Anyone who travels as often as me or lives in several different countries as I do may know that he/she needs to exchange money all the time. Each time, you will see how much the banks are charging and cutting from your money.
All payments and transfer fees are not so unclear, and you don’t know how much it costs you. In the information era, there is some information that has been covered but not opened to us. If you transfer a huge amount of money from your country to another country, you will feel amazed how much it may cost you and you will not be even sure how much you pay for each specific reason.
You will be battered to realize that the fees are as much as 13%. That’s on a round-trip exchange currency. It means if you exchange the money then change it back, you may lose 13% of the exchange amount. Of course you’re not going do a double exchange, but it gives you a clear idea of how much the banks can make out of you. The average fees are roughly 7% of the total exchange amount for a round-trip or 3.5% for one way.
Interbank rate is the rate the banks pay when exchanging money. This is the rate the banks pay when they are trading with each other. This is the “genuine” exchange rate. The banks make a margin on top of this, and give you their exchange rate with the fees covered. Mostly they do not open out the fee, and they just disclose the rate that you have exchanged. The reason why they charge that much is because this is a hidden fee. You don’t see the fee because you just see how much foreign currency you received when exchanging.
The table above indicates the rates you receive if you wire money into your bank account in another currency. This is probably what will happen if you sale a house in one country and purchase another house in another country. It’s not the rates you receive when exchanging cash over the counter in the bank (although rates for both situations are usually very high). I include PayPal in the table above. Although they are not a bank, they are a popular option for international transfers. You will notice that the fees in the US are a bit more reasonable than the UK, Australia and Canada. But still, even the Wells Fargo currency exchange rates of 2% round-trip (1% one-way) cost some money to pay when there is no other lower cost option.
There are several options to avoid these fees, but it depends on how much money you are exchanging and which currencies you are exchanging. If you’re transferring $5k to $100k, you can avoid the fees and pay only around 0.5% by using any one of these currency exchange companies:
- TransferWise – charges 0.5% one way or 1% round trip. They seem to be able to facilitate a transfer even if you do not have a bank account in both countries (but I have not confirmed this). The other alternatives on this list will need you to have a bank account in your name in both countries. TransferWise will definitely need the sender to have bank account and will need the sender to verify their identity with a copy of a passport or similar documentation.
- OFX – charges usually 0.5% one way or 1% round trip.
- CurrencyFair – charges usually 0.5% one way, and they also have a marketplace where you can trade with other people directly. (Note: Five free transfers with CurrencyFair if you use the link)
- xe.com – fee varies depending on the currency.
- Winngie-it gives you the best rate and best option. It is the best I have used.
- Curexe – offers a transparent 1% cost on currency exchanges and goes down to 4% on higher volume transactions. They have awesome customer service because you can get a direct line to the founder 24/7.
The way for these services to work is that you transfer (via wire transfer usually or ACH in the US) to their bank account and then they will wire or direct transfer to you in the exchange currency. Usually this means you need a bank account in the two different currencies. You can get a bank account with multiple currencies which will solve this issue, for example, by setting up an account with HSBC in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia or the UK.
There is also an option for using a foreign exchange broker to directly exchange money and pay the same rates that banks pay. This is something I have personally done, but it’s a little tricky to set it up. I would not recommend it unless you have over $500k to transfer. In other words, brokers don’t want you to set up an account. Just to exchange some money! They are looking for you to trade, and transacting hundreds of times, so that they make something on brokerage fees. One company you may use is Interactivebrokers. There will be a monthly fee and a minimum to open the account if you do this.
All of these previous options are more for transferring larger amounts of money. If you’re traveling overseas and just need some cash during your trip, there are basically two options: local currency exchange (cash to cash) or simply using your credit card. The best option depends on which country you are traveling to. Some countries have a local economy that relies heavily on exchanging to US dollars and you will find in these countries that the exchange rates for cash to cash can be quite reasonable (around 1% fees one way). Some examples are: The Philippines, Hong Kong or Ukraine. If you have US dollars, then the best option for these countries is to bring US dollar cash and exchange it when you arrive. Mostly you will not want to exchange at the airport as the rates are likely to be a lot worse than in the city center.
Credit cards are another option for getting your money when traveling. This can be either paying via the card or withdrawing from an ATM.
You want to be careful as most cards will double-charge you, not only for the currency conversion, but also an extra fee for withdrawing from ATMs and then on top of this an additional charge for foreign currency withdrawals.
So you can end up being charged in three separate ways for the same transaction: 1) The ATM fee 2) A percentage charge for cash advance or for foreign currency transactions 3) Another hidden fee on the exchange rate (again banks do not declare this fee to you they just tell you that this the “rate” they are giving you, but of course that “rate” includes their undisclosed fee.
There are some credit card options without additional fees whilst traveling, but all of them as far as I am aware will still have the hidden fee that they take when converting currencies.