How To Manage Foreign Currencies for Short and Long Term Travel
Whether you are studying abroad for a few months, moving overseas to live and work, or simply just going on vacation to a country with a foreign currency - this article is for you. It also applies to those who want to transfer, pay and accept money in foreign currencies without losing large sums to sneaky bank fees and currency conversions. Probably the biggest hidden cost of travelling (no matter how short or long term) lies with your bank and foreign exchange fees. In a perfect world, we would have a bank account in the country we are visiting with adequate money in that currency so we can take out cash, swipe our cards and not have to worry about the following:
a) exchange rate fluctuations - because you can buy the currency when it’s at a respective high to your home currency
b) the nightmarish fees charged by your bank and card when you transfer, use, or withdraw money in that foreign currency - because if you already have that foreign currency then you would be using money like a local
c) the additional commission that many ATMs and Card Machines derive when converting currencies on top of the ATM withdrawal fee (extra 2-8 Euros) - because you would just pay the minimum ATM withdrawal fee like every other local - no hidden surprises.
Now, what if I told you that there is a way to achieve all that - without having to visit local banks and open a bank account in every country you visit or stay in? What if I told you, you can manage, transfer, use and withdraw home and foreign currencies all from one account?? Enter —> TRANSFERWISE
No, this is not in any way sponsored by TransferWise (I wish) - it is simply the best way I’ve found to manage all my foreign currencies when travelling and living abroad. In this article, I’m going to go through the 4 most common scenarios encountered whilst travelling and living abroad, and compare how much you can save through TransferWise as oppose to your normal Bank. (Note: every Bank and ATM charges different fees, which vary from country to country, plus exchange rates are always fluctuating. Therefore, my results from this experiment will most likely differ to your real life experiences, but the principle remains the same)
SCENARIO 1 : Transferring Large Sums from your Home Currency to Foreign Currency
When I first started travelling, I was living in Vienna for half a year, so I decided to open an Austrian Bank Account and managed my foreign currencies by transferring large sums from my NZ Westpac Account (NZD) via Westpac to my Erste Bank in Austria (Euros). Little did I know, that for every $2000 NZD transferred, I was losing about $70-$90 NZD - which goes straight into Westpac’s pockets and not into my European Bank. Had I known about TransferWise from the very start, I could have saved a few hundred dollars by the end of my first exchange.
Transferwise acts as an intermediary between your two accounts. Yes they do take a small cut from your transfer, but a very very small one compared to your home bank. Let’s say, for this example: I want to transfer $5000 NZD into Euros. Here is the fee comparison as of 9th Feb 2019:
Sending: $5000 NZD into Euros
TransferWise fee: $21.66 NZD
+ Extra Fees depending on payment method
$0.00 - for Bank Transfer (Manual deposit of money by you into TransferWise’s account);
or $0.90 - for POLi Transfer (Log in to your Bank through POLi and approve payment - TransferWise does the rest - I recommend this as the best way); or $88.41 - for Credit or Debit Card (Put in your card details and done. Fastest but also most expensive)
Market Exchange Rate: 0.5954
TransferWise Exchange Rate: 0.5954 (ie. $100 NZD = 59.54 Euro)
Exchange Rate by Westpac: 0.5787 (ie. $100 NZD = 57.87 Euro)
Total Fees with TransferWise:
$21.66 + $0.90 = $22.56 NZD
Total Fees with Westpac:
I would have received 82.17 Euros LESS due to hidden Bank Fees.
Which equates to roughly = $140 NZD in fees - that is $117.44 NZD more than with TransferWise!
Different banks charge different fees and often take away a huge cut without you even knowing that they do. I love the transparency of TransferWise, I know I’m not getting ripped off, I know exactly what I’m paying and how much I’m getting. Plus the money often arrives within 24 hrs! Much faster than Westpac which take 3-5 Working Days… gone are those old traditional ways of international transfers!
