So I think I’ve finally found it.
The perfect traveller’s bank.
Can it be?
I was introduced to N26 by a friend of mine a while back, and signed up for one of their accounts while I was doing my year in Europe.
However, it’s only recently that I’ve started using the account, and I’ve just been blown away by how freaking good it is. While the mobile banking revolution is certainly in full swing with options popping up in most countries, it seems N26 is the one leading the pack.
What is N26?
N26 is a “mobile bank” that was founded in 2013 in Germany. After going through several successful rounds of funding, their growth has exploded since 2016 as people look for better and alternative ways to do their banking.
However, this idea of “mobile banking” is a new one. The basic premise is it’s a bank that can be operated solely from your smartphone, with all the protections of a traditional bank, but without all the headaches.
Sounds good, right?
And it is pretty damn good. The first thing you notice about N26 is how different everything is from your usual bank.
Opening your account is all done online, everything is managed from an app on your phone, and there are no paper statements or forms to sign.
There’s no standing in line with your bank statement and two forms of ID during your lunch break so some banking lady can look at your face and see that you’re really you (yes, it’s 2020 and some banks are still doing this).
Instead, all your applications and ID verification is done online with your smartphone.
Fees are practically non-existent, and any fees that are charged are lower than your average bank. Not to mention, just using the account and app is a pleasure in itself.
So how do they actually manage to do this?
I’ve been using N26 for several months now, so let me show you all the cool things that this “bank” can do, and if you want, how to open an account for yourself.
Getting started with N26
Then once you’ve signed up, to do anything with N26, all you need to do is download the app on your phone and you’re ready to go.
You might think it’s risky to have all your money behind a swipe on your phone, but the app uses your fingerprint as a password, so no phone thief will be getting into your bank account unless they steal your fingers too. It’s actually much safer than a traditional bank, where anyone that has your card can start draining your account pretty quickly. With N26, control of your account is always right in your pocket.
Once you’re in the app, you can do everything with just a few swipes.
The first screen you’ll see is your Account screen.
This just shows your account summary and your recent transactions. From here, you can just click the + button to transfer money to friends with just a few swipes, and request money from them too.
Credits and Overdrafts.
Within the N26 app you can apply for an overdraft or a personal credit loan.
I haven’t actually done this but I just whizzed through the process quickly and it all looks very quick and easy. Pretty cool.
If you want to earn interest on your balance, N26 can do that too. The minimum is €2,000 and the term is from 3 months to 5 years. Again I don’t have any need for this as all my savings are kept in New Zealand, but if N26 was my only bank this would be a handy feature.
The final tab in the app is Insurance, which lets you arrange and digitize all kinds of insurance within N26.
That means home, car, travel, income, and a bunch of other insurances (there’s a lot).
As N26 adds more features, it’s clear they’re trying to not only digitize your bank account but all financial aspects of your life. Very cool and I’m sure it will only get even better in time.
So now that you’ve seen what everything inside looks like, what’s it like to actually use it?
Using your N26 bank account
Despite all the fancy features, what really matters (to me anyway) is whether the bank account is easy to use, and whether it’s affordable.
Thankfully, using N26 is pretty simple.
Once you sign up they’ll send you a debit Mastercard, which looks like this:
This is just like your regular Mastercard. It’s got your usual tap-and-pay and is also compatible with Google Pay and Apply Pay, although I never use either of those.
As for whether it works, yes! I’ve now used it on three different continents, and countless different countries, and it pays the bills just like a regular Mastercard.
The best thing about it though are the fees. And the reason the fees are so great is because there are none.
Check out this transaction. It’s from an Uber I caught in Kenya:
The cost was 420 Kenyan shillings, which translated to €3.61.
And if you look up the exchange rate on that date, the rate I got was the exact interbank rate you’ll find on Google. In other words, the real, fair exchange rate. No loaded rate, no foreign exchange fee. Just me being able to spend my hard-earned money at a fair rate with no fees in a foreign country.
Exactly the way things should be.
As you can imagine, this is a game changer for the regular traveller. A bank account you can control completely from your phone, anywhere in the world, with a card you can use in any country, in any currency, without any fees. Just awesome.
It’s a real bank account
Another cool thing about N26 is it’s actually a real bank account.
You’ll get given an IBAN number, so it’s like you have a legit bank account in Europe that people can pay money into, and it’s even covered by Germany’s government deposit guarantee.
This has been amazing for me as I can now get blogging income paid straight into my IBAN, whereas before I was getting it paid into my New Zealand account which can take forever.
In fact I recently got paid by a writing client from the UK. The amount was $165, but by the time it reached New Zealand a week later, the banks had chopped it down to $140.
$25 in fees, for what?
Now, those payments go straight into my N26 and the fee is ZERO.
The other great thing about having an IBAN is loading funds into your account is very easy. Just jump on Transferwise, enter your N26 bank account number, and send it through!
As I’m in Europe right now I recently transferred another $500 into my N26 account, which only cost me $3 in Transferwise fees. Amazing.
