In-Depth N26 Review: Is This The Best Bank Account For International Travellers?

Banking fees are one of those nuisance travel expenses that don’t seem to matter all that much during a single short trip overseas, but over the course of several trips or one protracted trip they can really start to have a significant impact.


Whenever you go abroad your home bank tries to gouge you with percentage-based foreign transaction fees, flat fees for ATM withdrawals and other charges you don't incur when you're at home.


In fact, according to one currency analyst, British holidaymakers alone are wasting a staggering £1.3 billion a year on travel money mistakes, with £644 million of this squandered by not using fee-free debit and credit cards.


And if you’re a fully nomadic, long-term traveller who’s continuously on the road, the situation is even worse, as you’re constantly incurring such pesky banking fees week after week, all year round.


The unfortunate thing is that if you’ve got a bank account that’s not travel-friendly there isn’t a lot you can do about most of these fees; there are ways to reduce or minimize them – but at the end of the day you can’t evade them entirely.


Hence why it’s so important for traveller to choose a travel-friendly bank account that charges minimal or zero fees in the first place for the most common transactions that you’ll be making on the road.


When I first started travelling several years ago, I only had my home bank account - a checking account with Bank of Ireland.


But this account was hammering me with foreign transaction fees whenever I made an ATM withdrawal or in-store card payment abroad, in addition to account management fees that were being levied four times per year.


So I started seeking out alternatives, trying to ascertain if there could be a better bank account for travel.


That was when I stumbled upon N26 (then called Number 26), a revolutionary German fin-tech startup that promised to charge almost none of the usual fees that banks charge their customers.


Within a few days I had set up a new checking account with N26, downloaded their smartphone app and started enjoying significantly reduced banking fees on the road and a much more efficient and streamlined service overall.


I had finally found the solution to my banking woes. And what worked for me might also work for you.


But before we look in more detail at the costs and benefits associated with an N26 bank account and how to set one up, I want to quickly cover the fundamentals like what exactly N26 is, where the company is based and why it was established.

What is N26?

N26 is a revolutionary mobile banking start-up that is headquartered in Berlin, Germany. It was founded in 2013 by Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayenthal and was known as Number 26 up until July 2016.


The company has reinvented the standard banking experience by creating a mobile, app-based banking platform that runs very smoothly and is better adapted for today’s mobile lifestyle than a traditional bank account.


There is no need to ever visit a physical branch as an N26 customer – everything can be accomplished through the N26 smartphone app or through the web app.


This makes an N26 bank account especially useful for travellers who need to be able to execute banking transactions from their phone while on the go.


Since the company’s original product launch in 2015, over 850,000 customers across 17 European markets have signed up for N26. The company now has plans to expand to the US and UK in 2018.

The firm has raised a total of $215,000,000 in funds from some of the world’s most well-known investors, including Allianz X, Tencent Holdings Limited, Li-Ka Shing’s Horizons Ventures, Valar Ventures (backed by Peter Thiel), members of the Zalando Management Team and Earlybird Venture Capital.

Who can bank with N26?

An N26 bank account is currently available to people living in all Eurozone countries except for Cyprus and Malta.


The company is also in the process of expanding to the UK and US and is already accepting pre-sign ups from UK and US customers.


If you’re not from any of these countries you won’t be able to set up an account for the time being unfortunately but remember that things are always changing.

How N26 Can Benefit Travellers

One of the most exciting things about N26 for travellers is the amount of money it can save you on currency conversion fees, ATM withdrawal fees, foreign currency transfer fees, account management fees and other banking charges.

There are now four different N26 products; N26 standard, N26 Business, N26 Black and N26 Metal and they come with many overlapping but also differing features, perks and benefits.

 

No matter which product you choose with N26, it’s virtually guaranteed that as an international traveller you’re going to save money over the traditional bank account you’re currently using.

N26 Products (bank accounts)

N26 Standard

The standard N26 current account is completely free to set up.

 

After you’ve set up your account the free plastic Mastercard debit card will be mailed to your address and should arrive after anywhere between 4 and 14 days, depending on the destination.

 

If you need the card quicker than that or if the regular delivery has failed you, you can also use the express delivery service.

