UPDATED: April 20, 2021
I personally send money overseas quite often and used to go straight to high street banks, but after a few bank transfers, I realized that they are actually quite pricey due to the many different fees and one big hidden fee.
If you want to avoid the costly mistakes that I made, here are some key facts that you need to know about international money transfers.
The cost of transferring money overseas
There are several fees involved with making an international transfer. Here are the most common ones:
- Transfer fee – This can be a fixed amount or a percentage transferring your money internationally.
- Conversion fee – This is usually a percentage charged on the conversion of pounds to the local currency of the country you’re sending money to.
- Minimum transaction amounts – These minimum amounts force you to transfer more than you need to. This also means that you will spend more money on transfer and conversion fees.
- Mark up of the exchange rate – Now this is the hidden fee I was talking about. It is seemingly harmless but takes a bite out of your pocket! Let me explain why.
How mark up of the exchange rate is a hidden fee
If we check Google or other platforms such as XE currency or Bloomberg, we can easily find the average or mid-market conversion rate of any two currencies. This is the best conversion rate you will get at that given time.
What most banks and transfer services tend to do is alter this rate which ultimately leads to you ending up with less money on the other side.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you want to send money to India (from GBP to IDR).
After checking, you now know the mid market conversion rate is 1 GBP = 17,281 IDR.
You then go to a bank/transfer service who offers it at this rate 1 GBP = 17,000 IDR.
This would equate to a fee of 281 IDR or £0.0163 per £1 transferred OR a hidden fee of 1.63%.
Why are there so many different fees, why not a single fee?
In a way, banks and services are trying to be clear as to what they are charging for. However, often the reality is that it gets quite confusing when you start comparing different services and their fee structures.
You may be lured by services claiming to have no conversion fee or no transfer fee, but often you end up getting charged another form of fee to make up for it. With 1% fee here, another 0.5% fee there, and a marked-up exchange rate, before you know it, you’ll be paying a total of 3-5% in fees just to transfer money.
How I manage to save money on fees
After doing some research and testing out different services, I finally found a service that is cheaper than the rest: Wise.
Wise saves me around £240 every year on average. That’s one locum shift’s worth of money that I get to save instead of throwing away in fees!
So how exactly does Wise help me save money?
A very low single fee
Wise doesn’t have a separate transfer fee and conversion fee. Instead they have a single fee which is very very low.
I pay only 0.3% for GBP to USD, and 0.6% for GPB to PHP when I use Wise. The banks I used before would charge me between 2.5 – 5% total so that’s a huge saving already.
True exchange rates
Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate so you get the best conversion rate for your money. Very few services use the true exchange rate, and if they do, they often charge higher fees! In short, with Wise, there are no hidden fees.
No minimum transfer amount
Only send what you need to. Wise has no minimum transfer amount so you don’t have to spend extra just to send money.
And to top all these this up, I find that Wise is the easiest one to use.
Other bonus features of Wise
Wise Borderless Savings Account
Not only does Wise do remittance services, you can actually open up a savings account with them and manage this through a phone app. You won’t get any interest through this account but what you get is their fantastic conversion rate.
So you create an account and transfer money to it. You then get a debit card, and you can use that debit card anywhere in the world for any currency using true conversion rates that beat all other credit cards. We use this every time we go back to the Philippines or any time we travel.
You can also use the account to receive foreign currency without having to convert it immediately. For example, you can receive IDR in the UK without converting it to GBP and then spend it later in IDR without any further conversion. This is unlike banks which force you to convert any foreign currency received in your account to GBP and charge you for it.
Drawbacks of Using Wise
Although Wise is the most economic way to send money overseas, it does come with a few drawbacks.
Up to 3 days for transfers
Wise takes around 1 business day on average to transfer money. But if it encounters a problem, it can sometimes take up to 3 business days. This can be a problem if you need to send the money urgently.
Personally, I have not found this to be an issue as I rarely need to send money at such short notice. But if you need to send money urgently, within a few hours or a day, it might be best to use a bank.
Transferring money from overseas to the UK isn’t always supported
Sending money from the UK is easy, but sending money to the UK isn’t always possible with Wise. Check out which countries they support here.
Limited cash withdrawals
If you regularly use cash, Wise Borderless Account may not be the best option. It allows you to withdraw cash without fees in any country but has a monthly limit of £200 or the equivalent in foreign currency.
For us, this isn’t a problem. We rarely use cash these days since most businesses accept card.
No cheque or cash Deposits
You cannot deposit cash or cheque directly to the Borderless Account. A simple workaround is to just deposit them to your regular bank account before transferring it to Wise online.
If you’re unsure if Wise is for you
Wise shows you exactly how much you will receive here on their Wise calculator. Check it out to see whether it truly is the cheapest option for your personal circumstances.
I know it’s scary to send large amounts of money when using a new service. I recommend transferring a small amount first to see how you find it, then when you’re comfortable with it you can then send bigger amounts.
To sum it up, Wise is an affordable international money transfer service that I recommend from my own positive experience. They have low fees, the service is convenient, easy to use, and I’m sure you will like too!
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