The cost of transferring money internationally to a bank account abroad – or just exchanging one currency for another – is likely higher than you think. An increasing amount of Canadians are transferring money abroad (particularly to USD accounts), and most of them falsely assume that the only cost of that is the bank’s overseas wire charge (a flat rate of between $15 and $30 per transfer).
Well, I have some bad news for you folks…
If you are transferring large sums of money abroad or do so frequently, those international money transfers are eating away into your savings in a big way. On top of the wire flat rate there is a hidden currency exchange charge.
What that means, is that when you transfer money internationally with a bank, or even swap them between your own CAD/USD at a Canadian bank, you pay a fee of (likely) 2-3% on your transfer on top of those $15 or $30 international wire fees.
If you are exchanging a large sum of money or making a large payment in foreign currency, it’s probably that you will pay more on that single transaction than all other banking fees for the entire year combined.
As financial awareness grows, and the need to send money abroad increases, more people are turning to alternatives in the form of money transfer services.
These money transfer services (often referred to as foreign exchange companies – or “forex”) offer cheaper money transfers than what it would cost you with a bank. This makes sense as foreign exchange companies only really exist for the sole purpose of exchanging currencies as cheaply as possible – as opposed to banks who are more of “jack-all-trades, master-of-none” type of companies. The top-rated money transfer companies have garnered glowing reviews by customers who have used them in the past.
My Personal Experience Checking the Rates at TD Bank
When I was checking my foreign exchange rates I looked into my personal TD bank account. TD bank account quoted me at 1.36 CAD for USD at that time (September 9, 2022) while the actual rate was 1.32665, so for every American Dollar that I want to buy, I’m paying 3.5 Canadian Cents in hidden charges – which is a 2.5% markup against the Band of Canada’s rates.
If a person makes a real estate investment in the USA, and/or takes a trip or two each year down south, they could easily be transferring $40,000 internationally per year into USD. At a 2.5% currency exchange mark up, that’s a thousand bucks per year! Essentially a voluntary tax.
Heck – even someone who takes an annual vacation down to the States and/or is a “Florida/Arizona snowbird” is looking at paying hundreds of dollars towards this “voluntary tax” each year.
International Money Transfer Services: a New Way
Money transfer companies are classified as financial services providers and consequently, are appropriately regulated (FINTRAC in Canada, but most of them operate globally, so they are authorized by multiple regulators around the globe).
The way they operate is as a third-party broker; transfer your funds to their safeguarded joint bank accounts in Canadian Dollars and they’ll exchange it for you, and make the payment on your behalf. Or, you could receive a foreign currency payment into that account and then get it in Canadian Dollars bank to your account.
They all have a comprehensive online money transfer system that you can DIY, but if you don’t want to you can transfer over the phone or via email. Depending on your requirements, the company’s representative may even meet you face to face to discuss your needs. Far cry from what you would expect when transferring money abroad with a bank.
In Canada, international money transfer services are still relatively unknown compared to the UK where many of these companies originated from, but they are definitely growing in popularity.
My Top 3 International Money Transfer Services in Canada
The best 3 international money transfer services in Canada from my research are OFX, moneycorp, and Remitly. Each of those has slightly different designations and advantages, and I’ll review them briefly below.
For an even deeper analysis of these companies you can look at MoneyTransferComparison best money transfers in Canada article and delve into their much more comprehensive reviews.
In my opinion, OFX is the best money transfer company in Canada, because of its high diversity, excellent online functionality, and excellent rates on both small and large international money transfers.
It is also one of the NHL’s sponsors which is about as Canadian as it gets.
OFX is a highly credible-appearing company which has been operating in Canada since 2007 (previously under the brand CanadianForex which consolidated into OFX). It handles $20bn in customers’ funds every year, is traded on the Australian Stock Exchange, and has always received superb feedback from its customers.
Using OFX you can transfer money internationally for cheap with no fees and very competitive exchange rates.
From what I’ve been seeing, their default exchange rate spread is around a 0.8% markup and you can negotiate the rates, particularly if you are sending a large amount abroad.
You can do so online through a very complex online payment system, through their app (rated 4.5/5 on Google Play and 4.8/5 on Apple App Store), or simply via email or phone. OFX is the perfect combination, in my view, between the new school and old school, who really do both things very well – technology and service.
moneycorp is truly a pioneer in the money transfers business, offering small businesses payment services decades ago. They were truly the first ones to identify that there was a gap in the market between the rates and service offered to large corporations and the (lack of) service SMEs are getting. Later on, they expanded their model to private customers and they specialize in high sum transfers.
