Why Starling Is The Best Debit Card to Use Abroad

November 6, 2019
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Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  This means that if you click on them and make a purchase I may receive a small amount of money at no additional cost to you.

Money is important!  Obviously.  But it is definitely something you need to think about when travelling abroad.  Particularly if you are not popping home for a while.


I had heard great reviews about Starling and compared them against other similar products in the market.  They turned out to be the best choice as I will review later.


What is Starling?

Starling is an app-based bank.  Through it, you can open personal, joint, business and Euro accounts.  You can have one of each if you like.


Founded in 2014 and based in London, they’ve grown in popularity for a variety of reasons and not least because of their sleek app.


How do they work?

Given they are app-based, you are going to need a phone.  Although, they do now offer desktop banking for business customers.  You can download the app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play.


Once you have the app, you can apply for an account and manage your bank entirely from your phone.  You’ll be able to access all the feature here.


You can also link up to Apple Pay or Google Pay, so you can use your phone or smartwatch to make payments instead.


What makes Starling a great choice for using when travelling?

  1. No fees

They don’t charge you a fee for converting currency.  It is recommended that you pay in the local currency so you avoid currency conversions from other sources.

  1. Mastercard exchange rate

The Mastercard interbank exchange rate is one of the best around.  It follows the mid-market exchange rate pretty closely, and you want to be as close to this as possible.

  1. No ATM fees

They don’t charge you fees for withdrawing you cash from ATM.  You’ll get your cash and that’s it.  Be warned that some ATM companies will charge you for their service though.

  1. 24/7 customer service

It is frustrating if you are in a country that is several hours behind the UK and you can only speak to the bank in normal working hours.  Starling has a 24/7 customer service line.

  1. In-app card controls

If you lose your card, when you are abroad you can use the in-app card controls to quickly freeze your card.  Preventing any unauthorised use.


Can you use the switching service?

Yes.  You can switch from your current bank to Starling using the Current Account Switching Guarantee.  This will ensure a smooth switch over including all your recurring payments.


You can also transfer an overdraft, but you will need to speak to Starling about this before making the switch.


What if you have a customer services issue?

If you need to contact Starling (and remember they are open 24/7 to deal with your concerns wherever you are in the world, you can contact them via the app.


You have the option to either ring them or chat with them via their in-app chat system.  A much more modern way to do banking in my opinion.


What other advantages are there of a Starling account?

Deposit cash through PO

As they have no physical branches, you may be wondering how you would pay in cash.  Well, Starling have teamed up with the Post Office meaning you can pay in cash there.


There are no fees for doing this with a personal account but business accounts will incur a fee of 0.3%.  If you want to pay in a cheque, then you can post them to Starling directly.


Business accounts – no fee

If you are looking for a bank account for your small business then Starling is perfect for that too.  They charge no monthly fees for business accounts, which are common with most high street banks.


Notifications on your phone

One benefit of being app-based is that you have complete control of your account from your pocket.  This also means that you get quick notification about what is going on.


If you spend on your card or receive money, you’ll get a notification to tell you which account and how much.  Great for keeping track.


Earn interest

Starling pay interest on their personal accounts too.  For balances up to £2,000 you will receive 0.5% and for anything up to £85,000, you will get 0.25%.


Overdraft available

Like most of the major banks, Starling offer an overdraft facility.  You will need to apply for this (you can do so through the app) and it will be subject to a credit check.



You can use Starling to help you save towards your goals.  You can set a new “goal” in the app and move money into them.  This money is then kept separate from the rest of your account.


It is a great visual pay to help meet your money targets as you can set pictures and an amount that you are aiming for.



Another great feature, that works well with the Goals, is “Round-Up”.  This can be toggled on and off from within your goals and allows you to round-up the purchases you make and moves them to this goal.


It is a great way to save money without realising and will help you reach those goals quicker.


Split bill

If you’ve gone out for a meal with friends, you can cover the amount on your Starling card then you their split bill to receive your friends’ share.


Clicking on a payment on the app then clicking “Split Bill” will allow you to collect money from your friends via a unique link.


Nearby payments

If you need to make a payment to another Starling user and they are nearby then you can use this feature.  It avoids the need to exchange account numbers and sort codes.


How safe is Starling?

Like all good banks, Starling is covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which means that balances up to £85,000 are protected.


In-app card controls

To help keep you safe, you can control your card through the app.  Therefore, you can freeze and unfreeze your card using a toggle on the app.


There are other security features too, such as location-based security and turning off magnet strip payments.


Other options for travelling?

Starling is not the only option out there.  There are other banks that are offering similar services.



I am a big fan of Monzo.  I have written before about why I think they are a great choice for banking.  However, they were not my top choice when travelling for one reason.


Monzo only allows the first £200 to be withdrawn from ATMs for free.  After that, there is a charge of 3% on withdrawals.



Another strong contender in the best travel debit card is Revolut.  Like Monzo however, they only allow fee-free ATM withdrawals on the first £200 and charge 2% after that.


Also, unlike the other two, Revolut do not charge interest on balances and will charge you £4.99 to deliver your card.


What has my experience been so far?

It has been great.  Being a Mastercard, it has been accepted in most places.  There have only been a few instances where I have not been able to use a debit card for some reason.


Currency conversion has been good, and the instant notifications have been great for keeping track of my spending in GBP.


I had a slight issue in the USA, as using the magnetic strip for payment is more common there and Starling kept blocking these transactions.  This meant that I had to keep going into Card Controls to turn it back on.


However, I contacted Starling and they switched the authorisation for this on permanently for me to save me from keep doing it.


Make your travel debit card part of your plans

If you are like me, you will have every detail of your travel planned.  Therefore, you need to make your debit card choice part of that.


Don’t resolve to use the one you already have as this could expose you to high fees and poor currency conversion.  Get yourself a free Starling account.

starling travel debit card


Disclaimer:  Remember the information you read here does not represent advice.  Any ideas or suggestions are just that and may not work for you.  Read the full disclaimer here.

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Looking After Your Pennies is an eco-friendly personal finance blog written and managed by Charlotte Jessop.


I write on a variety of topics including frugal lifestyle, eco-friendly living, money-making ideas and generally how to make your money go further.

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