If you are keen to try but are unsure (like I was) how trustworthy TransferWise is, I can assure you I’ve never had any problems in the last 2-3 years of using them to manage my foreign currencies. Plus, if you haven’t yet signed up - you can use my link to create an account and get your first transfer FOR FREE! Here is my personalised link: TransferWise - Freedom Wanderers
Only catch is you have to transfer an amount between 200-500 GBP in order for this to apply - no more and no less, but in my opinion, this is the perfect ‘test try’ amount. This means that even if you use Debit Card or Credit card to pay, that normal $88.41 card fee and $21.66 TransferWise fee stated above are wavered (both $0) and you get your money double quick = so what you convert is what you get… at the market exchange rate! This is mind blowing!
SCENARIO 2 : Withdrawing Large Sums of Money from Foreign ATMS (with TransferWise Card + Borderless Account)
Let’s head over to South East Asia —> Thailand. In this scenario, I will be withdrawing my money from NZD to THB (Thai Baht) and showing you a real-life scenario and comparison between using your Home Bank Card and TransferWise’s Borderless Debit MasterCard.
(Note: Everyone is eligible for a Borderless Account, no matter where you are - but the TransferWise Borderless Card is currently only eligible for those with a post address in Europe. Both the Borderless Account + Borderless Debit MasterCard together allows you to spend the currencies in your Borderless Accounts like a local - ie. ZERO foreign currency fees. More info about this below)
So you get off the plane and before you even think about hopping on a Tuk Tuk or one of those crazy red taxis in Thailand, you need to withdraw cash. There are numerous ATMs in the airport and what I’ve found is that they all seem to charge a fixed ATM fee of 220 THB per transaction - no matter how little or how much you withdraw. So I take out both my NZ Westpac Debit Card and my TransferWise Borderless Debit MasterCard to compare how much each would charge me to withdraw 10,000 THB. This was my finding on 3 Feb 2019:
a) NZ Westpac Debit Card:
Firstly, when you press 10,000 THB, the ATM automatically converts it to USD??! What? Why? I want to know the amount in NZD?! But the amount displayed was 340.83 USD to be paid, there was no option to view the amount in NZD. No doubt it was going to charge me double currency conversion fees from NZD -> USD and again USD —> THB. But when you Google 10,000 THB at market rate, it actually converts to 319.26 USD… that means I would have been robbed an extra $21.57 USD.
10,000 THB = 340.83 USD (ATM)
10,000 THB = 319.26 USD (Real Rate)
Difference = 21.57 USD
The difference of 21.57 USD is the extra hidden fees no one tells you about, which works out to be 6.76% mark up of the real rate - which is a huge percentage!
b) TransferWise Borderless Debit MasterCard:
Alternatively, you can pre-transfer 10,000 THB from NZD to your Thai Baht Currency Account (within your free TransferWise Borderless Account) and the fee for that works out to be only 1.48% as opposed to the 6.76% above. Here is a quick break down using USD so as to minimise confusion because that’s what the ATM dealt with:
10,000 THB = 324.21 USD (TransferWise rate)
10,000 THB = 319.26 USD (Real Rate)
Difference = 4.95 USD (only 1.55% compared to the above 6.76%)
This means that for every 10,000 THB we withdraw, we are only paying a fee of: 4.95 USD with TransferWise … (compared to a fee of 21.57 USD with my Westpac Card.)
If we compare the rates: 6.76% - 1.55% = 5.21%
This means that by using TransferWise Borderless Debit MasterCard, I make a saving of 5.21% of money withdrawn when compared to using my NZ Westpac Debit Card. This is huge if you consider large sums of money.
Let’s do one last example using 10,000 USD on a hypothetical month long family vacation in Thailand.
Normal Bank: 10,000 USD x 1.0676 = 10,676 USD
TransferWise: 10,000 USD x 1.0155 = 10,155 USD
Difference = 521 USD is the extra amount you pay in hidden fees!!!