They’re a bigger company than the aforementioned OFX, routinely transferring billions of dollars in a single transaction, and employing several hundred employees across five continents.
What I liked about them is how service-oriented they are on the phone and the level of professionalism demonstrated by the staff.
Remitly is the cheapest way to transfer money internationally from Canada to countries like India, Kenya, or China. This immigrant-friendly startup has been receiving accolades all over the world for its fair rates and easy online money transfer system.
With more than 35,000 reviews on TrustPilot and an average rating of 4.8 stars, it is clear that Remitly is doing something right. The company offers a “fees back” guarantee if money doesn’t come on time, and offers receiving methods which are specific to countries where some people don’t even have a bank account such as cash pickup or mobile top-up.
How Banks Get Away With Such High Fees on International Money Transfers
International money transfer fees is one of the least discussed topics in Canadian personal finance and always catches people by surprise.
Canadians are slowly moving away from Big Five banks towards online banks so that they can enjoy commission-free chequing (among other advantages), and similarly move their stock trading to online brokerages to save up on fees, but often have no idea what they’re actually paying when using their banks to send money internationally.
Bank practices when it comes to money transfer fees and exchange rates are particularly shady.
An unsuspecting customer would never realize that they are being taken advantage of when transferring money internationally through his bank. If I were to continue my TD Bank example you’ll see that in the send money internationally section of their website there is not a single mention that the exchange rates will be a lot worse than the official exchange rate.
By the way – TD Bank is just an example I picked due to the fact they have substantial US operations. The other big banks in Canada have at least the same exchange rate profit margins.
Most banks only mention that fees will be up to $25 per transfer, depending on destination – which can sound pretty cheap if you are sending large sums abroad. If you are sending $100,000, for example, $25 sounds like a pretty marginal fee for a massive transaction like that.
But, of course, those international wire fees become highly irrelevant* compared to markups if you’re sending a large amount. That $100,000 example would cost you $2,500 in currency exchange fees.
*For smaller transfers, flat international wire fees are a lot more significant. If you need to pay $150 for an item bought in the U.S, then $25 makes up an extra 16% in costs, and that’s before factoring the currency exchange markups. International money transfer services don’t charge a flat fee at all.
If you navigate through TD’s website and end up on their FX calculator then they are pretty transparent about their buy and sell rates, but you would have to absolutely know what you are looking for in order to find that.
It’s important to mention that bank practices when it comes to hiding the true cost of sending money internationally aren’t unique to Canada. Other than specific countries in which regulation protects the private consumer and forces banks to disclose those hidden fees (like Denmark for example), banks all over the world – USA, Europe, UK, and Australia for example – do the exact same trick disclosing only the flat wire fees, and hoping consumers will fail to understand the real cost of currency exchange markups.
Compare Money Transfer Exchange Rates And Negotiate Better Rates
If your aim is to get the best foreign exchange rate for your international money transfer, then you should be aware that with some of the best providers listed in this article (and others…) you can actually negotiate the exchange rate you’re getting, and ultimately pay lesser fees.
In practice, what it means is that if you have a large money transfer requirement (say, five figures and up) you could sign up with multiple service providers and retrieve multiple quotes, and in case you have received a better exchange rates than the one offered to you, you could go back to providers who have already quoted you, and ask them to match or beat the rate you’ve just been offered.
That trick is likelier to work with really massive transfer requirements, and will only work with spot contracts (i.e. an immediate need to transfer money internationally, as opposed to a limit order which is triggered when a certain rate has been met or a forward contract which locks today’s exchange rate for the future).
How Much is YOUR Bank Charging You For International Money Transfers? Share Your Experiences
To round up this piece about international money transfers from Canada and finding cheaper ways than banks to do them, I’d like to hear your feedback. To reiterate what I wrote previously, bank practices when it comes to sending money abroad are murky, and finding reliable information on what banks actually charge is difficult to do. (This is part of the reason why Canadian bank stocks are such excellent investments by the way.)
If you are transferring money internationally through your bank or have done so over the past years, I’d love to hear what you paid after factoring the exchange rate markup* and whether you were aware of these hidden charges at all. Similarly, on the journey to find the best international money transfers from Canada we are happy to hear about experiences with money transfer providers and how much did you manage to save by using them.
* To calculate your international money transfer fees in retrospect, use Bank of Canada’s exchange rates for the value date of your transfer and deduct the amount you received from your bank.
For example, if you transferred 10,000 CAD to Euro on Sept 21, 2020, when the official rate on EUROCAD was 1.5628, and you received 6150 Euros in return, it means the total fee was (10,000/1.5628-6150) = 248 Euros, or 380 CAD.
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