. As I already have an account with HSBC it was easy to sign up to try it out. And, having recently been on trip to CenterParcs, I had the perfect opportunity to compare it to my (and my wife’s) existing cards to see how the rates played out. In particular I’ve always meant to figure out if the cards that don’t charge a loading rate end up with the same exchange rate as the cards that do have a separate per transaction charge.

So, armed with the HSBC Global Money card, a Monzo debit card, a Nationwide debit card, and a co-operative debit card, we engage on a week of eating out in the interests of data!

The results will probably shock no one who’s properly looked into this themselves. All the cards were on the VISA network, they all ended up at around £1 → €1.15. According to Xe that was roughly the mid-market rate for the week I was away, so it seems like trusting VISA to do the currency conversion is a reasonable thing to do. The problem comes with the range of charges:

Card Exchange rate Charge %
Co-Op €1.15 2.65%
HSBC €1.15 0.00%
Monzo €1.15 0.00%
Nationwide €1.15 2.99%

This matches what Nationwide claims for its foreign transaction fees, though Co-Op claims 2.75% and the numbers looked more like 2.65% on the small transactions we incurred.

So, the HSBC Global Money card is definitely a decent option. However Monzo is just a good, and has the advantage that it’s a normal current account rather than something slightly different you have to funnel money into. Both are let down by the fact you need to use an app to check your balance etc - Monzo seems to only have extremely basic web access to any of their accounts and HSBC don’t expose the Global Money account at all via web banking, only the phone app.

Finally, what I really want is to be able to do this with a credit card, especially for things like online purchases or staying at hotels. My current credit card suffers from a per-transaction charge, but while looking up the Nationwide debit charge %age to confirm it matched what I saw I discovered that Nationwide credit cards do not charge a fee. So I think I’ll be investigating that for my next trip.