Ultimate guide to digital multi-currency accounts (2021)

Disrupting the foreign currency exchange space, digital multi-currency accounts give the notion of ‘travelling light’ a brand new meaning.

With more digital multi-currency accounts making their way to Singapore, the days of monitoring exchange rates, deciding on exactly how much money to change and physically visiting a money changer, might just be a thing of the past.

Through a mobile app, you now have the option of exchanging, holding and spending foreign currency, without additional bank charges at your fingertips (quite literally!).

Not to mention, if you love shopping on sites like ASOS, TaoBao or eBay (like us) you could save quite a bit just by transacting in their home currency.

What is a multi-currency account?

Generally, there are two types: Traditional multi-currency accounts and digital multi-currency accounts. 

Traditional multi-currency accounts are offered by commercial banks like DBS, UOB and HSBC. These accounts that work similar to a regular savings account will allow you to hold and transact up to 12 currencies at a time, with some offering interest rates. 

Digital multi-currency accounts are offered by hybrid digital banking solution companies like Wise, YouTrip, Nium (formerly InstaRem), Revolut and Wirex. These accounts that work similar to a debit card account allow you to exchange up to 40 currencies, transact in over 150 currencies and withdraw cash at any overseas ATM. 

ALSO READ: Digital Multi-Currency Accounts For Travel & Remittance: Which is the best multi-currency account?

How does a digital multi-currency account work?

Think of it as a debit card account where you have to put money into before spending. The difference is the option to exchange foreign currency at the interbank exchange rate, hold and spend in multiple foreign currencies. All this, through a dedicated mobile app that doubles up as a digital wallet. 

With a digital multi-currency account, you also have the option to request for a physical card that allows you to pay for items over the counter and withdraw cash at any ATM around the world.

This would come in extremely handy if you need cash to make purchases at markets or smaller shops, where cashless transactions are not widely accepted.

Digital multi-currency accounts available in Singapore

Digital Multi-Currency Account No. of Foreign Currencies Visa or Mastercard Bank Transfer Overseas ATM Cash Withdrawal iOS / Android
Wise 54 Mastercard Yes Yes Both
YouTrip(use code SINGSAVER5 for $5 off) 10 Mastercard No Yes Both
Nium (Formerly InstaRem) 20 Visa Yes No Both
Revolut 28 Visa Yes Yes Both
Wirex 12, and 8 cryptocurrencies Visa Yes Yes Both

Wise

The UK-based fintech firm allows travellers in Asia avoid high foreign exchange fees when spending overseas. Wise’s USP lies in its promise of low conversion fees based on mid-market rates and letting users store the maximum number of currencies (among the existing players in the market).

You could withdraw up to $350 overseas every 30 days at any ATM overseas, wherever MasterCard is accepted. Downside is that there are sign-up, dormancy and annual fees. Typically, you’re charged a fee of 0.34per cent to 3per cent based on the amount you transfer and the current exchange rate.

Wise also lets you store and exchange 54 currencies, including Singapore Dollar (SGD), Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), US Dollar (USD), Euro (EUR), British Pound (GBP), Japanese Yen (JPY), Thai Baht (THB), among others.

Pros

  • Lets you spend in over 150 currencies worldwide without any foreign transaction fees.
  • For cards issued in Singapore, you get to withdraw in cash from overseas ATMs for free twice a month. If the total amount exceeds $350, a charge will be incurred.
  • Bonus points for transparency as you can check fx rates in real-time on the app.
  • Save up to 12 per cent on Booking.com when you pay with Wise.
  • Currently you can only receive payments in nine currencies (GBP, AUD, USD, CAF, HUF, SGD, NZD, EUR and TRY).

Cons

  • Setting up could take up several minutes.
  • Requesting for a physical card will cost you $10.

ALSO READ: The differences between bank account types you need to know

YouTrip

YouTrip lets you convert up to 10 foreign currencies and make payments without transaction fees in over 150 currencies. It’s also available as a physical card by Mastercard, which you can use for over-the-counter purchases or cash withdrawal overseas. 

Through their dedicated mobile app, you can monitor, exchange and hold up to 10 currencies with rates updated in real-time. What’s more, you can easily top up your YouTrip wallet with any Singapore credit or debit card (up to $3,000), no bank trips or signatures necessary.

Pros

  • Exchange, hold and make payments in over 150 currencies.
  • No withdrawal limit at an overseas ATM. 

Cons

  • No option to exchange excess foreign currency back to Singapore dollar.
  • Overseas ATM cash withdrawal costs $5 per transaction.
  • Only supports 10 currencies.