 

With express delivery the card is delivered via UPS for a fee of €25 and should arrive the next working day between 8 a.m and 12 p.m. This service is free of charge with N26 Metal (discussed further below).

 

The Mastercard for the standard account has a frosted, translucent surface and a black magnetic stripe spans the length of the card on the front face. The card also has an EMV chip and is NFC-enabled for contactless payments.

 

The NFC technology allows you to make contactless card payments at POS (point-of-sale) terminals in stores for amounts up to €25 Euros without having to enter your personal PIN. For amounts exceeding €25, you will have to enter your PIN.

 

Here’s what's great about this account:

No account management fees 

The N26 standard account is completely free to set up and there are no account management fees whatsoever. You won’t be charged monthly, quarterly or annually for having the account, as happens with many old-school banks.

No currency conversion fees

If you make a card payment in a foreign currency with your N26 card, the payment is processed with the Mastercard exchange rate at the time of the transaction, which is usually very close to the "true" interbank or mid-market exchange rate.

 

There is no marking up of the Mastercard exchange rate, nor are there any currency conversion fees deducted afterwards. This benefit alone will save many travellers hundreds of dollars every year.

 

Whenever you book a flight with your card, pay a restaurant bill, book a hotel or buy a bus ticket in a foreign currency, your home bank is screwing you over with currency conversion fees.

 

Most banks charge a 2% or 3% fee (some charge even more) for any card payments that you make in a foreign currency, so you can imagine just how much money that’s costing you over the course of a single year.

Free ATM withdrawals in the Eurozone, 1.7% fee elsewhere

Another great benefit of N26 for travellers, is that you will get at least five charge-free (Euro) ATM withdrawals throughout the Eurozone each month with your N26 card.

 

For any withdrawals after that, the charge is €2 per withdrawal, in accordance with the N26 fair use policy.

 

For N26 customers from Austria and Italy it’s even better; they get unlimited charge-free Euro withdrawals every month.

 

One exception to this is that Germans that use N26 as their secondary bank account will only get three charge-free Euro withdrawals each month instead of five.

 

If you’re travelling outside the Eurozone there’s normally a 1.7% fee for ATM withdrawals in a foreign currency, which beats pretty much all the other banks we know.

 

The majority of banks will charge a 2% or 3% currency conversion fee for every foreign currency ATM withdrawal and many will even compound that with their own ATM withdrawal flat fee, which can be $5 or higher for many American banks.

 

This benefit alone could save you hundreds of dollars annually if you spend a lot of time travelling in countries where cash is king and you’re forced to make a lot of cash withdrawals.

Foreign currency transfers via Transferwise

SEPA money transfers within the Eurozone are free with N26 and transfers to foreign banks are handled via TransferWise, which means that you get the lowest possible transfer fees - up to 8 x lower than transferring money from your home bank.

 

TransferWise is directly integrated into the N26 app for a seamless experience transferring money into 19 foreign currencies.

 

The 19 supported foreign currencies are:

  • British Pound (GBP)
  • Swedish Kroner (SEK)
  • Polish Zloty (PLN)
  • Swiss Franc (CHF)
  • Danish Krone (DKK)
  • Norwegian Krone (NOK)
  • US. Dollar (USD)
  • Czech Republic Koruna (CZK)
  • Chinese Yuan (CNY)
  • Indian Rupee (INR)
  • Canadian Dollar (CAD)
  • Australian Dollar (AUD)
  • New Zealand Dollar (NZD)
  • United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED)
  • Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH)
  • Hungarian Forint (HUF)
  • Bulgarian Lev (BGN)
  • Georgian Lari (GEL)
  • Romanian Leu (RON)

Transfers within the SEPA system, both national and international are normally completed within one working day, but occasionally can take two working days.


Transfers in foreign currencies via Transferwise can take up to four working days.

Free N26 Maestro Card

Customers from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands can also get a free optional NFC-enabled Maestro card and this is true regardless of which N26 product you’ve chosen.

 

The N26 Maestro Card can be used for withdrawals and making fee- free payments anywhere in the world where the Maestro card symbol is displayed.

 

The fee for Maestro card withdrawals in Euros is €2, whereas foreign currency Maestro card withdrawals are charged €2 in addition to a 1.7% fee. 