I’m sure the maths is going over your head a little, so if you prefer video style explanation, you can read and watch more on their Borderless Account page here: TransferWise Borderless
SCENARIO 3: Paying with your Card in Foreign Currencies (either online or in store)
If you go in to a store or purchase something online in a currency different to your Bank Card’s currency, then it will ask you if you prefer to pay in your HOME currency or the FOREIGN currency. ALWAYS CHOOSE THE FOREIGN CURRENCY (aka. the local currency of the store or website), and always decline the question “do you want to pay in your home currency of GBP?” - because you are essentially allowing it to make up some random exchange rate and only later do you realise “hey, how come the amount I was charged so much higher than the real exchange rate?” and you instantly blame the business for stealing your money, when in fact it’s your bank - not the store - that got their sneaky cut. So many people don’t realise this and they lose so much money to hidden fees every time they swipe their card.
How does TransferWise help with all this nonsense? Well, by having a borderless account, I essentially hold money in any currency I want (out of the 40 currencies offered by TransferWise). I can convert money between these borderless accounts, or I can add money from my main Bank Accounts (Westpac, N26, Sparkasse, Vekselbanken, ErsteBank - yes I have acquired a few over the years…)
Eg. Paying with Borderless Card on Large Expenses
I want to have about 1000 Euros but in Thai Baht on my Borderless Card so I can spend it on larger amounts (eg. accommodation). TransferWise charges only 6.97 Euro in fees, so the total amount converted is 993.03 Euros and I receive 35,430 THB in local Thai currency at market exchange rate.
Now, this money and this card, is treated like a local wherever I go. Let’s say you spend one week at a nice resort and the total cost is 21,000 THB. As long as you choose to pay in Thai Baht (and NOT GBP pounds as card machines often prompt for), you will only ever pay 21,000 THB because you have that amount in your borderless account. No hidden fees. (If you choose GBP then you essentially let the machine rob you of your precious money.)
In comparison, your home bank card charges so much more in terms of foreign exchange fees and conversion rates - not to mention they give you a really crap rate and know that the majority of people don’t even realise they’re being robbed of their money.
Same principle applies to buying things online in other foreign currencies. Basically no matter what YOUR home currency is, it’s ALWAYS cheaper to make the purchase in the LOCAL FOREIGN currency.
SCENARIO 4: Getting Paid in a Foreign Currency
Perhaps you are a freelancer or you have a foreign client with a bank currency different to yours, or you are travelling with a bunch of different people and they owe you money but don’t work in your currency. Problem is, they don’t want to lose money in foreign currency conversion and neither do you in terms of getting paid. So how to settle that as a win-win situation? With TransferWise, you can set up legit Bank Accounts in the following currencies: Euro, GBP, AUD, NZD and USD. That means that no matter where you are in the world or what nationality you hold, you can open a bank account in these 5 Currencies in a matter of minutes and people can transfer you money as if you were a local - zero cost to them and zero cost to you. How amazing is that?!
Then you can forward that foreign currency amount to your main bank account for a fraction of the fee banks would have charged for this foreign currency exchange. What’s even better is that, if you know the exchange rate is super weak at the moment - you can simply hold the money in your TransferWise Borderless Account as long as you want or until the exchange rate spikes up again and bam! Transfer your money when the rate is at its highest and you get an awesome exchange rate, which means more money with minimal effort!!
So there you have it!! Four really good reasons to use TransferWise to save money when travelling and living abroad! I often get asked how I manage my money living in so many different countries - well, this is exactly what I use and I honestly couldn’t recommend it more! It’s proved especially useful here in Thailand, as I only recently got my Borderless Debit MasterCard - which has saved us HEAPS of money! So if you have upcoming travel plans or you need to exchange some foreign currencies, you can get your first transfer for FREE (literally zero hidden costs) by using my link here: TransferWise - Emily
If you use my link to sign up and make your first transfer, I derive a small commission from TransferWise but this doesn’t affect you at all (your transfer is free provided the amount is between 200-500 GBP). If you have family and friends who are about to go overseas, then perhaps you might want to share this article and discount link (transferwise.com/u/emilyp38) with them! The more it’s shared, the more I can help you and keep writing practical articles like these :D
Did you find this article helpful? I realise this was a lot of information to pack in, so if you have any further questions for me, please feel free to comment below or reach out to me personally. Always love hearing from you :)