MSE News

Curve 'all-in-one' debit card to offer fee-free spending abroad, but how does it stack up?

Curve debit card holders will benefit from fee-free spending and cash withdrawals abroad on up to £700 a month from today, even if a debit or credit card linked to it charges an overseas usage fee – but for most, a top travel card would be better.

If you have a Curve debit card you can connect all of your existing Mastercard and Visa debit and credit cards to it using the Curve app to do your spending via the one card in most currencies.

The changes announced today mean even if you link a bog-standard debit or credit card to your Curve card, you'll be able to avoid the typical 3% 'load' normally charged on overseas transactions and won't be charged for overseas spends or cash withdrawals (though you may accrue interest on a cash withdrawal on a linked credit card unless you pay it off in full right away).

Prior to this, the Curve debit card charged a flat 1% fee on overseas spending and a £2 overseas fee for overseas withdrawals.

For the best ways to spend abroad, see our Travel Credit Cards guide and TravelMoneyMax tool.

What does it cost to use a Curve card abroad?

While the Curve announcement will be welcomed by some customers, there are caps on the fee-free spending and cash withdrawals and it charges a mark-up on weekends. Here's how it works:

  • Fee-free spending up to £500. Curve's 0% foreign exchange fees only apply on up to £500 a month on overseas spending. It charges 1% for anything above £500, though this will increase to 2% from November.
  • Fee-free cash withdrawals up to £200. Free overseas ATM withdrawals are limited to £200 a month. Above this a 2% or £2 charge, whichever is greater, is charged – and it charges a small mark-up on weekends. Some individual cash machines may add a separate usage charge, which would apply regardless of which card you use.

It is worth noting that the Curve card uses the 'perfect' interbank exchange rate from Monday to Friday, which typically beats the near-perfect Mastercard and Visa rates offered on most specialist travel cards. However, on weekends it adds a mark-up of 0.5% on euros and US dollars, while a 1% mark-up (increasing to 1.5% from November) applies to all other currencies.

How does Curve compare with the top travel cards?

The changes to Curve mean it could be good for those who travel occasionally, don't want to change their existing cards and want to see all of their spending in one place to help with budgeting.

But those who don't want to worry about usage caps when spending abroad and the weekend mark-up are likely to be better off with a top travel card instead – many of which don't limit overseas spending or withdrawals.

For example, the Starling debit card offers fee-free overseas spending AND cash withdrawals (up to £300/day), while the Barclaycard Platinum also offers fee-free overseas spending and cash withdrawals. Plus, despite it being a credit card, it also charges no interest on cash withdrawals (until August 2022), though to benefit you must repay the card IN FULL at the end of the month.

What are the pros of Curve?

Curve is simply a debit card, so there's no current account with it and no hard credit check when you apply – though you will be ID checked.

Aside from the 0% fee on spending abroad, here are some benefits of using Curve for spending in the UK:

  • Change the card you've used up to two weeks later. The card lets you do your everyday spending on it, and has a feature which lets you 'go back in time' by up to two weeks, to change the card you used for a purchase. This could be useful if you accidentally use the wrong card or want to manage your credit.

  • Lock your card and get PIN reminders in-app. If you lose your card, you can freeze it in the app and unlock it later if you find it again. You can also get a PIN reminder by entering your password or using your fingerprint ID in the app (see our Password Security guide if you're worried about keeping your password safe).

  • Use your credit card where it's not normally accepted. As Curve is a debit Mastercard, you can use it at shops and other places which don't accept credit cards and then charge it to your credit card. This is particularly useful if you've a rewards credit card that'll earn you points. This means for example that you can use it to pay your HMRC tax bill or shop in small retailers that no longer accept credit cards.

What are the cons of Curve?

While it does have several plus points, there are some things you need to be aware of when using Curve:

  • There's no Section 75 credit card protection. Normally when you buy something costing between £100 and £30,000 and pay for any of it on a credit card you get Section 75 protection, which means your card firm's jointly liable with the retailer if things go wrong (see Section 75 for full info). Using Curve invalidates this protection, though you will still be able to use Mastercard's chargeback scheme.

  • Amex cards can't be connected. If you have one of the Amex Rewards or cashback cards, which feature in our top-pick reward cards, you won't be able to use Curve and earn points or cashback.

What else has Curve changed this week?

Curve announced it was moving to a new MCC (merchant category code) system, frustrating some existing cardholders. In other words, this means those who used Curve as a way to bypass cash withdrawal fees on their credit card by making withdrawals via Curve (up to £200/month) are unlikely to be able to use this 'loophole' in future.

This is because future withdrawals are now likely to be classified by banks and building societies as such, so interest and/or fees on withdrawals will be charged as usual rather than being classified as a purchase. We've asked a number of banks to clarify how they would class a withdrawal made on a Curve debit card that was linked to their credit or debit card. Only Lloyds has so far replied, confirming that a withdrawal on a Curve card will be classified as a withdrawal on their credit or debit card statement.

It's worth noting that withdrawing cash on a credit card is usually bad for your credit score. See withdrawing cash abroad for more.

How do I apply for Curve?

To get one of the cards you need to:

  • Download the Curve app, which is available on Android and iOS, and sign up for a card.
  • Once registered, you can add your existing cards to the app and set a default card. You can add any Mastercard or Visa debit or credit card to the app, and some prepaid cards including Revolut and Monzo, though not Amex cards.

You then use your Curve card for all spending, and can change the card you use for each purchase. The app gives real-time notifications, and shows all of your transactions in one place.