The card can be ordered directly from the control centre in the N26 app and should arrive at your address within 2-3 days after ordering. 

Moneybeam

Moneybeam is a really convenient little feature that allows you to send money to friends, family and other phone book contacts without knowing their bank details.

 

All you need to know to send money is the person’s e-mail address or phone number. If the payee also has an N26 account the transfer will be virtually instant.

 

If the payee is not an N26 customer, N26 will request the payee’s bank details for you via an offline MoneyBeam link sent either via text message or e-mail, and the money will reach the payee's account within two banking days.


Your account will be immediately debited after you request a Moneybeam transfer, but if the payee doesn't retrieve the offline MoneyBeam within a period of 7 days the money will be re-credited back to your account.

 

This is a great method for sending smaller amounts of money in a pinch but not useful for sending larger amounts. 


With Moneybeam you’re limited to sending €1,000 to N26 customers, and €100 to all other contacts, in any 24-hour period.

Request money

The request money feature within the N26 app allows you to easily request money from an N26 contact that owes you. It comes in handy whenever a person needs a little reminder to pay you back.

 

You can request any amount up to €1,000, can make up to 20 requests in one day and can request money from the same person 3 times within a single day!

 

The recipient of the request has 7 days to either accept or reject the request and when the person does so you’ll be notified of the result. If after 7 days the request is not confirmed it will expire. 

Full control over your account

Let’s face it. It can often be a total pain in the ass to deal with old-school banks.

 

With many banks, if you want to change your PIN code or update your mobile number, you have to wait days for a letter with a security to be posted to your address, in order to confirm the change.

 

Moreover, many traditional banks enforce daily spending caps or ATM withdrawal limits on your account while you’re overseas, that you have no control over and no power to remove.

 

For example, my Bank of Ireland home bank limits me to a maximum ATM withdrawal amount of €100 per day in many Southeast Asian countries.

 

This is actually a nightmare because it means I have to withdraw cash several times during a trip since I can’t make a single large withdrawal at the beginning of the trip, thus incurring me repeated flat fee charges from foreign ATM machines.

 

Unfortunately when you’re travelling it’s simply not always possible to find an ATM machine that doesn’t charge a fee for foreign cards.

 

Many travellers also frequently face the problem where their home bank blocks their debit card when they make their first transaction abroad.

 

Of course, your bank is taking all these measures in the name of securing your account, but incidents like these can be incredibly frustrating and often require you to wait on hold for hours to resolve the problem over the phone with the bank.

N26 however uses a totally unorthodox approach to account security. It puts all the responsibility for your account security in your hands.

 

Within the N26 banking app, you have close to full control over your daily card spending and ATM withdrawal limits.

 

You can set your daily withdrawal limit anywhere between 0 and €2,500, and your daily spending limit anywhere between 0 and €5,000. You have a fixed monthly maximum of €20,000 for both withdrawals and card payments.

 

You can lock and unlock your card with a single button tap or for finer control you can toggle a switch in the N26 app to block payments abroad, online payments, cash withdrawals or all three if you wish.  

 

These are all useful features to have if your card is lost, has been stolen or somebody has got a hold of your card details.

 

Changing your PIN number also couldn’t be easier to do from within the N26 app. All you have to do is enter the 10-digit number on the back of your card and then enter your new PIN.

CASH26

The CASH26 feature is presently only available to N26 customers in Germany, although that may change in the coming months.

 

In a nutshell, it allows you to do two things; withdraw money or deposit money at 9,000 supported retail partners across Germany, without needing your Mastercard.

 

Supported retail stores include REWE, Penny, Real, dm, BUDNI, Ludwig, Eckert, ON Express, Adam’s, Barbarino and mobilcom-debitel.

 

Withdrawing money at a retail partner works similarly to traditional cashback and you can make unlimited free withdrawals every month.

 

You present a barcode generated by the N26 app to the cashier and once the barcode is scanned the cashier hands you the cash.

 

The money is actually debited the moment you create the barcode, but if you delete the barcode the money will be immediately returned to your account and if the code remains unused it will be returned within 24 hours. The maximum withdrawal per transaction is €300 and you can withdraw up to €999 within a 24-hour period.