Instarem

Instarem is a Singapore-headquartered digital cross-border payments company with presence across Asia-Pacific, North America and Europe. Instarem allows you to transfer money to over 60 countries, including South Korea, Thailand and India, at a significantly lower cost. Interestingly, it is the first non-bank to offer money remittance from India. While sign-up is free, Instarem charges a nominal fee between 0.25 per cent to 1 per cent to cover the cost of processing a transaction.

What pits its Mastercard-enabled card, Amaze, as a potential winner is its advantage as the go-to card that lets you link up to five debit or credit cards to the account. What's more, enjoy a 1 per cent cashback earn rate on top of the rewards points or cashback that your linked credit card(s) would earn. This is capped at $100 per quarter, which works out to $400 annually.

You can also tap into Amaze's World Mastercard benefits if you don't currently have a credit card in that tier. Finally, you can track your expenses for any of the five cards that you have linked to Amaze via the Instarem app.

Pros

  • Lets you earn bonus points upon joining, referring members and transferring money.
  • Businesses can pay multiple beneficiaries in one go in their respective local currencies.
  • It enables payment to China in both CNY and USD in support of the Belt & Road initiative.
  • Transfers are fast, within two business days.

Cons

  • There is a minimum transfer amount. For Singapore, you need to transfer a minimum of $200.
  • There is a maximum amount you can transact when you transfer from countries such as India, Malaysia and the USA.

Revolut

PHOTO: Revolut

Revolut allows you to convert, make payments, withdraw cash, transfer and receive money on the go without interbank transaction fees. To fully utilise Revolut’s features, request for a physical Revolut card. This can be used for over-the-counter purchases and for cash withdrawal up to $350 at ATMs around the world without transaction fees (capped at $350 a month)! 

That being said, if you foresee yourself spending, exchanging or withdrawing cash overseas often, and in sizeable amounts, you may want to consider signing up for one of Revolut’s paid accounts that are priced at $9.99 and $19.99 a month. These accounts will give you access to higher exchange and cash withdrawal limits; among other additional features.

Pros

  • Full control of your digital account and physical card through its dedicated app.
  • For an additional layer of security, Revolut offers the option to turn on location-based security to safeguard against fraud.
  • Withdraw up to $350 per month in cash at overseas ATMs, without any transaction fees on a Standard Account.
  • Supports up to 28 currencies in Singapore.

Cons

  • Certain currency exchanges made on the weekend will incur a flat-rate surcharge.
  • Any currency exchange of more than $9,000 per month will incur a flat 0.5 per cent fee (applies to Standard Account holders only).

Wirex

Like the other digital multi-currency accounts listed here, Wirex offers the option to transact in 150 traditional currencies and exchange up to 12 traditional currencies. 

But what makes Wirex standout? It offers the option to exchange, hold and spend in 8 cryptocurrencies, namely Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, XRP, Wirex Token, Dai, Nano and Stellar Lumens.

Through Wirex’s app or webpage, convert traditional currency and cryptocurrency however your heart desires – currency to cryptocurrency, cryptocurrency to currency or cryptocurrency to cryptocurrency. Not to mention, if you transact using cryptocurrency you get to earn actual rewards!

Store, spend and earn up to 1.5 per cent back into your Bitcoin account when you transact with Wirex’s travelcard. 

Pros

  • The ease of exchanging, holding and spending traditional currency or cryptocurrencies (and earn rewards) all in one app.
  • Withdraw up to US$300 (approximately S$406) in cash per day at any overseas ATM, without transaction fees. 
  • No cap or additional charges on the amount of traditional currency exchanged.

Cons

  • Limited number of traditional currencies – only 12.
  • If you have funds stored in your account and do not transact for more than nine months, Wirex will charge you a dormant fee of US$5.

Conclusion

While these digital multi-currency accounts serve a similar primary purpose, they aren’t built exactly the same. Some of these accounts offer more foreign currency exchange options, while others have a higher cash withdrawal limit. So, before deciding on one, we suggest that you consider how often you travel, where your travels take you and your spending habits when travelling. 

If you travel less than thrice a year, any of the aforementioned digital multi-currency accounts would be a good option to pick. Be sure to read the fine print and, most importantly, request for the physical card at least two months in advance (a rather long wait, but one that will definitely be worth it). 

ALSO READ: A keen investor's guide to cryptocurrency (2021)

For those who travel frequently, Wise or Wirex might be worth considering, and Revolut, if you consider subscribing to one of their paid accounts. Wise offers a large number of foreign currencies and the option to transfer money (even to those without a Wise account) without extra charges, making it a good choice for those with a serious case of wanderlust or often travel for business.

Wirex, on the other hand, gives you the option to get cash up to US$300 per day, on demand and without any transaction fees.

This article was first published in SingSaver.com.sg.