If you haven’t used Transferwise before, it’s a service that lets you make bank transfers between countries for tiny fees. You can get your first transfer free with my referral link.
Lost your N26 card? No problem
One story I’ll never forget is when I lost my wallet at a festival in Estonia a few years ago. I had three credit cards in there, so obviously had to call my banks and cancel them all. Luckily I still had one debit card with me to use for the rest of my trip, but it did make things difficult.
Two weeks later I got an email from the Estonian police saying they had found my wallet. The darling receptionist from the hostel I stayed at went to pick it up and couriered it to me in Finland. So I got back my credit cards, but they were all useless. You can’t un-cancel a credit card!
So, after finally getting my cards back, I just had to throw them away again. Great.
With N26 this would have been a non-issue. You can just jump on the app and turn your card off temporarily, and then just turn it back on again when you’re ready.
Within the same screen you can also manage your permissions, such as whether you want to allow overseas payments, cash withdrawals etc.
Usually with a regular credit card you need to call up your bank and tell them you’re travelling so they can put a note on your file (yes, I need to do this every time I travel and yes, it’s annoying) but with N26 those days are finally over.
Just jump on the app and swipe a button.
I used to pay for almost everything with cash while travelling, but now that I have N26 I just do everything by card. However, in some countries this isn’t practical, especially if you’re visiting markets and street sellers and things like that, so you may need to use an ATM to get some cash now and then.
With N26, you get 3-5 free ATM withdrawals within Germany, and unlimited free withdrawals in the Eurozone. So that’s freaking awesome.
As for non-euro withdrawals, they cost €2 a pop and have an FX fee of 1.7%. That could be better, but it’s certainly not bad at all – cheaper than any of my New Zealand cards.
Other cool stuff on N26
One thing I must say about the N26 app is it’s very well made. Everything moves smoothly, it’s intuitive and everything just looks and feels nice. Very Silicon Valley esque.
There’s also a lot of other cool things on the app that just make it fun to use.
One thing they do is automatically classify all your transactions, such as dining, transport, entertainment etc, so you can see exactly where all your money is going. It’s like having your own personal bookkeeper.
They also hashtag your transactions for you. Nice touch.
They also have Transferwise integrated into the app itself. This means you can easily send money to friends overseas for tiny fees.
Just enter your friends account details and click send. In the example below you can see the fee to send a couple hundred euros to New Zealand is €1.49! Our wire transfer days are over.
Also while most people will go for the free account (and that’s the one I recommend) they do have two premium accounts – N26 You and N26 Metal – which offer free ATM withdrawals worldwide, insurance packages and some other small perks and exclusive offers:
Using N26 while you’re travelling
If you’re a regular traveller, I highly recommend opening an account with N26.
Not only is it just an awesome bank account to have, it’s got plenty of great features that make it perfect for travel:
No FX fees
While the account is in euros only, everything is converted at the real exchange rate, with no conversion fee. This means it’s just like using your card in your home currency.
Use it worldwide
You can use it everywhere! It’s just like a regular debit Mastercard, so wherever Mastercard is accepted, your N26 card is accepted.
Free ATM withdrawals
Free ATM withdrawals all throughout Europe is awesome and perfect for travellers. And €2 and 1.7% for other international withdrawals is pretty good. Usually I pay up to $6 and/or 2.5% on my New Zealand cards, so N26 is definitely an improvement.
Full control of your card from your phone!
No more calling your bank from overseas in the middle of the night (to get them during working hours) while draining all your Skype money while you sit on hold for 30 minutes.
With N26, you can easily block/unblock the card and activate other options from within your app. And since everything is done in the app, there’s no need to worry about getting flagged when logging in to internet banking from overseas like you do with regular banks.
Support is amazing. They even run support over Twitter – so you can tweet them and get support in real time. If you’ve ever sat on hold with a bank while travelling, you’ll understand how awesome this is.
It’s free! Most travel debit cards drown you in fees and loaded rates, including a monthly fee just to keep the card open. With N26 it’s completely free, so even if you never use it you’ve got nothing to worry about.
It’s just better.
Most of all, it just removes so many banking headaches that you have while travelling. There are enough things to worry about when you’re roaming the world, and in the past banking and money has been one of the biggest headaches of them all.
N26 removes so many of these problems – it really is the perfect card for travellers.
Signing up for an N26 Account
N26 is for EU residents, so to sign up for an account you need to have access to an EU mailing address.
If you do, simply head to the N26 sign up page here and fill in your details.
The process is all very straightforward and is done completely online. All you need is your smartphone.
Once you’re all signed up, you’ll get called by an agent to verify your identity, which doesn’t take more than five minutes. They’ll ask to see your passport to make sure all your details match, and then you’re done.
After that, you’ll get your N26 Mastercard in the mail. Simply follow the instructions in the N26 app to pair your card with your smartphone and you’re done! It’s that easy.
It’s been a long time coming, but the travel banking game is finally changing. Enjoy it.