 

To deposit money into your N26 account, you also need to fetch a barcode from the app and then hand the cash over to the cashier once the code is scanned. Your account will be credited immediately.

 

The first €100 is free to deposit each month, and after that there’s a 1.5% charge on the total sum paid in. The minimum deposit is €50 and there’s a deposit limit of €999 in any 24-hour period. 

N26 Business

This is a dedicated business account for freelancers and self-employed people. If you sustain your travels by working online from a laptop the N26 Business account could be right up your alley.

 

To get an N26 Business account you can’t already be an N26 user – you must be signing up for the first time. It’s currently not possible to have two separate N26 accounts at the same time.

 

With N26 Business you get a MasterCard that must be used exclusively for business purposes, but you can also order an additional Maestro card that can be used for personal spending on the same account.

 

Another benefit of the business account is that you get 0.1% cashback on all Mastercard purchases, which is automatically credited to your account at the end of each quarter.

 

The business account also comes with an extra layer of security called 3DSecure (3DS), which helps to prevent fraud when making payments online with your card. 

N26 Black

N26 Black is the next step up from the standard N26 account, and includes everything you get with the same, plus some extra perks like insurance coverage and no 1.7% fee for foreign currency withdrawals, and all for the recurring fee of just €9.90 per month.


N26 Black has a minimum membership term for one year and it will be automatically renewed for another year unless you cancel it at least one month before the expiry date.


This account is only available to customers living in Germany, Austria, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, Estonia and Slovakia.

 

With N26 Black you get a black NFC-enabled Mastercard that has no embossing; the card details (number, CVV, 10-digit code) are printed on the back.


So what criteria determine whether you should go for N26 standard or N26 black?

 

Well, if you spend much of the year outside the Eurozone and you usually withdraw at least €582 per month from foreign ATMs while abroad, it would make probably make more economic sense to go for the N26 Black card.


Why is €582 the cut-off point? Because if you withdraw more than €582 per month with the standard N26 card you're going to exceed the €9.90 monthly cost of N26 Black in withdrawal fees (1.7% of €582 = €9.90). 

 

But this is just from a purely financial standpoint. There's more to consider, as you also get comprehensive insurance coverage with N26 Black that doesn’t come with N26 standard, including the following:

Travel cancellation insurance

This covers you for travel cancellations due to a death, accident, medical emergency or other reason, up to a maximum of €5,000.

 

A deductible of 10% of the trip value applies if the cancellation was due to death, accident or hospitalization and 20% if the cancellation was made for any other reason, with a minimum deductible of €25 for all causes.   

Travel curtailment insurance & early return

This compensates you up to a maximum of €5,000 per trip if you are forced to curtail your trip prematurely. The deductible is the same as for travel cancellation insurance.

Flight delay insurance

This covers you for additional expenses incurred as a result of a flight delay of more than 4 hours. You can be reimbursed up to €100 per hour and for a maximum of €400 per trip. No deductible applies.

Luggage delay insurance

This covers you for additional expenses incurred as a result of delayed arrival by more than 6 hours of checked luggage. You can be reimbursed up to €100 per hour and for a maximum of €400 per trip. No deductible applies.

Patient repatriation transportation

If you die while abroad, this covers the full cost of repatriation of your body, transportation to the place of burial and any costs associated with conservation of your corpse.

 

If your relatives decide to bury you at the place of death abroad, the burial cost will be limited to €2,500.

 

It also covers the cost of transporting you back to your place of residence or to a hospital if you’re alive.

 

No deductible applies.

Foreign medical expenses

This covers you for general medical expenses incurred while abroad up to a maximum of €150,000. No deductible applies.

Travel accident insurance

This compensates you a fixed sum of €25,000 in the event of an insured accident during the trip that’s fatal or that renders you a permanent invalid. No deductible applies.

Extended warranty

This extends the warranty of an existing manufacturer by up to one year for insured equipment. If the product requires repair or replacement during the extended warranty period the costs will be covered up to €500 per insurance claim with a maximum of 2 claims per year. A €50 deductible applies.

ATM cash mugging insurance

If you are unfortunate enough to get robbed within 4 hours of making an ATM withdrawal with your N26 Black Mastercard, you will receive compensation up to €500 per insurance claim with a maximum of 2 claims per year. No deductible applies.

