How Multicurrency Accounts Take the Bite Out of Spending Money Abroad

You can spend the money in most multicurrency accounts with either a phone tap or a physical card, which is available at no charge. When you’re making a purchase abroad with Revolut, the app or card defaults to the local currency. If you don’t have enough of that currency in your Revolut account, the service will exchange on the spot at the lowest rate. You can also make a currency exchange via the app at any time to take advantage of an especially favorable rate.

Many debit and credit cards charge a fee (3 percent is standard for U.S. and Canadian credit card companies) to use overseas. The multicurrency accounts charge no foreign transaction fees (unless otherwise stated) and use the lowest exchange rates possible. (The services make money on subscriptions as well as the fees that merchants pay on transactions, among other things, Mr. Rossman said.)

The majority of multicurrency accounts can be used wherever Visa or Mastercard is accepted, said Michael Bodansky, the head of corporate communications for Revolut, which is based in London. Currently, anyone living in most areas of North America, Europe, Japan, Singapore or Australia can open a Revolut account. The service is planning to expand to customers in New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico and India soon.

Download the app for the multicurrency account and provide some basic personal information such as your name, address and Social Security number. For most people, it should take no longer than 10 minutes to be approved for any of the apps. If you choose, a card will be mailed to you, but you can start using the Revolut app, which is linked to your bank account via Apple Pay or Google Pay, immediately.

They vary by the plan you choose and your country of residence. In the United States, Revolut’s standard plan, for example, has no monthly fee and includes exchanges of all currencies up to $1,200 per month at no charge on weekdays, and with a 1 percent fee on the weekends. (If you want to use the app abroad on a weekend without paying a fee, you can transfer into a new currency on a weekday.) If you exchange more than $1,200 per month, there is a fee of 0.5 percent for additional transfers. You can also make unlimited withdrawals from A.T.M.s in the Allpoint network, and up to $1,200 per month without fees outside the network, though the A.T.M.’s owner may still impose a fee. After that, Revolut charges 2 percent on withdrawals.

Wise — which also has no monthly fee for the base plan and offers 49 currencies — charges a minimal A.T.M. fee depending on where your card was issued. For example, if a Wise account was opened in the United States, you may make two withdrawals of up to $100 total every month with no fees, but after that, Wise charges $1.50 per transaction plus 2 percent of the total amount withdrawn plus whatever fee the A.T.M.’s owner imposes.

One major potential drawback is that most credit cards come with fraud and dispute protections, while multicurrency accounts may not, said Wei Zhang, a section chief at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency. And not all the companies that offer multicurrency accounts are licensed banks, though many do team up with banks to offer F.D.I.C. deposit protection of up to $250,000. Finally, you have to be mindful of how much you withdraw from A.T.M.s to avoid racking up fees, and be aware of the days you’re using the app to avoid weekend exchange charges.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2023.