There’s only one thing worse than flushing money down the drain…
And that is giving to a bank. Or lawyer.
Ok, that makes two things. But you get my drift.
Death by a thousand cuts was a form of torture in China for 1000 years before it was banned in 1905. Unfortunately, most banks didn’t receive the memo and still enjoy torturing customers today with fees for every action under the sun. Just for the privilege of using their own hard-earned money.
And as a lover of travel, the most repugnant of all fees, I dare say the king of bank fees, is the horrible foreign currency conversion fee.
Ugh, my fingers feel dirty just typing those words.
It’s such a slimy fee that attaches itself to every transaction with a merchant that originates outside your country. And with the convenience of the Internet, chances are more and more of your transactions are occurring offshore.
So, what can you do about it?
Up until recently, not much. I’ve seen a couple Australian debit or credit cards offer zero foreign transaction fees, but with significant compromises in the features and other fees. But now I might just have found the silver bullet.
Update December 2020: Quite unexpectedly, Xinja has just announced they are discontinuing their banking products. I'll be sad to see them go!
What Is Xinja?
I stumbled across a bright pink ad for something called “Xinja” on Facebook and it piqued my interest. The promise was simple… zero fees on a prepaid debit card. Sounds alright, but I was sure there would have to be a catch so I dug around their website looking for dirt. The more I read, the more I was convinced that I had just found the closest thing to the holy grail of Australian travel cards.
The folks at Xinja are building an online-only bank (they’re not a registered bank yet) which doesn’t have the legacy infrastructure limitations that other banks have. Centred around a friendly yet powerful mobile app that blends money management tools with mobile banking, the whole experience is frictionless and only getting better. I never thought I’d say this about any banking product, but it’s actually enjoyable.
Why Xinja For Travel?
Technically Xinja’s prepaid debit card is not a dedicated “travel card”, it can be used for everyday spending at home – groceries, petrol, restaurants, and bills. But in the context of travel, all the financial stars are aligned. It has the right mix of features, but without leaving your wallet lighter.
If you haven’t read my recent article filled with tips for travelling with money, then take a look. And then you’ll see what factors I consider when choosing a travel debit or credit card.
What I Really Like About Xinja
The two show-stopping features that I love are:
- Zero ATM fee (both domestic and international ATMs) – withdraw cash in any ATM that supports Visa (there’s millions around the world), and there are no bank fees. The caveat is that some ATM owners charge a fee on their end.
- Zero foreign transaction fees – queue angelic choir music and sunbeam from heaven. My prayers have been answered. The standard 3.5% fee gets charged and automatically refunded after a few days.
But Xinja doesn’t stop there. Here’s the other reasons this card has stolen my wallet’s heart:
- No monthly fees or annual fees (and no catch like you have to deposit a certain amount of money to enjoy zero fees).
- No loading fees (most other Australian travel cards charge a percentage-based loading fee).
- No inactivity fees (like most prepaid travel cards).
- No (physical) paperwork (yay! It’s 2018!) – simply fill in the easy online application form, which can be done in less than 60 seconds, and a new card will be posted within 48 hours.
- Contactless payment support - not only does this make point-of-sale purchases quicker, it also reduces the risk of “skimming” (having your card details stolen by a compromised terminal).
- Topping up with your existing Visa/Mastercard debit card is almost instant. Topping up can be done via direct deposit as well (takes about 1-2 business days).
- Instantly lock the card via the mobile app (very handy if your card is lost or stolen).
- Track your spend on the mobile app – by category and daily spend. This makes budgeting so much easier.
- Split bills easily and request money so friends/family can instantly top up your card via their Australian debit cards. This feature is called “Xinja.Me”. Just share your special link via email, chat, IM or any other method.
I’ve talked to a few folks at Xinja and it’s clear to me they’re working their bums off to be the new gold standard for modern banking in Australia. I really like that they’re online based – no costly branches make their operations leaner, and they pass these savings onto customers. I can’t even remember the last time I walked into a bank branch anyway. Digital only doesn’t mean you don’t have help from a real person when you need it. The mobile app features live chat support, so just ask your questions there and get a fast and most importantly, smart, answer.
Millennials like me will appreciate the ethos of Xinja. They’re not solely out there to make money by any means necessary. They actually want to make their customers’ lives better, and society as a whole. This isn’t some cheesy marketing slogan. It’s steak-on-the-plate kind of stuff. Take a read through the community forum on their website, and you can see they’re actually listening to feedback from customers. And with new products in the pipeline, like transactional accounts and home loans, they’re avoiding predatory behaviours that plague the banking industry, ensuring their customers only take out loans they can really afford.
Areas For Improvement & Limitations
While the Xinja prepaid debit card might be the closest thing to the travel card holy grail in Australia, it does have a few limitations to be aware of.
- You can only load up to AU$999 at the moment. So, if you need to spend more than that, keep the rest of your booty in another savings account and just top this up as you need it.
- Pending transactions can take a couple days to clear which means you might not be able to load more money on the card even if you’ve spent it.
- The daily ATM withdrawal limit is AU$300. While this will suffice in the majority of countries, if you plan of having breakfast at Tiffany’s, you could need more.
- Only available to Australians. Sorry to my international friends.
- You must pass an ID check, so no cards for your alter egos.
- At time of publication, the app is only available for iOS. However, the Android app is expected to drop in December 2018.
- Can’t deposit cheques (yet). If Granny sends you a cheque for your birthday, currently Xinja can’t help with that. But seriously, get Granny onto mobile banking and she’ll thank you.
- Support for Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay isn’t available yet (but it’s on the horizon for 2019).
- Although new cards get shipped out pretty quick, it can still take at least 5 business days for delivery (or longer in non-metro areas), so don’t leave your application to the last minute before your trip. Sign up now.
In The Wild
On my first day out with the card, I bought a few gyozas…
Here’s a few photos of what the card looked like when I received it in the mail.
And setting up the app for the first time. The intuitive interface is gorgeous.
The Bottom Line
I’ve been using my pink Xinja card for just a little while, but already it’s found a permanent home in my wallet. Every time I pull it out I no longer feel those tiny, familiar cuts. Instead I’m reminded that there are other decent people out there trying to make the world a better place. Oh, and I’m not flushing money down the toilet anymore.
Where to buy: www.xinja.com.au
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