Mobile phone theft insurance

If your phone is stolen at home or abroad you are entitled to receive compensation up to €300 with a maximum of 2 claims per year. A €50 deductible applies.

 

You can read the full terms and condition of the insurance here

 

Note that the travel insurance is only applicable if you pay for the entire trip with your N26 card or bank account.

 

Here the definition of “trip” means a stay abroad of up to 90 days. If your trip continues beyond 90 days in length you will no longer be insured.  

 

Additionally, the mobile phone and extended warranty cover only apply if you purchased the phone or product with your N26 card or account.

N26 Metal

N26 Metal is the company's premium offering, and costs €14.90 per month with a minimum term of one year.

 

The NFC-enabled card has a tungsten core weighing 18 grams, making it three times heavier than standard cards. It is Europe’s first metal core card that supports contactless payments.

 

The card logos are mechanically etched and it has a double-coated matte black finish. The card number, CVV and 10-digit card ID number (token) are printed on the back.

 

Like N26 Black, it comes with comprehensive insurance coverage provided by Allianz Global Assistance Europe.

 

You also have direct access to customer support from within the N26 app and can avail of exclusive partner offerings.

 

Some of these partners provide new innovative tech to make your life easier and others help make your money go further with special online shopping deals.

 

The partners include WeWork, Hotels.com, IHG, Tannico, GetYourGuide, Outfittery, Caya, Zipjet, Home24, Helpling, Drivy, Lanieri, Babbel and Mobike.

 

Another feature exclusive to N26 Metal is free express delivery of your Mastercard. With other N26 products this costs €25.

Other features and aspects of N26

What we've discussed so far is only the tip of the N26 iceberg. The following features and aspects of banking with N26 will give you a more complete picture of the services you get when you become a customer. 


Note that all the following features are available to all N26 products, although many are presently only available in specific countries. 

N26 app

The N26 smartphone app is integral to the whole N26 banking experience. You can view your account in the N26 web app but you need the smartphone app to confirm certain transactions.

 

You can log into the app on your phone using either a password or Smart Login (fingerprint or pattern login). You can also disable the Smart Login feature if you want to only have the password login option.


You should update the N26 app whenever updates are available in order to maintain the highest possible level of security for your account.

 

When you first download the app you will have to pair it with your smartphone. Once the pairing process is complete you are ready to go.

Transaction list in the home screen of the app.

The N26 app allows you to set up real-time push notifications for events like successful payments, failed payments, incoming bank transfers, outgoing transfers, direct debits and more. You can also opt to receive e-mail notifications.

 

Your transactions appear in a list format on the home screen, and each transaction is assigned a category like shopping, ATM, bars & restaurants, education, income, leisure & entertainment, food & groceries, business expenses, salary, household & utilities, transport & car, travel & holidays, and many others.

Further details are revealed by tapping on a transaction in the main list.

With the aid of artificial intelligence N26 can usually guess the category that an expense belongs to correctly, but if it gets it wrong you can always re-assign the correct category to the expense manually.

 

Transactions are made easily searchable by tags, which are often automatically assigned, and you can also add your own tags manually.

 

Tapping once on a transaction in the list opens it up and gives you further details about it and you can also upload a photo to go with the transaction.


You can also export PDF statements for each month from the N26 mobile app and from the N26 web app you can export your list of transactions for a specified date range in CSV format.

 

The statistics feature of the mobile app tells you your total income for each month, your total expenditure for each month, as well as a 4-month average for both of these.

 

It also gives a breakdown of how much you earned and spent in categories like shopping, family & friends, media & electronics, travel & holidays etc.

 

Another nice feature of the app is the Cash Map, which marks the locations of ATMs near you on Google Maps. You can also see which bank owns each marked ATM, how far it is from you and whether it’s open or not. 

 
Statistics screen of N26 app.
 
Cash Map feature of N26 app.

N26 Savings

With N26 Savings Austrian and German customers can open a savings account from within the N26 app without any paperwork. 


Unfortunately this feature is not available to other countries just yet, but hopefully it will be sometime in the near future.

 

Your money will be deposited at one of N26’s partner banks (i.e. FirstSave €urope in UK, InBank AS in Estonia, Grenke Bank AG in Germany) and will start to accrue up to 1.48% interest. You can compare plans and choose the partner bank that you think is offering the best deal.

 

It’s a fixed savings account, which means you make a chosen one-time deposit (min €2,000, max €100,000) for a fixed and chosen period of time (min 3 months, max 60 months) and you can’t withdraw the money until the time period ends. When the term is up, you get your original deposit back plus interest.

 

Deposits of up to €100,000 are protected by EU law in all EU member states so your money is safe.

N26 Insurance

N26 insurance is a relatively new feature that’s currently only available to all customers in Germany.

 

I can’t say too much about it as I don’t have access to this feature personally, but basically, for the moment it allows you to digitize your insurance policies and view them all in one easy to use dashboard in the N26 smartphone app.

 

Soon you’ll be able to manage your insurance from the dashboard and do things like make claims, renewals and cancellations with a few finger taps, instead of having to fill out stressful paperwork.

 

You’ll also get expert advice on insurance policies and can view quotes for online insurance, so that you can find the best possible deals. 

N26 Credit

N26 Credit is another service offered by N26 that allows you to take out a personal loan.

 

N26 works with credit specialists like auxmoney in Germany and Younited Credit in France and for the moment the service is only available in these two countries.

 

The way it works is that at any time you can request an offer for a personal loan of between €1,000 and €25,000 with a repayment term of between 6 and 60 months from within the N26 app.

 

You will have to answers a few questions and provide some additional information about your financial situation, income, Schufa credit score and so on. Once N26 makes you a binding offer you can either delete it or accept it.

 

In France you can confirm the loan inside the app while in Germany you have to do a video call, verify your ID document and then sign electronically on the screen of your smartphone.

 

Once the loan is confirmed the money will be credited to your account within an hour if the loan is with N26 Credit, or within 3 business days if it's with auxmoney.

 

You can be offered interest rates anywhere between 1.99% and 19.99% p.a and additional fees may be due if you’re in default of monthly payments or want to change your credit plan.

N26 Invest

This is another N26 service that I can’t give personal opinions about because it’s not available in my country. N26 Invest is available only to German customers.

 

How this works is that you choose one of three pre-selected, diversified portfolios (Invest 40, Invest 60 & Invest 80), each consisting of 5 index funds (passively managed funds) and managed by Vaamo, an N26 partner.

 

Invest 40 carries the lowest risk and lowest potential returns, Invest 60 offers a balance between potential returns and risk, while Invest 80 offers the highest potential returns but also the highest risk.

 

You’re free to choose the investment amount and can pay into or out of your portfolio whenever you need to. The fund units are stored and traded under you name in a securities account at FFB Bank.

 

For this service N26 charges a monthly service fee of 0.99% or a minimum monthly fee of €1.90 if the amount invested is less than €2,300. This fee is to cover the day-to-day expenses associated with running your account and the buying and selling of funds. 

Google Pay/Apple Pay integration

If you’re from Ireland, Slovakia, Belgium or Spain, you can add your N26 card to Google Pay (formerly called Android Pay), so that you can make contactless payments in stores using your mobile phone.

 

For this to work the store needs to have a point-of-sale system that supports this technology and your Android mobile device has to support NFC (near field communication) and HCE (host card emulation). 

 

To pay in a store using Google Pay all you have to do is unlock your phone and hold it near the terminal until a check mark appears on the screen. You don’t even have to launch an app.

 

If your phone doesn’t support the necessary protocols you can still purchase apps in the Google Play Store, make in-app purchases and make payments in websites using Google Pay, wherever it’s supported.

 

Using Google Pay is very secure and gives a much faster checkout experience since you don’t have to input your card details each time. No more filling out endless forms just to make a card payment.

 

If you’re an iPhone user, N26 also integrates with Apple Pay if you’re from France, Italy, Spain or Finland. You can pay in apps, in stores and on the web with Apple Pay as long as your device is supported. 

Overdraft facility

If you are from Germany or Austria you may be able to avail of the N26 overdraft facility. You can apply from within your account settings within the N26 app under “Overdraft facility”.

 

Whether you are approved or not will depend on your SCHUFA/CRIF credit rating as well as the duration and value of regular payments into your N26 account.

 

New customers can receive up to a €1,000 overdraft limit, while existing customers are eligible for up to €5,000. You can also set your own limits within the app. There’s an 8.9% yearly interest rate on overdrafts and you’ll be sent an invoice at the end of every quarter.

Referral program

N26 has a referral program where you can invite your friends to join  and earn a €15 reward when your friend spends their first €15 with their N26 card.

 

The invitee has to sign up through the invite link that you send and you can earn up to €150 through the program (maximum of 10 invites). If successful your account should be credited within 2-3 days.

 

Friends can be invited to join N26 via SMS from the N26 app or via e-mail from the web app, by tapping the paper plane icon.

 

The referral program is offered in the following countries: Germany, Austria, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Finland, Luxembourg, Estonia, Greece, and Slovakia.

Security

Okay, so N26 generally offers a much smoother and better banking experience than most traditional banks, but how about the security? Is it up to par?

 

At the Chaos Communications Conference in Hamburg, a research fellow and PhD student in the computer science department at the University of Erlangen-Nuernberg named Vincent Haupert showed how the N26 app could leak user data and allow hackers to hijack user accounts

 

He disclosed these potential vulnerabilities to N26 on September 25, 2016 and less than 3 months later N26 had apparently patched all the security holes.

 

Some of the changes the company made were blocking brute-force attacks where hackers try to guess user credentials, reducing and encrypting data transfers and fixing voice-recognition security vulnerabilities in its app for the latest iPhones.

 

Luckily no accounts were affected by this vulnerability before the problem was addressed and nobody’s data or funds were impacted.

 

Since that incident back in 2016, N26 appears to have upped its  game and now promises state of the art security. Some of the technologies and strategies the company employs to enhance security for its users are the following:


Three layer security architecture - N26 has a three layer security architecture consisting of a secure login to access your account, a 4-digit payment transfer PIN to initiate a transaction, and pushTAN, which is a secure message sent out to your paired smartphone via the Internet, that must be confirmed to authorize an outgoing transaction.

 

Pairing – We mentioned that your smartphone has to be paired with your N26 account. Doing so means that nobody can log into your N26 account from another device, even if they have your SIM. So it’s not enough for somebody to just know your login credentials to hack your account – they also need to possess your mobile device.

 

Realtime account notifications – You receive push notifications whenever any transaction occurs in your account. This immediate knowledge of unauthorized activity means you can act fast to lock your card from within the app and prevent further damage from being done.  With traditional banks you often need to wait days to see transactions appear, allowing hackers to drain your account without you even realizing.

 

Customized security settings – We already discussed above how much control N26 gives you over your account in allowing you to manually disable online payments, payments abroad and cash withdrawals, as well as set daily limits for cash withdrawals and payments. This means that even if a hacker gets a hold of your card details, you can have already decided in advance the maximum damage the hacker can do.

 

Deposit protection – N26 is a holder of a banking license and is obliged to comply with the rules of the German financial regulatory authority. Because of this, all deposits held in the member states of the EU are guaranteed under the compensation scheme of German banks up to €100,000, irrespective of country.

 

3D Secure – This is a protocol that helps to prevent fraud when you make online purchases with your Mastercard by adding an extra layer of security to payments. N26 uses Mastercard SecureCode, a service which is based on the 3DS protocol. It appears as an additional authentication step when you make an online purchase that may be fraught with danger.

 

Bug Bounty Program – This is a program run by N26 that offers cash incentives to security researches who can inform the company about bugs and security holes so that they can be fixed before they create problems.

 

Just for the record, while I was travelling in Sri Lanka my regular Bank of Ireland home bank account got hacked, but my N26 account has remained invulnerable to data thieves to date. Touch wood.

Customer support

I’ve rarely needed to use N26 customer support over the past few years that I’ve been using the standard account for travel, so I don’t have much personal experience with this, and I suppose that’s a good sign.

 

You can contact N26 support by phone, email or live chat via the app or when you log into your account at my.26.com.


Live chat is said to be the fastest way to get in touch and is available from 9 a.m to 6 p.m from Monday to Saturday.

 

My experience with live chat in the web app however has been that agents are often unavailable during normal working hours.

  

For the moment it seems to me that phone is best for getting serious issues resolved by N26 customer support. There’s a different phone number for calling N26 for each country that can set up an account.

 

N26 also has a very helpful support centre with lots of FAQs, tutorials and articles addressing important subjects, where you can find most of the answers you’re looking for.

 

The customer service could certainly be improved by making it 24/7, and adding a hotline for when your N26 Mastercard is lost or stolen would also be very useful, but overall, it seems the customer service is decent enough.

 

See also this article for another customer's personal experience with N26 customer support.

So what's the rub?

This whole mobile banking concept sure sounds really convenient and progressive but surely there must be a major catch somewhere?

 

Well, one of the downsides with N26 is that there’s no way (as yet) to lodge a cheque or cash, so if you still receive the odd cheque or payment in cash, you might not want to close your other bank account just yet.

 

It’s also unfortunate that some of the services, such as N26 Invest, Savings, Insurance and Credit, are not presently available in all countries that N26 offers accounts to, although they seem to be working on the problem.

How to open an N26 account

Opening an account with N26 is a very straightforward and painless process. You can do it easily while you’re travelling as long as you have a decent Wi-Fi connection.

 

We’re not going to do a step-by-step tutorial but just give you a basic outline of the process. It might be a good idea to use a VPN

 

The first step is to fill out the online registration form. You’ll have to enter your personal details as well as job title, nationality, tax information and a few other items.

 

After this you’ll need to confirm your e-mail and then log into your new account. You can now choose your N26 product from the ones that are available.

 

The second step is ID verification, which is done through N26’s identity verification partner IDnow.

 

Every nationality can verify with their passport and some nationalities can also verify with an ID card.

 

If you don’t have any of these documents but you happen to be living in Germany or planning to visit Germany soon you can do the ID verification process through a German post office, using what’s known as the PostIdent method. This is free of charge.

 

With this method, you request to have a coupon sent to your e-mail after filling out the online application, which you then print out and bring to your nearest German post office, along with your ID and residency proof.

 

It should be an official Deutsche post office as opposed to a third party parcel shop. You should receive an e-mail a day or two later when your account is ready.

 

If you do have one or both of the requisite documents, you can opt for the remote method of ID verification via video call, known as the IDnow method.

 

The entire process normally takes about 8 minutes, but you need to make sure you’re set up right from the outset.

 

You can initiate the video call from within the N26 webapp, either on a computer or on your smartphone and you’ll need to call between 8 a.m to midnight German time, which will either be Central European Time (CET) or Central European Summer Time (CEST).

 

Find a quiet place with good lighting, as you’ll be speaking to an agent and will need to hold your passport up to the camera at different angles so that the agent can verify its legitimacy.

 

You should also make sure you have a good, stable Internet connection before placing the call.

 

You’ll also be asked to verify a few details from the online application form and will need to type in a code sent to the phone number you registered with, so make sure you have your phone with you.

 

The final step of the process is pairing your smartphone with the N26 app to make your account fully functional. After you’ve downloaded the app just log into your account and follow the instructions for pairing your smartphone.

 

After confirming your phone number you’ll be sent a verification code via text message that you’ll have to enter in the app. After this your account should be fully operational.


Note that your smartphone should run iOS 9/Android 5.0 or higher to support the N26 app.

Conclusion

N26 is the most attractive bank out there right now for a lot of travellers and the company’s customer base is growing rapidly as a result.

 

It offers a highly user-friendly, smoothly operating and secure app-based mobile banking platform for those with a mobile lifestyle and eliminates most of the account-draining fees associated with using a traditional bank account overseas.


Since it’s limited to Europe for the moment, it’s not yet a solution for many other countries, but the company is already getting ready to expand to the UK and USA this year (2018), and who knows what countries they plan to offer their products to after that.

 

If you’re from the USA, you’d be advised to keep a close eye on N26 over the coming months, as the banking products are even worse in the US than in Europe, where the company has already been very successful.  

 

In fact, N26 is already accepting pre-signups from U.S and UK customers before they launch in these two countries, so you don’t have to wait if you want to sign up immediately.

If you enjoyed this article please share it with other travellers. What bank account do you currently use for travel and why? Have we persuaded you to sign up for an account with N26 if you haven't done so already? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!

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